Not Since the Massachusetts Miracle Have I felt So Left Out
This is my favorite passage from Governor Deval Patrick's speech, from 2-20-2009, on his plan for Transportation reform in Massachusetts, where he is justifying raising our gas tax by 19 cents a gallon. That is down from his originally proposed 27 cents and I think he expected a round of applause.
Diane and I were in a restaurant we like in Chinatown the other day picking up take out for dinner. A fellow named Bill came up and introduced himself. He told me he was an electrician and that business is slow right now. Like so many others, Bill is feeling anxious. He told me he thought I was doing a good job, which I appreciated. "But please," he said, "don't raise my gas tax." My gas tax.
I understand what Bill is feeling. He is not alone. It is a crummy time to ask people to contribute more. That is just one of the reasons I have come so reluctantly to support increasing the gas tax.
But, Bill, just as it is your gas tax, it's also your broken roads, your rusted bridges, your higher Turnpike tolls and higher T fares, your inadequate regional transit, and yes, your mountain of Big Dig debt. It belongs to all of us today and tomorrow. And just as our parents and grandparents sacrificed to build it for us in their time, we in ours are going to have to sacrifice to maintain it and improve it for tomorrow.
This is one Commonwealth. We share in the sacrifices. We share in the challenges. We share in the investments in our future. And when those investments bear fruit, we share in the benefit, together.
I do not live in Boston. I do not live the the suburbs of Boston. I do not live anywhere along the line where the trains run or near any major highway. Unless I want to work, socialize or party in Boston regularly I am getting short changed. The alternative to this gas hike was to raise the tolls and fees on mass transit in and around Boston to pay for the deficit we have incurred overtime as a result of the Big Dig Tunnel to Logan Airport and other fiascos. I do not even use Logan airport, although I travel frequently. My location and the convenience of Manchester NH, make it a better and my only choice.
And so you ask is it only Boston that will benefit. Well no, not according to our governor.
To ensure economic development and job growth in all parts of the Commonwealth, including outside of the Greater Boston area, we dedicate 1.5 cents to the regional transit authorities, 1.5 cents to targeted regional road projects, and 3 cents to southern, western and northern rail projects - which includes a significant down payment on South Coast Rail.
So, 6 cents out of 19 cents will go to 99 % of the state.
Again, nothing in this for me. I live in a town in the middle of the state, there is no mass transit and for that matter no public transportation, not even a taxi company. The South Coast Rail will probably improve economic concerns on the Cape (and again the East Coast of the state) but will do nothing for those of us who would have to drive a long distance to the train that would take you to the other train going South.
I really hope that the one major High Way in the state that I use (once a year regularly) to head West to New York, The Mass Pike , will be improved on the Western half to make my contribution worthwhile.
I am not sure where the governor got his math from but at 19 cents a gallon I doubt very much it will cost (even an infrequent driver outside Boston) less than $8 a month as he goes on to say. The train does not stop here. No mass transit. The only transportation is my car and the gas I put in it. At the very least I think the governor is out of touch with the people of the state who do not live in Boston or it's suburbs.
So, our Plan calls for a 19-cent increase in the gas tax. The average driver would pay the equivalent of about one large cup of coffee a week, less than $8 per month. And by restricting the gas tax to the transportation fund, taxpayers will be assured that their money is dedicated exclusively to transportation projects.
This reminds me significantly of the "Massachusetts Miracle" of the 1980s. Even Wikipedia describes it like this:
"Massachusetts Miracle" refers to a period of economic growth in the state of Massachusetts during most of the 1980s. Previous to this, the state had been hit hard by de-industrialization and resulting unemployment. The growth was heavily centered in high-tech industry and financial services, within Boston and in its suburbs along Route 128. The expansion of the high tech industry along MA-128 has lead to the term "128" meaning more than just the road itself, but the technology area as a whole, much like Silcon Valley. Some notable companies at the time of the Miracle were Digital Equipment Corporation, Data General, Wang Laboratories, and Apollo Computer.
Michael Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts during most of this time and attempted to take credit for the "Miracle" during his campaign for United States President in 1988. Unfortunately for his campaign, the trend of economic growth began to reverse at that time.
Most of these companies are gone now. So it was a short lived miracle at best.
In the early 90s my son was going to college in North Adams, on the western border of Massachusetts and it was evident that this was an area that the Miracle had missed. The mass transit he took, as a student, to come home on occassional weekends, was a commercial bus line that traveled route 2 across the state. This luxury has been threatened several times due to the high cost of commercial transportation.
To add insult to injury, not since Mayor Kevin White (who was mayor of Boston from 1968 to 1984 and dominated the funds in the state) have I felt doubly trapped by the Boston Black Hole. Mayor Menino was a part of a conference of big city mayors meeting with the president on the stimulus. With the money that Boston alone will be getting I am wondering what will be left for the smaller cities and towns of Massachusetts.
In a telephone interview shortly after the White House gathering, Menino praised the outreach to the mayors by the Obama administration.
"This is a meeting that I've never seen happen before; we had a president, vice president, and Cabinet officials explaining to us what this money will do for us," he said. "I think the stimulus bill really is an unprecedented investment in America's cities."
Menino said he spoke to Attorney General Eric Holder about funding for Boston police and Holder assured the mayor that the stimulus money could be used to avert layoffs, although it's unclear exactly how much Boston will receive and when. The mayor said he scheduled another discussion with Holder for Tuesday, when he hopes to learn more.
With Boston facing an estimated $145 million budget shortfall this year, city officials have said teachers and police officers could face layoffs unless more revenue is found.
City officials estimated earlier this week that Boston could receive at least $125 million from the stimulus package, including $69 million for schools, $30 million for housing, and $5 million for police. But they said most of that money was directed toward infrastructure improvements.