Forget the Pilgrim, the Minuteman and the Indian (Squanto?). The real symbol of Massachusetts is the pothole. The state has done a dreadful job of keeping up our infrastructure. There are particularly bad places where hubcaps pile up by the side of the road. Fixing our roads and bridges is paid for by gas tax revenues, and, until last year, our cowardly solons, ever fearful that dealing with these problems would mean voting for taxes, had gone 21 years without increasing the gas tax. The backlog of needed infrastructure work is enormous.
When in 2013 the legislature finally raised the tax by three cents a gallon (to 24 cents a gallon), they decided to link future adjustments to the rate of inflation. Not exactly a profile in courage!
Now Question 1 on the ballot would repeal that escalator. The gas tax would stay the same unless the legislature voted affirmatively to raise it. Supporters of repeal call the escalator “taxation without representation.” But what we had for more than two decades was representation without taxation, at least as far as the gas tax was concerned.
It’s very nice to say that it is our legislators’ responsibility to do so every year that road work makes it necessary, and that we should vote our solons out of office if they fail to act responsibly. It’s a pretty civics class description of how things should work. But, especially in this overwhelmingly one-party state, generating that turnover to protest irresponsibility, isn’t readily achieved. As a practical matter, we need that link to the Consumer Price Index to fix the half of all bridges that are deficient or obsolete and repave the rotten roads, which cost drivers an estimated $2 billion a year in repairs.
I’m not happy with this state of affairs, and I don’t normally like such escalator clauses. But reality dictates a No vote on repealing gas tax indexing.
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