Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The One Trick Horse

In Massachusetts, raising the gas tax in any meaningful way is politically difficult to do. As a result, its purchasing power has significantly deteriorated over time. I tried unsuccessfully in 2009 to raise the gas tax by 19 cents a gallon; last year the Legislature enacted a paltry 3-cent-per-gallon hike - the first such increase since George H.W. Bush was president. Also last year, for the first time, the Legislature acted to allow the gas tax to be automatically adjusted for inflation. That common sense notion is now under attack by right-wing activists who have placed a repeal proposition on this year零 general election ballot. The fight over the gas tax inflation adjustment, while important in the short term, is a distraction to the conversation that needs to take place regarding finding a long-term fair and sustainable approach to transportation funding. One thing seems certain: the gas tax is not the future of transportation funding. As automobiles become more fuel efficient and hybrid/electric oriented, the gas tax will diminish as a reliable source of transportation revenue. We need to find sustainable alternatives, derived from transportation sources. First, though, we need to put an end to the old habits of evading responsibility by turning to political slogans, financing gimmicks and excessive borrowing.

    The article above written by James Aloisi on sustainable funding for transportation is an admirable attempt at finding a solution to a problem that should not exist in the first place. Failing to make that connection puts the reminder of his thesis in doubt. His use of the standard divisive terminologies in describing the efforts of citizens to reign in an out of control tax policy lends further credence to where his political ideologies lye. That ideology being that bigger government is better government.
    Behold the one trick horse.

    Having stated himself his tenure in government only magnifies his inability to understand the economic crush of mounting taxation upon the working poor of the state. Taxation for taxation's sake does not produce  sustainable revenue for a specific agency (in this case transportation). The history of government mismanagement of tax revenues is as old as government itself.
    Case in point would be last years tax revenue surplus in Massachusetts in the billions of dollars. At no point in time was there talk of plugging the transportation gap with that surplus, nor paying off deficits, nor any tax relief for the taxpayers. However, the legislators granted themselves pay raises, remodeled the State House corner office and laid the plans for a billion+ dollar Convention Center.     The unfunded liabilities in the transportation sector went, well.. Unfunded.
    The automatic gasoline tax would do nothing to address this problem. Just as the recent DMV rate hikes of 75% will never go to fixing roads and bridges. Mr. Aloisi conveniently neglects to mention that all tax revenues now go into a general fund. So, the ruse of an indexed gasoline tax being the panacea to our transportation woes is simply not true. I personally filmed the DMV dog and pony show held earlier this year and I personally worked on the Repeal petition of the automatic gasoline tax. Once the public was informed on the ramifications of such a scheme many became upset and educated themselves even more. I spent most of the fall of 2013 educating the signers of the first round of petitions. By the summer of 2014 when we gathered the second round of signers I ran into more and more people who saw the plan written up in newspapers, local news stations and many articles online. By this time it no longer mattered what side of the political aisle you sat on this policy was going to affect Democrats and Republicans alike. Basically, any one who drives a car or drives as part of their job, business or vocation.
    This brings me back to the disconnect that Mr. Aloisi seems to have. Increased costs of gasoline means increased costs f goods and services. This is called inflation. And since the gasoline tax is indexed on inflation the tax will rise incrementally each and every year..
    But, that was the whole plan to begin with wasn't it?

    As a political writer and radio producer I have had the unique opportunity to speak with candidates, authors, activists, business leaders (and yes) Tea Party members on my show. I have conducted hundreds of interviews over the last six years and never heard anyone tell me that higher taxes translates into a better economic model.
    In fact, I came to learn through the many conversations that Massachusetts has experienced a net zero, or negative new job creation since Deval Patrick came into office. No one who has a start up has ever said to themselves in the last six years, " I want to build my company in Massachusetts!" This state is experiencing the same  exact economic bleed as California. People are leaving the state and businesses are leaving the state because of the high tax rate. We are # 2 in the country in the highest tax rates. Raising rates on a dying economy will only hasten that bleed.
    Two simple examples of the failure of such a policy are the Tech Tax and the Inventory Tax. High Tech firms were set to pull up stakes until the legislature repealed the Tech Tax. Currently there are no distribution companies in Massachusetts because of the Inventory Tax. This means higher costs for businesses to acquire supplies and resale items because of the trucking from out of state. Basically the Inventory Tax is a tax companies pay for the "stuff" they have in a warehouse.
    Insane.. Simply insane. If the automatic gas tax was to stand it would be a test model for the State to begin indexing every other tax rate. Possibly, even taxing you for the "stuff' you have in your own home.

    So what does this leave us with? It leaves us with an underemployed population struggling to stay afloat amidst staggering inflation fueled by (pun intended) indexed gas taxes, net job losses and an increasing ability to make ends meet. Currently there are well over 1 million Massachusetts residents on some sort of state aid/ food stamps. That is roughly 1/6th of our population.
    As I spoke to candidates from the western part of the state they made me aware that they have to drive several miles just to get to work, the store, a hospital, school.. Hell, anywhere due to the rural countryside. And jobs aren't exactly growing on trees out there in the Berkshires. An indexed gasoline tax would cripple these people.
    Ohh, and Mr. Aloisi? The T doesn't run out there so what good would it be for these people?

    While the left claims that higher taxes forces the wealthy to pay more of their fair share the reality is that the major burden of taxes are borne by the working poor.
    And let me stop there.. I want to clear something up right here and now. Progressives love to make up terms and words. There is no such thing as "more of one's fair share" as Nanna Pelosiraptor and Hiawatha Warren would claim. It is an oxymoron. Either you ARE paying your fair share or you are just paying MORE.
    Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Where was I?

    Higher taxes reduce purchasing power on middle and low income workers. Higher DMV rates forces a working poor single mother to choose between a $50 inspection sticker or  gas money for the week. High fuel and DMV rates make automobile ownership virtually impossible for the working poor and they are just one break down or one police ticket away from being screwed financially. Higher costs mean businesses cannot pay decent wages to loyal employees and forces many to lay them off. The entire climb up the socio-economic ladder collapses.
    The crazy, suggested solution to this problem was that we raise the minimum wage. Not that it would do any of the wage earners any good if they knew they had to pay more of that 'imagined' raise in fees, fines, taxes, fuel costs, insurance hikes, never mind that any wage increase puts a person into a higher income tax bracket and may force their employer to lay them off because the employer can't afford it.
    But Mr. Aloisi wouldn't know anything about this. To quote his own article; " having spent many years in and out of government.." he has no idea what the working poor have to deal with just to survive. Government agencies exist only for the perpetuation of those agencies, not to serve the public trust. When I attended the DMV hearing earlier this year I noticed the majority of audience members were union workers for the state. All their well appointed cars were parked in the Union Station parking garage proudly displaying the state worker license plates. Just look at Martha Coakley. It is no wonder she has no idea what the gasoline tax costs because she never actually gets out to pump it or pay for it. WE DO!
    The insurance, gas, maintenance, inspections, even the weekly wash and wax are performed by other people and paid for by you and I. When I grew up in Northborough the police drove the squad cars home at the end of their shifts.
    So, before we begin to lament on the condition of our transportation system we should take a critical look at the agency that oversees it. Mind you, the original 500 million Doolittle Deval wanted for Mass Transit was suppose to plug the pension gap not to lay more track to western Mass or Fall River as he opined. Worcester alone has over 100 million in unfunded pensions, most of it centered around the transportation sector. Amazingly the city was still able to redesign and remodel the sidewalks and Worcester Common with expensive paving stone and a marble entryway sporting the city seal. Never mind the money spent on the new Hub and the new multi-million dollar bus maintenance facility soon to begin on Quinsigamond Avenue.

    Mr. Aloisi's outcry over ".. right wing activists"  working to defeat a solution to the funding problem is a tattered and worn out tactic of Socialists. He easily dismisses the "public/private partnerships" initiated in Chicago and how they failed. Government loves to blame the private sector for every mistake as if they are the saviors. Public/private partnerships fail for one basic reason. It is the 'public' aspect of it that gums up the works. Here in the Bay State we tried that once with the toll plazas. No one wanted to take the bids. Mr. Aloisi states this himself and he is correct. We tried the 'public/private partnerships' and eventually just dropped the whole idea. Anyone who lives here knows the toll works are a patronage job. A private company would have had to go through legal mazes just to lay off the uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and in-laws of Beacon Hill officials who currently hold most of those positions.
    Every one knows this!

    The article he wrote and comments he made for The Commonwealth Magazine is what I call The One Trick Horse. He uses the same rhetoric we hear all the time. Hey, tell a lie enough times and it eventually becomes the truth, right? Even the 'Right" falls into this trap by attempting to defend itself from the accusations. Any military and political strategist knows that if you fight a battle from the position of defense, you have already lost the battle.
    I am particularly proud to have worked on the repeal of the Automatic Gasoline Tax. I currently have in my hands the ballot questionaire for election season 2014 and there it is! Question #1!
    Repeal The Automatic Gasoline Tax.

.... And That Is The Diatribe....

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