Monday, October 1, 2007

State Rep. Jeff Perry

State Representative Jeff Perry has a monthly column and below are his thoughts on transportation. Sign this petition if you agree with the Transportation Bill of Rights proposed by minority leader Brad Jones and the GOP on Beacon Hill.

On Beacon Hill and in Washington, D.C. the focus of government seems to ebb and flow with the issue that the media is most concerned about at any given time. From my point of view, government in general and State government specifically is a reactionary institution. Unfortunately there is very little proactive thought or long term planning going on.

Recently the headlines have been full of stories regarding our crumbling transportation infrastructure and the estimated $20 billion needed to keep up with our aging roadway system. State leaders are couching this issue like they were somehow surprised by it.

Governor Patrick recently came out in favor of Casino Gambling with a dedicated portion of the revenue being targeted for maintenance and improvements to our roads and bridges. The Patrick Administration and Transportation Finance Commission have also identified major tax increases as their plan for the perceived transportation funding problem. They suggest that increasing the gas tax by 11.5 cents per gallon and then indexing it to inflation would generate $10.5 billion over 20 years. Also, the Commission recommended a 5 cent per mile user fee (tax), to be implemented through electronic tolling technology and phased in over the next 10 years, which reportedly would yield an additional $5.5 billion in new taxes by 2027.

It is time for Legislators and voters to say enough is enough. State government needs to stop looking to commuters and taxpayers for its own failure to plan for future infrastructure needs and wasteful spending in general. Do I need to remind everyone about the waste and fraud of the Big Dig project? Also, don’t forget that we have been paying 23.5 cents per gallon in since 1991, and somehow all of a sudden, we are in such a crisis situation that the only solution is increased taxation.

While I do not expect both of the above taxes to ultimately be approved, what I believe the pro-tax crowd on Beacon Hill is doing is setting you up for a smaller tax increase. If they announce an 11.5 cent tax increase and a new user fee and later they disregard the user fee plan and “only” raise the gas tax by 5 cents a gallon, they hope you will accept such increase and somehow feel good that it was not more.

I say not so fast! Last week, the Republicans on Beacon Hill filed the “Commuter Bill of Rights” as a joint resolution in both the House and the Senate. If we can get the majority party to agree (this is a big “If”), the proposal grants commuters the right to travel on safe roadways and bridges; the right to expect State officials will exhaust all available sources of funding before increasing taxes and fees; and the right to hold public officials accountable for finding and fixing problems with infrastructure. It also grants taxpayers the right to expect that the money they pay to the State will be used wisely to fund maintenance and repair of roads and bridges. Seems like something we all should be able to agree on, but watch the liberals as they dismiss our reform efforts to go directly for a tax increase.

In addition to the resolution, we are also filing cost-cutting legislation that could save the State over $100 million a year by merging the Turnpike Authority with MassHighway; putting MBTA workers into the Group Insurance Commission and reforming their pensions to end double-dipping; and stopping the practice of borrowing money to pay the salaries of MassHighway workers.

If the Governor is really serious about finding efficiencies and savings within our bloated transportation bureaucracy, which is full of waste and patronage, he then should support our proposal to eliminate the Turnpike Authority altogether and hand its responsibilities over to the Massachusetts Highway Department. If readers will recall, this is not a new concept as Governor Romney proposed it several times during his tenure, but each time the Democrats on Beacon Hill voted it down and maintained the status quo.

As I have written in this column in the past, as a member of the minority party, often the only way we can stop things like tax increases from happening is taking the message to the public and asking them to call their Representative and Senator and let their voice be heard. This is one of those times, we need your help or else I fear we will all being paying even more at the gas pump.