Fixing roads or making babies, taxpayers pay the tab
© by Barbara Anderson
The Salem News
Thursday, June 26, 2008
As a taxpayer activist, I should probably write about
the coalition of unions, business and civic groups who are now urging
the Legislature to get moving on an increase in the gas tax to fix
Massachusetts bridges and roads. OK.
The Transportation Finance Commission released its recommendations last
year, and it did support an increase in the gas tax. However, its
chairman, Romney appointee Stephen Silveira, made it clear that first
there must be major reforms to prevent the new money from being misspent
and wasted as is the case currently — which is why our infrastructure is
in such disrepair.
So far, no reforms: The salaries and benefits, lack of managerial
oversight, savings to be had by using civilian flagmen instead of police
details, and diversion of gas tax revenues to other state projects have
not been addressed. And the unions, business interests and civic groups
think that legislators are going to vote for a gas tax increase with the
price at the pump heading for $5 a gallon?
Massachusetts voters put up with a lot. But there is a general
understanding that the natives may be finally getting restless. Many
have signed the petition to repeal the income tax, after all. So a gas
tax increase is not going to happen. So now what will we talk about?
How about Gov. Patrick's education initiative? Some good things there:
He too seems to recognize that the teachers unions are the problem in
education and is finding new ways to bypass their self-serving power in
the interests of the children.
Merit pay for teaching difficult subjects is a great idea. But I'm
disappointed that the cap on charter schools is not going to be lifted,
since choice in an educational free market is the only long-term
solution. However, the full report was not available as of this writing,
so I am waiting to see how the governor plans to pay for, well, any of
his ideas, good or bad.
For example, there's the billion-dollar biotech subsidy bill.
Where within our already high tax burden are we getting the money to
subsidize investments that are, by definition, risky? (Otherwise, the
private sector would be standing in line to invest in these ideas
Of course, we want them to invest here in Massachusetts, where we are
already subsidizing the movie business. (Remember when some elements of
the business community wanted taxpayers to subsidize our sports teams?)
But don't investors hesitate when they notice that the state
infrastructure isn't properly maintained and repaired? And aren't
investors who are hoping to get rich concerned about the governor's
candidate for president, who wants to raise taxes on "the rich"?
Massachusetts' history of erratically changing the capital gains tax
must give them pause, as well. Not to mention the ongoing, burdensome
business regulation, unemployment and workmen's compensation costs.
I'm trying to avoid thinking about the subject of the day — the
Gloucester High School pregnancies. But it's interesting: A high school
principal deplores a baby pact, and the next thing you know, he, the
school and the city are an international curiosity. I think this is a
good sign that the free-media world in general still has some standards
that allow it to be shocked by something. Of course, we can also be
shocked that the school and city's response was to try to discredit the
I imagine that girls who deliberately get pregnant today, alone or in
groups, don't have the imagination to see how good their lives could
become if they gave themselves a chance to achieve other goals first.
Girls with options are more likely to get pregnant by accident, while
trying to please some guy. That desire to please, or the other wrong
reasons for risking premarital sex, used to be offset by the shame that
society tossed at unwed mothers.
There are many reasons that shame has left the building today, and as a
creature of the 1960s I am probably responsible for some of them. But
most are related to the No. 1 societal problem: Personal responsibility
is no longer a priority. Sex education without it is useless — this
seems to have been the point that the principal was making, that the
Gloucester problem isn't that girls weren't taught how to avoid
pregnancy. However, a program worth funding is the one in which girls
"adopt" a real baby for a period of time in order to learn how much work
and loss of freedom is involved.
Babies born to irresponsible parents, young or older ones, are always a
problem for taxpayers. We don't want to encourage more of them by
picking up the burden, but what else can you do? The babies must be
cared for, and taking children away from the parent(s) except for severe
neglect and abuse, is a scary power to give the government. I've never
found an answer to this dilemma.
So society must do everything it can to discourage the irresponsible
behavior, including enforcing statutory rape laws when young girls are
involved. We should also place teenage pregnancy in the category of
other taboos like drugs, drunken driving and tobacco, so that girls who
make this premature choice begin to feel as foolish as they certainly
Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her
column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune
newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in
the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.