Keller @ Large: Time To Face Reality – Gas Tax And Tolls

BOSTON (CBS) – The MBTA brass did the best they could with the situation they had yesterday, proposing fare hikes, a few service cuts, and a bunch of one-time revenue grabs to close the system’s $161 million budget deficit.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

And to their credit, both they and the governor were candid about the fact that this fix really doesn’t fix anything at all.

“I can’t emphasize enough this is a one-year solution,” said transportation czar Rich Davey, adding: “We will be back in the same position a year from now, looking at service cuts and potentially more fare increases.”

“This is neither a permanent nor a comprehensive solution,” said Gov. Patrick. “The T will be back in this situation next year.”

What they didn’t say, I will: they are kicking the can down the road because the legislature doesn’t have the political nerve to address what’s really needed to properly pay for and maintain our public transit system – some kind of mix of gas-tax increases and new highway tolls.

You’ll recall that the governor, responding to a bi-partisan commission’s recommendations of how to solve a $20 billion funding gap in our overall transportation infrastructure, proposed a gas tax increase in 2009 that was dead on arrival on Beacon Hill.

Why was it DOA?

Because people who don’t use the T and don’t want to pay more to use the roads they drive on make it clear to their legislators that they don’t want them voting for tax or toll hikes.

And most of the legislators either don’t get it or don’t have the nerve to tell their constituents the unpleasant truth of the situation.

I don’t want to pay more for gas or tolls either.

But we cannot have a viable economy without usable roads and bridges and functioning, reasonably affordable public transit.

So now our legislators – and we the people who elect them – have a year to grow up and face reality.

We’ll see if we have what it takes.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

More from Jon Keller
  • gramps

    I like Davey. He’s showed me allot sense he’s been in the public eye….

    He’s got the tools, ‘Sack, Smarts, Gut’s & Gusto’, call’s a spade a spade…..

    I’d like to see him run for Governor.


  • John Read

    Absolutely, Jon. Patrick should follow the lead of Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley, who is courageous enough to push for higher gas taxes to fund the expanded mass transit they so desperately need.

    • FireGuyFrank

      Before you think this is the solution because one Democrat Governor is proposing it, check the backlash. See this story from WTOP-FM in Washington, D.C.

      • Tsal-kv

        Frank its a mix of dems and reps. Come on outside the box. And if the gas tax is for roads and bridges I would have to think about it. Isomething has to fix them. First fix the politicians BOTH sides. Then fix the roads and bridges etc

  • JohnC

    I’ll go along with you on the gas tax Jon – providing that the extra revenue can be permanently earmarked for public transportation. As far as increased tolls, no. Tolls are a built-in cause of traffic jams, waste precious fuel, and are expensive to collect. Toll roads such as the Mass. Pike are not well maintained (for the tolls collected, it should be flawless), and tolls never go away regardless what the legislature says. I am in favor of abolishing all tolls and just raise the gas tax to compensate for any real loss in revenue.

  • Stephen Stein

    Gas tax yes. Tolls, not so much. Tolls as a general revenue stream are very unfair. Why collect only from Mass Pike users to pay for I-93? Tolls as a specific revenue stream to finance the running of specific roads are OK, but that’s not the way things shake out.

    Raise the gas tax and take down tolls. Use the gas tax to fund transportation, including the Big Dig. You might even graduate the gas tax to make it lower the further you get from Boston, to make it more fair to the residents of Western MA who rarely use Boston-area roads.

    • kelleratlarge

      Is it true you went through college pass/fail?

    • tsal-kv

      I want to smell your 1/4’s

    • Patricia

      I believe a graduated gas tax would be impossible or at least improbable. Toll booths should have been torn down years ago as promised. Do honestly think they will be respnsible this time? Will they pinky swear to use the extra revenue towards transportation and infrastructure? I don’t believe them, they’ve let us down too many times before but what choice do we have. Our roads and bridges are crumbling as well as the MBTA sinking into debt. Our elected leaders have really screwed this up.

      • The Owl

        Tsal, you do it by not voting for the same bozo’s over and over again.

        As the NYTimes put it concerning the election of NY State Senators and Representatives: “Anyone but an incumbent”.

        But here in Hackachusetts, it’s going to be a long time before that sort of earthquake happens.

      • tsal-kv

        Owl I agree. The politicians need – no have – to lose all perks – all healthcare – all everything. Until they live like the average American, they will not change a thing. On BOTH sides. So how do we get them to our level?

      • The Owl

        Our elected leaders have spent more time figuring out how to line their pockets then solving the state’s problems.

        Until they linings of their pockets are stripped open and the legislators relinquish their ill-gotten gains, I will oppose tax, toll, and fare hikes.

        Time for the free lunch…and dinner…and retirement perks to end.

      • tsal-kv

        owl that wasn’t my question – how do we take away the perks the politicians get. Voting doesn’t help because everyone who runs is first wealthy and second has everything available that we do not have (e.g., healthcare). They have to be brought down to the average American’s level.

    • Stephen Stein

      Oh wow, now both tsal and I have stalkers. How special.

      • tsal-kv

        It’s obviously because they think we are special people!!! Flattery really, Stephen! While you are here and on a far more important level – what do you know about kegorators? (sp?) We are giving son one for his bday and I’m looking for advice!

  • Sheila Barrett

    I am opposed to further gas taxes. I pay immediately at the pumps when the gas price increases. If the current T shortage is because of the Big Dig we need a detailed account to know how much trouble we are in. If the T is mismanaged we need to know that in order to plan. We are already overtaxed in gas, phones, fees, etc. Enough. If you went to your boss and said I need more money would you get it? I know I am lucky to have a job at all.

  • Jason

    I couldn’t disagree more. Normally I do agree with Jon, but in this case, you are asking all of Mass to specifically pay for one small segment of the government, especially one that many don’t use, can’t use, or have no use for. I work and live in metro west, and do not use the T. I used to work downtown, and paid every day to use those services then, not now. So why do I have to shell out for it? Don’t even get me started on my in-laws out in Pittsfield, MA. Why do they have to pay a cent more for bloat? I agree there should be tolls, but not on the pike. There should be a toll on 93 south into the city, and one on the southeast expressway. That is lost money. Some say it will slow things down. Really, ever been stuck on those roads in the morning? Now let’s talk about the real issues. The T has expanded without income, it has contracts for employees it cannot afford, and rather than fixing the hole in the boat, they want to purchase more pails to bail the water out. I went to college, have student loans and work real hard to succeed and raise my family. I have been working for 15 years out of school, and make about what a T driver makes, with less benefits of course. The times of Ralph Camden are over, living a simple life with a simple job. Now train operators sit on their butts, collect a fraction of fares to make sure they stay on schedule, opening all doors on street level cars, and occasionally sit and text. It is an unskilled job and paid as much as several skilled highly educated employees, possibly more than teachers. Also I remember one major thing when I came to Boston. In New York they were charging $1.50 for the subway, and then came here to see they were charging 85 cents. Is it possibly fare hikes over and over should have been happening. We should be at $2 for the train and busses, this branch should be self-sufficient. And finally, illuminating Beer ads?? Dumb, just stupid!

    • Gail

      I agree with you completely on not raising taxes when most of the state doesn’t use the T. Why are there no tolls on 93 south as those people are the ones using the big dig and therefore should pay for it. I too am from New York and you can’t begin to compare their subway system with the one in Massachusetts. In New York, the subway and buses run all night whereas here, everything shuts down after 1 am. in addition, the subway system in NYC is much larger than the one in this state. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.

  • Matt

    No one subsidizes my ride to work. Why should I pay for yours? Gas taxes should go to maintaining the roads, bridges, tunnels etc. Tolls should go to that specific road only and Public transportation should be paid by those who use it.

    Why as a commuter do I have to pay for everyone, but as a T rider they only have to pay for part of themselves? If it is too expensive to drive to work then take the bus. If the bus is too expensive then walk.

  • Patricia

    This state has shown that it has been irresponsible with our money. From the Big Dig to this. Even the Feds saw the big dig for what it was, a giveaway to a special few. And because of the mis managed big dig, here we are again. We have bloated benefits and pensions, quasi agencies and even toll takers (the burial ground for politicians friends and families) making more than a educated worker in another field. When the state can assure me they are going to be responsible, I’ll gladly pay – but they haven’t even hinted that this time they plan on being financially responsible.

  • Gail

    If you want to pay more taxes fill out line 22 on the Mass. tax form. Have you ever done that? There’s nothing to sop you from paying higher taxes but don’t speak for the rest of us.

  • epilab

    The transit system provided a means for commuters to get to and from work. To increase taxes in any way to pay for working commuters is absurd. Drivers pay gas taxes and tolls for their means to get to and from work. And the fees paid maintain the road system. Why subsidize commuters who use the transit system who are not paying the gas and road tolls. And thus are being subsidize for their use of transportation system

    • The Owl

      It would be nice if the roads were actually maintained.

      Massachusetts has some of the worst primary roads in the country.

  • fred

    When the taxpayers bail out a truly corrupt and mismanaged operation such as the MBTA we will just get more of the same. I am sick of the pain. Let the MBTA and the Governor suffer instead. Don’t give me this crap about our failing roads and bridges. there is plenty of money – it is just wasted. In 2008 Massachusetts spent about $ 72,000.00 per mile in ADMINISTRATIVE COST to maintain our roads. Only New York and California spent more. Some states spent as little as $ 7,000 just for administrative cost before a single shovel has been lifted. maybe those states actually spend money on maintaining the roads instead of high salaries, overly generous benefits including bloated pensions. There are obviously too many management positions and too much patronage. So no, i am sick of the only option is to raise taxes. Try living within your means – that’s what most of us have to do. Raise the gas tax and i will just fill up in New Hampshire and instead of Mass getting the current tax and the increase they will get nothing. While I am there I will buy a few cartons of cigarettes for friends and family, charge them the net cost plus a buck or two for gas and it’ll be a win win baby. Multiply that by enough people that are close enough to New Hampshire or travel there on business and a tax increase could have a reduction in overall revenue. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  • meme

    Let the T fail, only then it can be fixed!

    • Jason

      This I agree with! Bankrupt the whole thing, back out of all contracts and money owed. renegotiate resonable contracts and sell off useless assets. start from scratch and mage itself indipendant of any taxpayer money.

  • DanW

    Since Governor Patrick is basically a Lame-duck Governor, he should have the guts to make this move: Make all of the tolls for Boston Tunnels & Bridges at least $10. Not only do we have to maintain these structures, we have to pay down the Big Dig too. Since he really doesn’t have to worry about how this will go politically, it is about time that we all face facts that we are in a fiscal emergency. The Big Dig was built for BOSTON. Users of this in BOSTON should PAY FOR MOST OF IT. It’s only fair. Not state-wide gas tax increases, or toll increases on the rest of the Mass pike, and not increases in the Excise tax. NYC tolls on their structures average around $12. How is this different from what they’re doing? BIte the bullet folks, and maybe someday we won’t have to worry about it anymore…

  • Ollie

    Why is it that your (and others) first reaction is to raise taxes? Have you considered any means of reducing expenditures in any of your commentaries? You reflect the Washington mind-set: forget about ways to reduce spending, raise taxes instead; it’s easier that way.

  • tsal-kv

    Wow – some really great comments here.

    Patricia – where does that extra revenue go? If it went where it is supposed to why doesn’t anything seem to improve? How right you are. If the MBTA brass can’t get their house in order, I sure don’t want to pour more money into their fiasco.

    Sheila – the bottom line – why did those involved in the big dig get away with the mess they left, the costs they overinflated and why are WE paying for it. Go after them NOW.

    Matt – I agree totally with your take on what monies go where.

    And Jason and Epilab – I liked your comments the best. Jason, I work from home. I don’t commute or use the T. I might go into Boston three times a year. Why in heavens name when I do the vast majority of my driving outside of Boston and never use the T am I subsidizing it? And epilab – how right you are. We pay the gas tax to drive. Public transportation users are not contributing to the roads, the T or anything else. Why should we deal with ever increasing gas prices to get from point A to point B and they barely have an increase to do the same.

  • steve

    Good Idea on the gas tax, Jon.
    I did some fact-finding, something perhaps you and others here were apparently too busy to do.
    Department of Energy says Mass. uses 442 gallons of gasoline per capita..
    2010 Census says there are about 6.5 million people in Mass.
    Result: 2.9 billion gallons burned annually.
    Result: A 1 cent increase in gas tax yields $29 million annually
    If my math is correct..
    Conclusion: Raise gasoline tax 5 cents this year and solve the MBTA deficit.
    Then we can increase the tax the same amount next year to cover the next expected deficit.
    And another 5 cents in 2 years, etc.
    Won’t take long, pretty soon the gas tax will exceed the cost of the gas itself.

    • tsal-kv

      Good facts maybe not so good to think you are the only one who checked though :) No matter what it brings in, why do I pay more for gas to help a system I don’t use when those using the system do not contribute because they don’t use the gas?

  • jaygee

    As if the working class isn’t paying enough to survive, the only answer to the problem is to raise taxes & fees once again? Really good logic. I might agree if there weren’t so many people who “don’t” have to get up every day and work one or two jobs to survive because some of ouur brothers & sisters simply play the entitlement game. You know, quit school, have a few kids, go on the dole and have everything taken care of from food to lodging. I might also agree to raising taxes if only we haven’t been wasting 16 billion…….ah, that’s 16 thousand million dollars, every month for the past 9 years in the Middle East.
    50 years ago it was the same argument regarding Vietnam. “We have to stay until we win”. Well, we didn’t win anything and we’re not going to win anything this time either except for dead soldiers and debt. How about just reducing all of the huge salaries & benefit packages to Mr. Bulger’s Transportation Authority?

    • tsal-kv

      I agree with your comments but would add that we also work one or two jobs because other brothers and sisters feel they deserve an inflated salary and the lion’s share of income gains. It’s both ends of the spectrum and here we are in the middle !

  • PBKingman

    Any new revenue will just be sucked up by the various unions.

  • Pjc

    What about getting these absurd union contracts under control. Twenty years gets a pension and full medical lets be real. Lets get the expenses under control before we ask for more more more

  • riggnn

    Jon, Jon, Jon. Silly boy. Don’t you know by now that a commonwealth (like Massachusetts) cannot earmark money for specific purposes in the year to year budget? Remember back in the min 80s when a gas tax hike passed in order to pay for roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements. It went into the general funds (feed trough) and was spent on everything except what it was intended for.And that tax continues to this day. I buy all my gas in New Hampshire anyway so go ahead and tax away in Massachusetts.

  • Denise

    I stay start at the top and start eliminating jobs. After all we alll know it isn’t the ones at the top doing the job! Start paying “reasonable” salaries to ALL employees and make them get on board w/ paying into the benefits just like the rest of us. Why do all these governement jobs get to stay the same when the rest of us have to keep changing to continue to provide the governement w/ enough $$ to pay all the inflated salaries, pensions and benefits! People are trying to survive and get to work – I know people that are driving 35+ miles one way (and no where near Boston) so they can support their families. Why should we raise taxes so the road/T etc in Boston can be fixed. Fix the damn roads we’re driving on. Why are the roads in NH so good – maybe some of the geniuses doing the repairs should find out what they’re doing right in NH and we continue to do wrong in MA! Sad sad sad… the only thing in my pockets these days is lint! I’ve had to give up a lot of the extras I use to do because I need the $$ to support my own family. I now donate my time – and I believe that those that collect Welfare and Unemployement should have to do something for their $$ there are plenty of volunteer jobs or they can just pick up the trash on the roads! I think they should be given drug tests too – the $ they’re given should be going to their kids and food – not drugs and alcohol – but that’s another soap box to stand on!

    • tsal-kv

      Denise – I know for a fact that police and teachers pay a great deal into their pensions. Do you have information on what others pay? As far as anyone on wealfare working for whatever he/she gets, I absolutely agree. I was unemployed. I spent the entire time looking for a job, sending out resumes and teaching myself new skills. I eventually started my own business. If I’d been out picking up trash or anything else, I’d probably still be collecting unemployment. Unemployment is not something that should be considered a handout

      • JohnC

        Public school teachers pay 11% of their after tax income to the Mass. Teacher’s Retirement Board.

    • petem

      Denise, while I agree with much of what you said the smack at folks on Unemployment is especially unfair. I have been unemployed since the end of October. I have not spent the time on vacation or in a hammock (although that would have been possible THIS winter sometimes…I have spent it trying every which way to find a job! And the drug testing idea…they have tried that in Florida and found that they spent millions reimbursing the approx 98% of people who passed the test they were required to take and pay for upfront, out of their meager funds, only to prove right the critics of the plan who said it was wring and would ultimately be shown to be a wild goose chase. I hope it’s not true but I have heard that the Governor, Rick Scott, owns an interest in a drug testing company. That would be a scandal!

      • Denise

        Petem – I don’t believe everyone is sitting around eating bon bons. I had a stint at unemployement too and luckily it didn’t last long. I know people that work harder trying to find a job than when they were working. But I believe that just like a lot of rude, understaffed overpaid groups of government employees – there are a lot of people that scam the system because there are really no checks and balances to make sure people are doing what they should be. There used to be shame in taking a hand out – now many use it as a way of life – no wonder we’re going down hill… It will be interesting to see who wins the power ball… probably someone that isn’t currently paying taxes and never will! Then they’ll head home! I’m just tired of the government constantly putting their hands in my pocket – because when it’s time for me to retire (that date keeps going up and up) there will be no $$ because we’ve given it to everyone else and those that have never contributed to it. Use my taxes to fix the roads not the T… I don’t use the T! I’m going home! to fight the crazies on the road! have a good weekend… and good luck if you bought a ticket!

      • Tsal-kv

        Denise while I believe the majority on UI are not scamming the system I know what you mean. I know of a lot of contractors who work three seasons and they are “laid of” and collect the fourth. Even this past winter. Ugh. As far as someone who doesn’t have $$ winning the lottery I’d rather see that than someone who has a ton. Mostly I love seeing the everyday joe and it seems that’s who wins more often than not.

  • Don'tGetIt

    What’s wrong with raising the fares so they don’t lose money on every ride? Maybe its time to wean the T from the subsidies and make it stand on it’s own. More transparency and then if their expenses are out of control and ridership decreases, they have to do what every business does and get costs and prices under control.

    Yes, I ride it everyday and I’ll have to pay too – so I’m not trying to avoid paying my share.

    And yes, kill the ride – the T is a bus/trolly/train/subway service – not a chauffeur. The T has spent millions making the system accessible – no need for a specail privilege like the Ride.

  • Stop the insanity

    No, raising taxes hurts ME and I don’t use the T. If the money went exclusively to roads, fine, but not one penny should go to the T. Let the T go bankrupt, then they can restructure without the bloated union wages/benefits and the waste of salary on unnecessary management salaries. It is not the taxpayers’ fault the T is in the mess it is in, it is because it is run and managed poorly. It’s the same thing felt all around the country now that the economy is struggling – no one can afford union salaries/benefits anymore, nor ridiciulous management positions/salaries/perks. Don’t take any more from me, my well is dry – I am barely getting by as it is why should I pay for the T?????

  • Ollie

    If you’ve read all of these comments, perhaps you now have a better understanding of why the gas tax hike was DOA in the legislature.

  • Common Sense

    How about putting some toll booths near the NH and RI border? That would rake in a substantial amount of revenue and might encourae those out of state commuters to pony up some additional fare if they decide to take the commuter rail instead.

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