9.29.2005

Newton and Waltham residents screwed by Pike toll tax -- again!

Breaking news: The toll tax on the Mass Pike (I-90) will once again shoot up to pay for the Big Dig, while the people who actually use the central artery (I-93) continue to pay nothing.

Should you be angry? You bet your ass you should. Paying an extra 50 cents per day adds up to well over $100 per year. When the Pike was built, the toll tax was only supposed to be temporary, to pay for construction. But guess what? The independent state agency that runs the Pike (the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority) couldn't resist cutting off this regular stream of money, and of course the state was happy to let this practice continue, as it allowed them to avoid raising other tax rates to fix and maintain the highway.

Then, when the Big Dig was envisioned, the fact that the end of I-90 was extended to the airport allowed the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to raise the Pike tax to support the project. Commuters south and north of the Boston continued to pay nothing to use I-93, even though they were primary beneficiaries of Big Dig work. There is a practical reason for this -- the traffic jams are already bad enough, especially south of the city -- but a political one as well: local reps and the governor wouldn't want to take the heat from voters in these areas for allowing tolls and traffic.

There's also the mistaken attitude that people living west of Boston are better off than those living North or South. Never mind that rich towns like Duxbury, Gloucester, and Manchester-by-the-sea use I-93, and people from less well-off towns like Framingham, Waltham, and Worcester use the Pike, people in the state government have the stereotype lodged in their brain that we deserve to pay more. Check out this excerpt from the Boston Globe from 2000 ("Driving A Hard Bargain Can Take Its Toll", by Scott Lehigh), talking about how state officials under Cellucci (Mitt Romney's friend and predecessor, and a Republican) viewed this issue, when outrage over Pike toll increases was building:
Administration officials, however, refuse even to acknowledge the fairness issue. Asked about commuting complaints, Andrew Natsios, secretary of administration and finance, said if east-west commuters don't want to pay tolls, they should take public transportation into town. Anyone driving into work on the Mass. Pike makes enough to pay the tolls, insisted Natsios.

"It is not a poor region," Natsios said. "It is one of the richest regions in New England."

There you have it. We're all rich, so once again we deserve to pay a larger Pike toll tax, while the people who derive the greatest benefit from the Big Dig pay nada.

If you're pissed off about this, contact the governor. Here's his contact info.

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