Massachusetts is becoming ground zero for a populist tax revolt. This deep-blue state is finally witnessing resistance from its besieged, hardworking taxpayers. The commonwealth’s venal Democratic establishment — along with ultraliberal Gov. Deval Patrick — are lashing out in fury. Mr. Patrick has presidential ambitions in 2016, viewing himself as the rightful successor to President Obama — a chic black progressive, who will continue America’s transformation into a European-style nanny state. A massive tax revolt is the last thing Mr. Patrick wants or needs.
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts state legislature voted to raise the gas tax by 3 cents to 26.5 cents a gallon. More importantly, the Democrats in the legislature did something even more insidious: They indexed future increases in the gas tax to inflation. In other words, the law guarantees permanent automatic gas-tax increases without lawmakers having to vote on them. The indexing goes only one way — up. If there is deflation, gas taxes will not go down. It is a massive money — and power — grab that directly hits taxpayers in the pocket (most of whom need to drive in their cars to get to work and pay the taxes that finances Massachusetts’ lavish welfare state).
Yet, the law is more than a corrupt attempt to hike taxes through the back door. It represents a fundamental assault on the very basis of our constitutional republic: No taxation without representation. This law does the very opposite. It enshrines the pernicious principle of taxation without representation. Democratic lawmakers have given themselves a free pass from voting for any future gas-tax increases. This violates the basic precept of self-government; namely, that elected representatives can only raise the people’s taxes with their explicit consent through a vote in the legislature. The precedent is ominous. Today, it is gas taxes that will be hiked automatically. Tomorrow, it will be property, sales and income taxes. It is liberal corruption at its worst — a one-party regime that doesn’t even pretend to care about democratic accountability and government transparency.
For the state’s taxpayers, this was the final blow. To the shock (and horror) of Massachusetts’ political and media elites, the peasants rose up. A group called “Tank the Gas Tax” gathered the required 100,000 signatures on a petition to place on the ballot next year the question of whether the automatic tax increases should be repealed. (Note: The ballot does not challenge the initial 3 cents per gallon tax hike, only the indexing of the tax to inflation.) Many Bay State Republican lawmakers support the movement. So do I, as well as many of my listeners. We have termed the automatic increases the “forever gas tax.”
Still, even this exercise in democracy is too much for the state’s liberal ruling class. Recently, Mr. Patrick excoriated supporters of the ballot initiative, claiming it jeopardizes future funding for road and bridge repairs.
“I think that the ballot initiative to undo the indexing of the gas tax is a mistake,” he said. “Everywhere around the commonwealth, people understand that we’ve got to reinvest in our transportation system in order to sustain and, indeed, accelerate growth.”
Mr. Patrick also defended the automatic tax increases, saying that “the legislature in their due authority selected the gas tax in a way not to have to come back to it every 15 minutes.” No, not every 15 minutes, but how about once a year? In other words, if the Democrat-controlled legislature wants to increase the gas tax — or any other tax — every year, then they should have the courage and decency to vote on it every year. It’s called representative democracy.
Moreover, the Democrats’ pro-gas-tax arguments are full of lies and blatant distortions. The ballot initiative does not “cut funding” to transportation; the recent tax hike will go into effect. Hence, there will be more money than ever for roads, bridges and highways. In fact, the state government has been running massive budget surpluses of more than $800 million over the past 15 months. The last thing Mr. Patrick needs is another tax hike.
The central reason is that the gas tax can be used as a political slush fund for the Democrats to raid. The pro-tax forces claim that the money is allocated and earmarked to the transportation fund. This is true, but irrelevant. For example, in 2010 Massachusetts’ drivers had to cough up an extra 2.5 cents a gallon in order to pay for underground storage cleanup operations. More than half of the $75 million the cleanup tax generates has been appropriated every year for other projects. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s own budget director admits that the money in the transportation fund is not used for “road repair or maintenance.” In other words, transportation funding is fungible — it goes where the Democratic chieftains want it to go.
The real story is not that Massachusetts is finally experiencing a burgeoning tax rebellion, but that it’s taken so long. For decades, the Democrats have erected a quasi-mafia state. Political corruption and nepotism are rampant. The elite media serve as a communications arm for the Democratic Party. Welfare fraud and abuse is endemic. Child molesters and violent criminals are coddled. The state’s Probation Department is full of well-connected nieces, uncles and cousins, whose only purpose is to gorge at the public trough.
Then there is Mr. Patrick. He has turned Massachusetts into a safe haven for illegal immigrants, costing taxpayers countless millions and driving down the wages of blue-collar workers. His latest request is for a $9 million renovation project for one of the governor’s offices. Even Saddam Hussein would have blushed. The waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned money has not only been immoral, it has been borderline criminal. Enough is enough. It’s time to tank the gas tax.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio host on WRKO AM-680 in Boston.