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Between the Lines: DeLeo Dollars in Fantasy Land

The House Speaker takes an old road to mediocrity.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The new taxes we’re paying when we buy gas, cigarettes or computer services won’t hurt my budget that much, I suppose.

The three-cent hike in the gas tax that went into effect in Massachusetts last week will only cost me about five bucks more each month, although it will also likely drive up costs in other areas when businesses start passing along the increase to consumers. For people like my wife, who runs her own business, the gas tax will undoubtedly mean an increase in the fuel surcharges imposed by frieght carriers like UPS and FedEx.

While it may only amount to $60 more per year for my two-car family, I still resent the tax deeply. First off, it’s regressive as hell. It inflicts greater harm on poor people than on the rich. Moreover, it comes packaged with two other tax hikes, one unfair and the other just plain stupid—a dollar more per pack of cigarettes and from zero to 6.25 percent sales tax on computer services—that show just what a lazy, out-of-touch bunch of mediocrities populate the Legislature and the governor’s office.

That some of the new tax revenue will go to the state’s transportation black hole, an endlessly broken and budget-busting system, is no comfort at all.

If you prefer to focus your ire on one villain, House Speaker Robert DeLeo of Winthrop is a good choice, but when it comes to idiotic public policy, it really takes a village. DeLeo ushered in the new taxes as an ostensible compromise to Gov. Deval Patrick’s more ambitious proposal to increase the income tax rate and cut the sales tax. In January, when Patrick revealed his plan to hike the income tax from 5.25 to 6.25 percent and cut sales tax from 6.25 to 4.5 percent, surely anyone interested seeing a more progressive tax policy from Beacon Hill should have cheered—unless, like me, you distrusted the governor’s commitment to the issue.

But DeLeo played the anti-left card, calling Patrick’s proposal “fantasy land.” The House Speaker, known for doling out budget earmarks, or “DeLeo Dollars,” to his allies, was happy to show Patrick, who failed to push through a 19-cent per gallon gas tax in 2009, how it’s done. In the end, Patrick watched lawmakers reject his tax plan to raise $1.9 billion in annual revenues in favor of DeLeo’s plan to raise $500 million this fiscal year and up to $800 million per year by 2017.

The fight between Patrick and DeLeo, I suspect, was mainly for show. They disagreed about taxing, not spending. Patrick has spent nearly eight years talking loftily out of one side of his mouth about the need for progressive forms of taxation while pushing tax hikes on easy targets like smokers and motorists. DeLeo, meanwhile, wanted to appear a fiscal hawk even as he ensured that he and his fellow trough feeders have plenty of slop.•

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