Putting together a scrambled egg

There are three items that will be on the ballot this fall that I have serious doubts about.

Unlike most states, residents of Massachusetts can petition the government to get issues on the ballot. This fall, we'll have at least three issues that I think I'll have to oppose.

If you disagree, let me know. And, after all, you're the voter that will help decide the issue. It's not up to me.

Start with the "Free the Pike" campaign. As someone who spends four hours a day on this cross Massachusetts road, I don't mind paying for the privilege of driving on a road that is well maintained and marked, smooth, safe and expertly plowed in winter.

From Westfield to Boston is $3.10 plus an additional fifty cents at the Allston tolls. So, $7.20 round trip. If you have a car pool of at least three people, it's $75 a year. A bargain.

And, remember, if we head west, it's free to New York. No tolls west of Springfield's Exit 6.

No, out here, we're not paying for the Big Dig or anything in the Boston area. We, the Legislature, split the Pike into two parts last year. So money from 128 east pays for that portion of the Pike. Money collected west of 128 covers our costs out here.

So, pretend we remove all the tolls. Who pays for the maintenance, the debt?

Well, according to a coalition of community, business, labor and environmental organizations, if tolls were eliminated, we'd have to come up with a way to assume financial responsibility for $4.2 billion to cover bonds issued by the Turnpike and Massport. And, we'd have to find another way to pay for the turnpike's operating and maintenance costs as well as other state and bridge projects and the Big Dig.

Total cost, the amount taxpayers would have to come up with over the next 40 years, $8.8 billion.

If we shift the costs from tolls to taxes, it would take an additional eleven cents a gallon tax on gasoline. All drivers would pay it, not just drivers on the Pike. Something to think about.

As is, a ballot question on utility deregulation.

Last year, the Legislature de-regulated our utilities, to allow more competition and lower rates. It started last month, with basically all users guaranteed minimum savings of ten percent, more as the program progresses.

Admittedly, some utility companies, owned by municipalities, weren't included. But most, like the Westfield Gas and Electric, have plans to participate.

So utility companies are splintering into various parts, suppliers of power and deliverers of power, for example.

Along comes the ballot issue, demanding that we reject deregulation.

It looks, however, like the proverbial horse is out of the barn. With utilities selling off some assets, buying others, and reorganizing, I doubt we can go back to where we were.

How do you put a scrambled egg back together again?

The third ballot issue I have difficulty with is campaign finance reform.

This calls for public funding of elections in Massachusetts, and I don't think it's going to happen. Nor, do I think it's needed.

Estimated cost of publicly financed elections over a four year period is about $56-million. That's $14-million a year. And I don't think taxpayers want to pay the bills.

This week when you filed your taxes, did you check off the box to include money to fund elections? Probably not.

But, beyond the cost, is it necessary?

Massachusetts has very stringent campaign finance laws. Candidates for State Representative, for example, cannot accept more than $200 annually from a lobbyist, or more than $500 from an individual. We cannot accept corporate checks. And every penny we get is reported in our campaign finance reports.

We also have to report, annually, the value of our homes, our debts, the stocks we own, trusts we hold, companies we're involved with professionally. No secrets.

So, I ask. Do you want to pay for me to run for office? Do you want to pay more in gas taxes? Do you want to pay more for your electricity?

Think about it. Before November.

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