March 4, 2009
Governor Patrick, Chairman Wagner, Chairman Baddour, Members of the Committee, thank you for coming to Springfield to hear more about how we are thinking about transportation reform, and the idea of a gas tax, in Western Massachusetts.
I am here today representing The Springfield Institute, a group of forward-thinking and diverse next-generation leaders committed to bringing fresh perspectives, raising the level of debate, broadening the range of people participating in the debate, supporting community groups, and contributing to urban and regional transformation.
I am bringing a message for the Governor and the Committee Members, but also for the region’s other elected officials, the media, community leaders, and residents:
Don’t let the gas tax drive a wedge along class lines.
The future, for Springfield and the region (both urban and rural parts), hinges on our ability to reject the simplistic and exhausting zero sum mindset, that things like conservation and preventing climate change must come at the expense of workers and low-income people. There is a certain logical appeal to that story, but it is a false logic. A false dichotomy.
The real story, the story that holds great promise for our region, is about how social justice, environmental sustainability, and prosperity come together to form a mutually reinforcing agenda. “Green-brown solidarity” I heard it called at a Green Economy Working Group meeting last week. Others aspire to take down “the tofu curtain”— symbolized by the Holyoke Range, which divides the Five College area of the Pioneer Valley from Holyoke and Springfield. Van Jones’ “Green for All” movement may be the most compelling national example.
The price of gas is much lower in the US than in any other industrialized country. But this low price is in fact deceptive, or artificial. Part of the explanation is that, at great cost, the federal government has been using military intervention to secure access to the Middle East, where 22% of our oil originates. Another part of the explanation is the enormous environmental cost that our collective addiction to oil represents. That’s not a cost we pay at the pump obviously, but we all pay dearly—not least our children and grandchildren. So gas isn’t so cheap. It’s just hard to trace those extra costs back to the gas pump. And the goal isn’t really to raise gas prices. That’s just one way to reduce consumption and raise revenue for infrastructure—infrastructure that cars depend on, but also infrastructure that creates alternatives (e.g., busses, trains, bikes, walking). And a gas tax is a primitive approach because it is an inherently regressive tax, disproportionately affecting those who can afford it least, and rural residents. I don’t think that is anyone’s agenda.
Our challenge is to gather all the ways we “pay” for gas (think financial, social, and environmental); and then we must work to reduce those costs (through administrative streamlining, foreign policy changes, environmental regulation, and clean tech), and distribute them equitably. But when we try to eliminate those costs altogether, we do so at our own peril.
The reduction of the Governor’s Transportation and Economic Security Plan to one issue—a 19-cent gas tax–has needlessly polarized the debate and obscured the fact that enlightened public sector transportation spending, like that which we are eminently capable of, does in fact yield tangible, short-term, local, and equitable benefits. There is no trade off.
Thank you for your time and your consideration.
Aron P. Goldman
The Springfield Institute
413 549 1193