Sunday, April 12, 2015

Snowstorm socialism and the T

By Jane Collins

Posted Apr. 6, 2015 at 2:13 PM

Bostonians put so much time and effort into moving snow this winter, we could have built a whole new city by now, preferably someplace warm and sunny. Why are we living here, again?
We’ll remember why this month, or maybe next. New Englanders appreciate spring more than anybody.
Our joy will be mostly relief that we survived this brute of a winter. We will also be happy to see any color that isn’t white or gray, and to experience any weather that isn’t trying to kill us.
Some people got to spend the winter elsewhere. There wasn’t much of a downside. Except now that spring has come, they can’t say they earned it. Others will relate their adventures; they will bite their tongues.

Another of the few things snowbirds missed was the sense of community that sometimes comes with a shared disaster. Snow is no respecter of status. It’s just as hard to dig out a new BMW as an old Chevy.
We’ve all groaned at the forecasts of more snow, spent countless hours getting to work and back and once we finally got home, searched online for funny pictures of snow sculptures to send friends in warmer climates.
In my neighborhood, four households have snow blowers. They managed to keep most of the sidewalks clear.
When one man’s job kept him out plowing, the others covered for him at home. People took turns digging out neighbors who could neither do it themselves nor afford to hire anyone to do it for them. A long-handled rake became, essentially, community property.
We all cheered for the city trucks that opened our streets back up. It was a sort of snowstorm socialism. Just as there are supposedly no atheists in a foxhole, there are no libertarians in a blizzard.
This kind of winter reminds us that it takes more than private enterprise to keep our city going. It takes government: city, state and federal.
We pay taxes so those services will be there when we need them. But this winter, the MBTA let us down. Tens of thousands had to wait, shivering and miserable, for buses that came hours late to replace trains that didn’t come at all. What lies behind such a massive failure?
Our new governor claimed to be shocked at the T’s supposed mismanagement. He seems to have forgotten that 20 years ago, as the top financial officer of the Weld administration, he made deep cuts to the budget for maintaining and upgrading the T, cuts that have never been restored.
Baker also loaded much of the cost of the Big Dig onto the transit system, even though it didn’t help T riders. Why should people on the bus pay for people in cars?
Budget-cutters like Baker always target programs that don’t affect their own class. They cut services for the poor, they cut housing and fuel subsidies, they cut public education — especially higher education — and they cut public transit.
They cut unionized state workers and give their jobs to low-paying private contractors. They cut monitoring and oversight, and they cut maintenance.

Then they brag about making government more efficient.
The problem is, these cuts don’t make government more efficient. They make it less able to do the work we need it to do. Cuts that save money this year are going to cost much more money later on.
If you cut cheap preventive care, eventually people will need expensive emergency services. If you cut support for higher education, our workforce becomes less employable. People who go to college anyway will be more burdened by debt, meaning they won’t be able to spend the money that keeps our economy healthy.
And if you cut maintenance, sooner or later, things will break down. Like subway cars.
So quit looking for somebody else to blame, Gov. Baker. You want the T to work? Fund it properly.
Change your mind about increasing the gas tax, and put the money into the T. A graduated state income tax would be another great way to fund mass transit.
Get the money from the people who have it. The one-percenters may not ride the T, but their workers do, so rich people need the T as much as the rest of us.
Public services have made Massachusetts a great place to live, in spite of the weather.
Gov. Baker, you helped Gov. Weld undermine those services. Now you have a chance to make up for that mistake. Don’t blow it.

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