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What are your gas tax solutions?

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor

The audience at the legislative hearing of the Joint Committee on Transportation applauded twice while Gov. Deval Patrick was at the event. One burst was clearly in favor of what Patrick was saying and the other was in response to a remark made by State Rep. Joseph Wagner that was seen as critical of the governor and his proposed 19 cent increase to the state s gas tax.
There was no doubt there is no general consensus about the tax increase. No one wants it, although some are willing to admit we need it.
Although Patrick emphasized that drastic reform of the state s transportation bureaucracy was essential, it was apparent that many in the audience either didn t believe in his commitment to breaking up the cronyism that infests the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and the Turnpike Authority or simply wanted to say no to any new tax.
The fact that Patrick is making such an effort in selling Western Massachusetts on his plan " he was on an unprecedented two days in a row on Brad Shepard s morning show on WHYN last week " says something significant: he understands how angry we are out here and how historically helpless we have felt toward the abuses of the Boston power structure.
He cautioned, though, that Western Massachusetts needs the tax money spent here that is raised in the eastern part of the state and that wailing too loud about being the tail of the dog might wind up hurting us.
For me, this is a test of the integrity and resolution of the Legislature. Recognizing the great need for transportation infrastructure improvement, will they, as a body, rise to the occasion of working with a governor who has set forth a plan or will they follow politics as usual?
There are indeed individuals in the Western Massachusetts delegation who will fight the good fight, but political reality being what it is compromise is the currency of the General Court.
The governor s case is compelling: we have great need and little funds and the mistakes of the past have come to make us consider increasing a tax in a state known for its taxes. Reform is necessary, but raising revenue is also an issue.
I would like to think that even the governor s detractors could agree that this is not a situation of his making and that the people in power in this state for the last 30 years have allowed the problems we now face to grow to their present size.
Patrick has said he is willing to work with people to reach solutions. What would yours be?
***
There are three general locations in the Valley where young people go to party: Northampton, Amherst and Springfield. The issue of underage drinking is common to all, but Springfield s conditions have taken center stage because of the prevalence of 18-plus nights in which people ages 18 through 20 can enter a bar, drink soda and socialize.
The problem is that they may also get to drink alcohol and get into trouble. Mayor Domenic Sarno wants to cut off these events, but the question facing him and other officials is whether or not this will slice off the head of the goose that is laying golden eggs around Stearns Square.
The bar owners do good business with these events; do we wish to see their business and the entertainment district suffer?
For me, there is a much larger issue here and that is the nature of having a drinking age of 21 when so many other determinations in life are set at age 18. Frankly, I can not see why we tell young people they can " you know what I m going to write here " shoulder a gun in the service of their country but can t get a legal beer. It doesn t make sense.
I think we should really examine whether or not the current legal drinking age is realistic and right.
Yes, I expect to get letters and e-mails.
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Shameless Promotion Department

I received the following press release this week:
"G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor of Reminder Publications, will address the Springfield Rotary Club's luncheon meeting on Friday, March 13. His topic will be Springfield History Lost and Found through Postcards and other Artifacts.
Dobbs wrote a book on Springfield s history as told through postcards that was published last year by Arcadia Publishing.
'The history of this city is a rich one and points to a bright future if we can re-learn the lessons of the past,' he said.
Dobbs is the managing editor of Reminder Publications, a former college instructor and radio talk show host. The Springfield post card book is his second book. His first was Escape! How Animation Broke into the Mainstream in the 1990s. A long-time Springfield resident, Dobbs lives with his wife Mary, Lucky the Wonder Bichon and way too many cats.
The Springfield Rotary Club meets every Friday at 12:15 p.m. in the Mass Mutual Room at The Basketball Hall of Fame, West Columbus Ave., Springfield, and is a proud member of Rotary International. The Rotary luncheon is $17 per person and is open to the public.
For more information on the Springfield Rotary or becoming a member, please contact Springfield Club Membership Chair Bob Dambrov at 537-9294 or visit their Web site at www.springfieldmarotary.org."
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments to mdobbs@thereminder.com or to 280 N. Main St., E. Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.


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