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Shaking down the blind for a few cents

      Editorial from the Eagle-Tribune, March 7, 2003

Massachusetts faces an enormous budget deficit and, as we noted in yesterday’s editorial on state aid to libraries, everyone is expected to pick up part of the burden.

But there is such a thing as being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

For those unfamiliar with the old saw, it refers to cutting corners to save a few cents today, while ignoring the much higher long-term cost of those decisions.

A case in point can be found in some of the new fees Gov. Mitt Romney is proposing to lop $60 million off the projected $3 billion budget deficit. Romney argues that “fees” are not new “taxes” because paying a fee for some service is generally voluntary while paying a tax is not.

That’s a pretty fine point that we’re not willing to concede. Any process that extracts money from private pockets and deposits it in the state treasury is a tax by any other name.

But we will grant that Romney has proposed a number of fee increases that are indeed voluntary and perfectly justified in trying fiscal times. Among these are: increasing the cost of gun registration from $25 to $75; doubling cottage rental fees at state parks from a range of $450-$1,900 to $900-$3,800; and boosting seasonal golf passes from a range of $100-$650 to $150-$800.

Few could argue that some vital state need is provided by cheap cottage rentals or golf course passes.

But that’s not the case with some of Romney’s fee proposals.

The governor wants to start charging $50 for the tuberculosis test kits the state now provides free to cities and towns. Further, he wants to charge $400 for the X-rays and medicine now provided free to those who test positive for the disease.

Cash-strapped cities and towns will surely pass those charges on to those needing the tests and treatment — largely the poor and immigrant populations. Is there anything to gain from a outbreak of tuberculosis in our inner cities? The risk is not worth the $300,000 savings to the state.

Here’s another: Romney wants legally blind people to pay $10 for an official certificate of blindness and another $15 for a special identification card. The total reaped by extorting money from those guilty of the sin of blindness — $114,000.

And another: $100 for the application to see if one is eligible for services from the Department of Mental Retardation. The state’s take from this bit of human suffering — $15,000.

This Dickensian grasping for pennies from the sick, blind and mentally handicapped is unworthy of our state. Gov. Romney, fire a few more of Billy Bulger’s six-figure aides and spare us this shame.


  

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