Cold Turkey

Things sure are tough in Massachusetts, where they just can't figure out which tax to increase.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s free wheels for welfare recipients program is revving up despite the stalled economy, as the keys to donated cars loaded with state-funded insurance, repairs and even AAA membership are handed out to get them to work.
Like crack heads looking for the next convenience store to rob, the state's politicians are experiencing anticipatory shivers at the thought that the flow of money might be reduced.
The house wants to raise the sales tax by 25%, but the Governor prefers to raise the gas tax by more than 80%. He also wants to start taxing alcohol, and to institute a tax on candy. A toll hike has also been tentatively approved - from three to seven dollars to drive into Boston.
The Patrick administration decided last month to funnel an additional $30,000 to the nearly $400,000 annual car ownership program.
The budget is running billions of dollars in the red, and even with $9 billion in liberal budget bailout money coming from Washington, they just can't meet the state's obligations without a new revenue stream.
The program, which is provided by the State Department of Transitional Assistance, gives out about 65 cars a year, said DTA Commissioner Julia Kehoe.
The free car program is obviously small potatoes in the scheme of things. But it offers an important insight into the mindsight of government today. They are in the business of taking care of people, not in the business of running a government.
The state pays for the car’s insurance, inspection, excise tax, title, registration, repairs and a AAA membership for one year at a total cost of roughly $6,000 per car.
They live in a fishbowl, locked in the state house, responding to the input of special interests - lobbyists, who fund their campaigns, and advocacy groups, who yell and scream in front of TV cameras when the annual growth of a handout is hindered by economic realities.
The program, which started in 2006, distributes cars donated by non-profit charities such as Good News Garage, a Lutheran charity, which also does the repair work on the car and bills the state.“If you look at the overall picture, this helps make sure people aren’t staying on cash assistance. It’s a relatively short payment for a long-term benefit,” Kehoe said.
Have you ever wondered why, during a bad economy, they cut teachers, police and fire, but somehow the free car programs are hallowed ground?
But Kehoe admitted about 20 percent of those who received a car ended up back on welfare, and while they lose the insurance and other benefits, they don’t have to return the car.
Now isn't that classic. Another incentive to fail - go back on welfare, get a free car.
“It’s mind-boggling. You’ve got people out there saying, ‘I just lost my job. Hey, can I get a free car, too?’ ” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading).
On Easter Sunday, the Massachusetts Turnpike was backed up for hours because there weren't enough toll collectors on duty. Some sat so long waiting to pay their tolls that they missed their visits with family. Why? The head of the Turnpike Authority, Alan Lebovidge, said he couldn't afford to pay extra $37/hour workers to come in for the holiday.
Pilloried by motorists and lawmakers alike for Easter gridlock, Turnpike boss Alan LeBovidge insisted that he was right in not pressing reserve toll takers into action, saying pricey overtime pay would crash his financially troubled agency.
In response to the uproar, the Governor decided to spend $6 million dollars to give away transponders without charge, and the planned layoff of 50 toll takers was canceled. But dang, somehow there was no money to bring in a few extra guys to work the tolls?
"Sometimes, you have to grin and bear it," LeBovidge said. "If you don't have money, you can't buy food and you have to go hungry."
I subscribe to that theory. So here's my plan to save Massachusetts from all the turmoil over the out of wack budget. About 25 percent of the state's revenues are spent on paying medical bills for residents. Let's opt out of the Medicaid program, which covers about 30 percent of all residents who aren't on Medicare (that's what liberals call a safety net), and save about $4 billion (56% of the cost is covered with federal dollars). Then, let's cancel the state's mandatory health insurance law, and save another billion. We'll use that billion for a health care safety net, and the $4 billion saved will balance the budget. See how easy it is to make ends meet when your priority is fiscal responsibility rather than maintaining the status quo?