As if things around Boston aren't hot enough, state legislatures are actually considering taxing non-Bostonians who tie up traffic by causing accidents during rush hour. The Boston Globe reported today that elected officials are actually considering assessing a surcharge "of several hundred dollars" on any out-of-town automobile commuter whose at-fault accident frustrates what should be a well-oiled commute into downtown Boston. The article reports that with "Boston property taxes up 58 percent since 2002 and the city's cost of doing business rising, the proposal is finding support from people who say money should be raised from those who use city services [tow trucks, ambulances, etc.] but don't pay for them."
With our out-of-town Governor unclear on the concept of avoiding racist speech when talking about one of the costliest (and now fatal) public works projects this nation has ever seen (see coverage yesterday on Mitt Romney's use of the term "tar baby" to describe the Big Dig), Massachusetts doesn't need any more controversy to stir up and divide its citizens. How would a proposal like this work anyway? A Boston-based ambulance arrives at the scene of an accident in one of our newly-built but leaky and collapsing tunnels, and the Boston ambulance driver says to the out-of-towner with a sprained ankle and whiplash: "for the price of driving on our roads and because you have caused a traffic snarl and are not from around here, your ride will cost $300 more than a native Bostonian." How could the out-of-towner respond? "Well, I used be from around here. In fact, I lived in Boston for 12 years while you were building this mess. I suffered through the detours and closed roads and only moved away a couple of years ago, and I did that because the schools were only getting worse and my kid was about to start kindergarten."
It seems to me there are a lot of good reasons (finances aside) not to enact a law like this one. The common demoninator in our public life (and public laws) may seem like money, but it is really community. This proposal may raise money, but it will divide and alienate people. It raises the NIMBY syndrome to new levels. It is a bad idea.