A Big Dig Christmas surprise

Newspapers usually can't control when government decides to announce bad news. In a recent example, the Globe reports today about a possible increase in the cost of the Big Dig. It's Christmas Eve; who is reading the paper (besides me)?

I remember once a former Boston cop who had become a criminal defense lawyer telling me that the BPD would release its disciplinary actions against its cops on a Friday afternoon. They would become part of the public record then, but wouldn't be reported until Saturday, if they were reported at all. It was a way of minimizing the chance that the actions would become big news. I don't know if this is common practice, or if it is even true, but I am willing to accept this guy's word. It seems that perhaps the federal government follows a similar practice with the Big Dig. And here the biggest news of all is that the tax- and toll-payers of Massachusetts will have to pay for this because the feds have capped how much they are spending on this money pit.

What's most sad, is the expected $75 million increase to the project cost doesn't even touch the front end of the bottom line number. Unlike increases in the past that pushed the project from $2 billion to $14 billion, this only moves the decimal part of the $14.6 billion project to $14.7 billion apparently. Who cares when it's only one-tenth of something, even if it is one-tenth of a billion dollars. One tenth of one billion is 100 million, more than the operating budgets for many, many cities and towns in Massachusetts. How's that for perspective?

Take a look at just the bottom line of your town's budget, and think of all the complaints of low staff in the various departments, or the justification for a Proposition 2 1/2 override for a few million dollars. Think about it. These towns claim they are really struggling on the property taxes, excise taxes and state aid they are receiving, and yet the cost of a flawed construction project in Boston increases by an amount equal to the town's budget, and the Massachusetts tax- and toll-payers have to foot the whole bill. How's that for priorities?

While we're on the subject of the Big Dig, and while I'm on a roll, I figured I would mention one of the audio books I listened to recently. It is called "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins. It is non-fiction and the author tells about his role in helping to set up enormous public works projects in foreign countries that would benefit American corporations like Bechtel, which is the lead firm in the joint venture of the Big Dig, Bechtel/Parsons-Brinkerhoff. Though the book doesn't make this connection, I'm beginning to think a similar type of economic hit was perpetrated on Massachusetts as is described in Perkins' book.


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