Editor's note: This column is embargoed until noon Thursday, July 19. To localize, call Dukakis at (617) 373-4396 and speak with either him or his assitant Brian Sieben to get some savings numbers for towns in your area.


Make no mistake about it - the auto insurance premiums we pay are every bit as much a tax as any other burden imposed on us by state government.

Editor's note: This column is embargoed until noon Thursday, July 19. To localize, call Dukakis at (617) 373-4396 and speak with either him or his assitant Brian Sieben to get some savings numbers fortowns in your area.

Nonnie Burnes, the new insurance commissioner, has just ruled that Massachusetts will take another stab at competitive auto insurance rating. As the governor who tried it in 1977, with disastrous results, I share the concerns of many about how it is going to affect a lot of Massachusetts motorists, particularly those in our older urban communities such as Quincy and Brockton.

Fortunately, the Commissioner has made it clear that she will not permit insurance companies under the new system to discriminate against certain drivers for reasons other than their own driving records. Nonnie Burnes and Deval Patrick were young lawyers in the law firm I left to become governor, and I have a lot of respect for both of them. But they are going to have to be very tough if the move to competitive rating is going to avoid the results we experienced some 30 years ago.

Unfortunately, competitive rating in whatever form isn't going to save the system a lot of money. Some people will pay less, and some people will pay more, but unless there is fundamental reform of the auto insurance system itself, there won't be much, if anything, in the way of overall savings, especially for motorists in our older cities.

That is where Auto Choice comes in and why it makes so much sense. Auto Choice is a simple but important reform that for the first time would give Massachusetts motorists a choice of straight no fault coverage for all medical expenses, lost wages and other economic losses but without pain and suffering or the option to remain in the liability/fault system with all its delays, uncertainties and hefty lawyers' fees.

The choice would be yours, and yours alone. And if you chose straight no-fault, your premium would drop by several hundred dollars year. In Quincy, that would mean annual savings in excess of $400 dollars a year. In Weymouth, it would be a little less than $400, while Plymouth would save about $340 a year. And in Brockton, the average annual savings per motorists would be more than $550 a year.

In fact, if the vast majority of Massachusetts motorists elected the no-fault option, the overall savings would be the equivalent of a $1 billion tax cut without any loss of revenue to the state treasury.

And make no mistake about it - the auto insurance premiums we pay are every bit as much a tax as any other burden imposed on us by state government.

At a time when the middle class in this country and state are carrying heavier and heavier burdens and getting almost none of the tax cuts that much wealthier people have been getting since 2001, here is a chance to give them some real relief and remove a big burden on the state's courts as well.

The Legislature has already taken an important first step in this direction. The Legislative Committee on Financial Services, chaired by Quincy's own Rep. Ron Mariano and Sen. Stephen Buoniconti, D-Springfield, has for the first time reported the bill out favorably from the committee. Now it is up to us. If we want real rate relief and several hundred dollars worth of cuts in our auto insurance premiums every year, we have to let the governor, the insurance commissioner and our legislators know that Auto Choice is the kind of fundamental reform we need.

Nobody really knows what impact competitive rating will have on us individually.

But the savings from Auto Choice are real - and they will benefit everybody.

Michael S. Dukakis was a three-term governor of Massachusetts and the 1988 Democratic nominee for president. He teaches political science at Northeastern University and University of California, Los Angeles.