The MetroWest Daily News – Ballot question could halt tax – 4/5/2014

By Brian Benson
Daily News Staff

A measure lawmakers approved last year to index the gas tax to inflation is prompting debate amid an effort to repeal the provision.

Lawmakers last year increased the gas tax from 21 cents per gallon to 24 cents per gallon and linked it to inflation.

Backers of a potential fall ballot question want to see the inflation provision repealed, arguing lawmakers should have to vote each time for the gas tax to increase. Those who support indexing the gas tax to inflation say it is critical to keep up with the cost of goods and services needed for transportation projects.

MassDOT estimates indexing will cost the average driver $5 per year and, over a decade, generate $2 billion for use on transportation projects.

Stephanie Pollack, an associate director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, said Massachusetts became one of a growing number of states that are indexing gas taxes to inflation.

“It’s a tax we use to build infrastructure and the cost to build infrastructure basically rises with inflation,” Pollack said.

She said lawmakers historically do not frequently increase gas taxes. It takes on average 17 years for lawmakers in states that have a fixed rate gas tax to raise it, according to a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Before last year’s increase, the gas tax was last raised in Massachusetts in 1991.

Marty Lamb, a Holliston resident and co-sponsor of the ballot question movement, said if more money is needed in the future for transportation or other reasons, lawmakers should vote on it.

“Our basic position has been from the start and remains that a future potential increase in the tax should be voted on by the representatives and senators on Beacon Hill,” Lamb said. “If they truly believe additional revenue is needed, let them vote on it each time. That’s their job.”

Lamb said supporters, who have collected more than 100,000 signatures, have no plans to try to repeal the increase in the gas tax from 21 to 24 cents per gallon. They simply want to end indexing.

“Whether we agree or not (with the increase to 24 cents) is irrelevant,” Lamb said. “That was voted on the record.”

Ed McGrath, of Framingham’s Republican Town Committee, said indexing the tax to inflation decreases transparency compared to lawmakers voting on each tax increase.

“If the Legislature thinks (the state) needs more money, they should be required to say so,” he said.

Lamb said he also worries it could lead to other things such as the minimum wage being indexed to inflation.

Paul Matthews, executive director of the 495/MetroWest Partnership, said research that incorporated a range of different perspectives and political ideologies concluded that regular increases in revenue sources including the gas tax are needed.

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