Last Year’s Gas Tax Increase – What’s Happening?

There was a minor kerfuffle at the hearing the State Legislature’s Revenue Committee held last week. Among other bills, the Committee was taking testimony on a ballot initiative petition that would repeal a change in the tax law that passed last year.  It would repeal the part of the law that, starting in 2015, will index the tax the state imposes on gasoline to the Consumer Price Index in order to keep tax collections reasonably comparable to the costs of constructing and repairing roads and bridges. (A different part of the 2013 law, which is not the subject of repeal, increased the tax from 21 to 24 cents per gallon.)

During last week’s hearing, the Senate Committee Chair observed that the supporters of indexing significantly outnumbered its opponents. That observation, in turn, greatly angered the petition’s chief organizer, who then vowed to go to the constituents of the Senate Committee Chair to collect additional signatures in support of his repeal petition. Such is politics.

And so all that business reminded me that it’s been six months since the 3-cent per gallon tax increase went into effect and that I ought to check in — what’s going on?

Well, for starters, gas prices in the Boston area right now are lower — by thirty cents a gallon — than they were when the gas tax increase went into effect, which is helping to blunt the effect of the increase on consumers.  Of course no one is predicting where those prices will go in the future, but at least for now, we’re getting more revenue to fix our roads and bridges at a minimal cost to those for whom a tax increase (predicted to average between $12 and $30 annually) would be a hardship.

Dire predictions about the catastrophic effect of the gas tax increase have not yet materialized — for example, increased transportation costs have not raised the price of a box of cereal by a dollar, as one legislator predicted they would.

We have taken one baby-step in the direction of taxing carbon in a way that will encourage conservation.

The biggest news on the topic is that last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill to fund some of the road and bridge repairs that the gas tax will be paying for. And those legislators who opposed the gas tax increase and indexing last year (not one Republican voted in favor of them, and 20 to 30 of the 130 Democrats joined them in opposition) were not exactly shy about asking for the new revenue to be spent in their districts.

Three Legislators who opposed the gas tax increase last year and succeeded in getting improvements in their districts in last week’s spending bill:

  • Rep. Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth). Last year, Representative deMacedo decried the tax increase: “We keep continuing to hit our constituents who have less and less.  It is all too much to ask the people of the commonwealth to pay more.”  But last week, he was successful in getting $6 million for an intermodal transportation center and parking garage in the town of Plymouth.
  • Rep. Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleboro). Last year, Representative Poirier urged the House to defeat the gas tax increase: “You continue to raise taxes on our population that can’t pay it now.  How can we as good stewards of the people who vote for us reach into their pockets? Don’t harm our families any more than they are now.” But last week, she was successful in getting $3.2 million for Kelley Boulevard roadway improvements, $1 million for Smith Street roadway and sidewalk reconstruction, and $1 million for Chestnut Street intersection improvements — all in North Attleboro.
  • Rep. George Peterson:  Last year, Representative Peterson took up the cause of the pizza delivery business in opposing the gas tax increase: “I know 3 cents a gallon isn’t a lot of money, but when you’re in the delivery business and you put 100 gallons into your truck day after day and if you’re the pizza place that has to pay the delivery charge it has a negative impact on our economy. The $20 delivery charge is coming out of his pocket, but it’s going to come out of someone else’s pocket to make it up.” But last week, he secured $2 million for railroad crossings in his district towns of Grafton, Hopedale, Milford, and Upton.

Dear residents of these lucky towns of Plymouth, North Attleboro, Grafton, Hopedale, Milford and Upton. We wish you all the best with your roadway improvements. Just keep in mind that your elected officials in the House are now proposing to spend money they were opposed to collecting in the first place.

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