Governor Baker Against ‘Big Increase’ in Gas Tax As Part of Massachusetts Transportation Bill

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By Matt Murphy
State House News Service

With House Speaker Robert DeLeo eyeing a vote in the coming weeks on new transportation revenue, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on Monday said a “big increase” in the gas tax would be a non-starter for his administration.

Baker said he has already proposed policies that would bring more money into the state’s transportation system without raising taxes, including a regional effort to drive down carbon emissions from vehicles with a multi-state cap-and-invest program that could lead to higher gas prices.

The governor said taking action as a region would be “more competitive” than seeing Massachusetts raise its gas tax alone.

“I don’t see us supporting a big increase in the gas tax, no. But these guys have a debate to have and a lot of work to do and we’ll see where it goes,” Baker said Monday, November 4 when asked if he could see himself supporting a new revenue package for transportation.

DeLeo identified transportation revenues as one of two major topics he’d like to see the House tackle before the Legislature recesses for the year on Wednesday, November 20. The other issue, he said, is a “comprehensive” vaping bill.

A coalition of business groups last week detailed where the broader employer community stands on new revenue for transportation, including public transit systems that many of their workers around Greater Boston rely on to get to their jobs.

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce said it supports a 15-cent increase to the state’s 24-cent gas tax as an interim measure to generate funds until the regional Transportation Climate Initiative can start generating revenues. However, some other large business groups, including Associated Industries of Massachusetts, say they cannot support a gas tax increase on top of the Transportation Climate Initiative.

“I think from our point of view doing something on a regional basis, rather than having Massachusetts do something on its own, is a more competitive way to deal with this,” Baker said Monday.

While it would not be until at least after the new year, Senate President Karen Spilka was non-committal about the Senate taking up a transportation revenue bill should one pass the House this session.

Spilka initially referred to the ongoing work of state Senator Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop) and Sen. Adam Hinds (D-Pittsfield), who are leading working groups studying ways to improve the transportation system and modernize the state’s tax code.

At a meeting of his revenue group last week, Hinds said he felt the group was on track to produce a set of recommendations by next summer before the end of the legislative session, and state Senator William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) urged the group to focus on revenue-neutral ways to make the tax code fairer.

“The senators, both Hinds and Boncore, are looking at potential short-term recommendations as well as long term recommendations,” Spilka said Monday.

In addition to the bill the Senate will vote on Thursday, November 7 to require additional campaign finance reporting for legislative candidates, Spilka said the Senate also hopes to act on a “pharmacy related cost bill” before the break.

“That supp budget, too, right?” Baker chimed in, prodding the two Democrats over a more than $700 million surplus spending bill that remains the subject of negotiations and a procedural dispute between the branches.

“Yes, there’s progress there,” Spilka said. “A lot of progress with the substance and it’s moving forward.”

The bill allocates surplus revenues from fiscal 2019, which ended June 30.