Support for Charlie Baker’s Carbon-Emissions Fee on Gasoline Nonexistent Among Republicans

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Governor Charlie Baker is in a party of one when it comes to the Transportation Climate Initiative.

The Republican is interested in having Massachusetts join a 12-state pact featuring New England and Mid-Atlantic states in an initiative to reduce carbon emissions. A proposal would impose fees on fuel providers for their contribution to carbon emissions, with the money to go toward expanding public transportation. The fee would increase the price of gasoline for drivers up to 17 cents per gallon.

Yet the Transportation Climate Initiative is a non-starter for Baker’s fellow Republicans in the Massachusetts Legislature.

None of the 36 Republicans in the Massachusetts Legislature (32 state representatives, four state senators) has publicly supported the initiative. And several are speaking out against it.

GOP opponents are criticizing both the substance and the process.

State Representative Peter Duran notes that after the Democratic supermajority in the state Legislature passed an automatic gas tax increase tied to inflation, Massachusetts voters in 2014 rejected the gas tax increase in a statewide referendum.

“It seems to me that the Transportation Climate Initiative is a bit like a chameleon,” state Representative Peter Duran (R-Spencer) told New Boston Post in an email message. “To some, it’s ‘imperative’ for combating climate change; to others, it provides ‘Investment’ for infrastructure and many talk about how it ‘could’ increase public transportation services. 

“But very few talk about it as a very clever back-door tax on gasoline,” he added. “One that: 1) the voters have already rejected, and 2) is shielded from requiring a potentially difficult vote of the legislature. It’s a complex policy of cap and trade that is often unpopular with the public, especially when they see what it does to the cost of their commute.”

Baker administration officials are saying the governor can impose the carbon-emissions fee on fuel providers without further legislative approval, based on a law enacted in 2007.

That bothers state Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk), who told New Boston Post he does not think “anything of this magnitude should be done by executive order” — arguing that if President Donald Trump attempted something as significant on his own, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey would have filed a lawsuit against him already.

“This will have a dramatic impact on the citizens of the commonwealth and should be properly vetted with public hearings and the representatives and senators should then debate it, amend it, and vote on it with their constituents’ best interests at heart,” Dooley said in an email message.

“Further, I think it is foolhardy to join a consortium of states where we relinquish our sovereign power,” he added. “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to sign onto a pact where New York and New Jersey can raise our taxes.”

State Senator Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) focused on the governor’s contention he can impose the fee without getting approval from legislators.

“As a Massachusetts State Senator, I deeply understand the importance our transportation and infrastructure needs across the Commonwealth. However, there is much debate to be had as to how we pay for said projects. I believe that to impose the TCI fees without a vote from the legislature of the Commonwealth does a disservice to the taxpayers that I and my colleagues represent,” Fattman said in a written statement, through a spokesman.

“I ask that the TCI is required to be voted on by the state legislature as a standalone vote prior to its enactment as a regional agreement,” Fattman continued. “People from all corners of Massachusetts will benefit from a process with greater transparency and accountability.”

State Representative David DeCoste (R-Norwell) told New Boston Post that he’s unaware of any of his Republican colleagues in the House supporting the Transportation Climate Initiative.

He also said he’s troubled by the policy.

“I have a number of problems with it,” DeCoste told New Boston Post in a telephone interview. “Any tax that is going to be raised ought to be raised by the Legislature. This shifts responsibility to bureaucrats. The Legislature has no say in how the money will be spent. And to throw what amounts to a new gas tax into the hands of bureaucrats is a big problem. As you know, that’s a regressive tax. From my experience, those bureaucrats are tone-deaf to the concerns of the average taxpayer. My guess is this whole thing is going to be thrown out as unconstitutional.”

Supporters of the Transportation Climate Initiative claim it’s a carbon-emissions fee on fuel providers, not a tax on gasoline.

State Representative Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick) isn’t buying the distinction, and he sees the projected increase in the price of gasoline as harmful to the economy.

“This tax, and that’s exactly what it is, is not only a detriment to pursue but an absolute wrecking ball to the financial well-being of working-class citizens in Massachusetts. When is enough enough? The return on investment when it comes to carbon emissions reduction is dismal. Which is why that argument should be dumped just like this tax,” Boldyga said in a written statement through a spokesman.

Jay McMahon, the 2018 Republican nominee for state Attorney General and a current candidate for state Senate, is running to try to replace former state senator Vinny deMacedo to represent the Plymouth & Barnstable District.

McMahon, of Bourne, is opposing both the Transportation Climate Initiative and adding tolls to Route 3, which runs from the Sagamore Bridge at the Cape Cod Canal to the Southeast Expressway into Boston.

“Think about what we’re doing,” McMahon said. “We have a good economy. This is the best I’ve ever seen it. Unemployment is very low. People are traveling to work and I just can’t see why you would punish good, hard-working people with open road tolls and doubling the gas tax, it’s just not right to me.”

The Transportation Climate Initative is facing trouble due to bipartisan opposition from New England governors. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, refuses to participate. Vermont Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat, have both expressed opposition to increasing the price of gasoline in their states. Maive Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, has been hesitant about the proposal.

Only Rhode Island’s governor, Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, has expressed support for the idea.

A spokesman for Governor Baker could not immediately be reached for comment.