Proposed Fuel Tax Increases for Massachusetts Not in Working Class’s Best Interests, Critics Say

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Most Democrats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives want to increase fuel taxes in Massachusetts, but they will be met with opposition.

The House voted 113-40 last week for a measure that would raise the state’s gas tax from 24 to 29 cents per gallon and its diesel tax from 24 to 33 cents per gallon. That’s a 21 percent increase in the gas tax and a 37.5 percent increase in the diesel tax. (It’s Massachusetts House Bill 4058, An Act Relative To Transportation Finance.)

No Republicans voted in favor of the proposal.

Supporters say a gas tax increase is needed to improve roads and bridges – as well as mass transit, which they say would reduce carbon emissions.

“We know there is a significant need for transportation revenue, and this package delivers it,” Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said in a written statement last week.

Opponents say it would everyone who drives and increase prices – which would particularly hurt poor people.

Whitman Republican Geoff Diehl, a former state representative and U.S. Senate candidate who was elected to the State Republican Committee last week for the Second Plymouth & Bristol District, ripped the proposal.

When he was in the state Legislature, Diehl teamed with fellow GOP state representatives Shaunna O’Connell (now the mayor of Taunton) and Jim Lyons (now the chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party) to lead a successful statewide referendum repealing a law passed by the state Legislature that sought to index the gas tax to inflation, thus leading to automatic increases that state legislators wouldn’t need to approve with a roll call vote.

“Now that we’re all out of the legislature, it seems like now the legislators on Beacon Hill are looking at it as an opportunity to raise the tax with token opposition to run with it again,” Diehl told New Boston Post at an event in East Bridgewater last week.

“The good news is it’s unlikely that the governor will support it and the people out there who fought this when it was a ballot question are willing to go to bat again and repeal it if we have to,” he added. “I think they’re making a mistake in thinking that there’s no opposition to their attempt to go back to take the money we said they’re not accountable for.”

Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, called the proposed fuel tax increases “regressive tax schemes” and argued they have the most impact on the poor.

“Speaker DeLeo’s gas tax hike will come out of the earnings of the hard-working taxpayers who rely on their vehicle to get to work, run errands, and operate a business,” Craney said in a written statement. “Instead of looking at how to spend taxpayer’s money more wisely, Speaker DeLeo added an additional cost onto the backs of the state’s already very generous taxpayers.”

Christopher Carlozzi, the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Massachusetts, also opposes the proposed fuel tax increases.

He told New Boston Post that if combined with the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative (supported by Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican) that could raise gas and diesel taxes by 17 cents per gallon, the impact would be especially negative.

“When fuel costs increase for small businesses, it means the price tag of goods and services will rise too,” Carlozzi said in an email message. “Fuel tax hikes result in less money for small businesses to create jobs and less money in consumers’ wallets.”

The bill would also increase the fees on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. The proposal would increase the fee by 20 cents, to $1.20 per ride on standard non-shared rides – a 20 percent increase over the current $1 fee.

On luxury rides, the fee would increase by $1.20 to $2.20 – an 83 percent increase.

In addition, the bill would end the sales tax exemption that rental car companies currently have when purchasing vehicles.

The proposal would raise taxes somewhere between $522 million and $612 million annually in the Bay State, according to the bill.

The Massachusetts Senate has not yet taken action on the bill. The Senate tends to be more left-leaning than the House.

Baker told reporters last week that he would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

While the margin in the House, if it stands, if veto-proof, Democratic legislative leaders usually try to avoid overriding the governor and often prefer instead to work out a deal with him in advance.