Gas Is Expensive; Massachusetts Democrats Tried To Make It More Expensive In 2020

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Gas prices are up across the country, but if the Massachusetts House of Representatives got what it wanted in 2020, it would be even more expensive.

That’s because most state representatives voted to raise the state’s gas tax on March 4, 2020. The House voted 113-40 to pass An Act Relative To Transportation Finance (H.4530). If it became law, the bill would have raised the Commonwealth’s gas tax by 5 cents per gallon (to 29 cents a gallon) and diesel tax by 9 cents per gallon (to 33 cents per gallon).

Every Republican voted against the measure, as did eight Democrats and one unenrolled. The Democrats who voted against the measure were  Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow), Michelle Dubois (D-Brockton), Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), Patrick Joseph Kearney (D-Scituate), David Robertson (D-Tewksbury), John Rogers (D-Norwood), John Velis (D-Westfield), and Jonathan Zlotnik (D-Gardner).

The bill never came up for a vote in the Massachusetts Senate and therefore never became law.

Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney said that these high prices show why raising the gas tax is a bad idea.

“As Massachusetts motorists pay over $4 a gallon for gasoline, now is a good time to be reminded that the Massachusetts House of Representatives including Speaker Ron Mariano wanted to increase gasoline prices even more by raising taxes on motor fuels,” Craney told NewBostonPost in an email message. “House lawmakers don’t feel the suffering of higher taxes on gas because they voted themselves a pay raise for travel expenses. 

“While it may seem obvious to ordinary people, that raising fuel taxes is harmful to the economy and especially to lower income and middle class people, for our House lawmakers including Speaker Ron Mariano, it’s just another example of their callous approach to Massachusetts taxpayers.”

Democratic opposition in the Massachusetts House didn’t just come from conservative Democrats. While Garry and Robertson are among the more conservative Democrats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, DuBois is among the most progressive.

And someone to the left of DuBois didn’t like it, either. State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven (D-Somerville), who took office in 2021, wasn’t yet a member of the legislature when the gas tax issue came up for a vote. However, the self-identified democratic socialist ripped the idea of raising the gas tax as a “regressive” policy in February 2021.

Uyterhoeven addressed the gas tax during the course of describing an idea she has to forgive all coronavirus pandemic-related utility debt and to pay for it by taxing carbon emissions.

“We’re basically working on a bill to forgive utility debt that is held by anyone in Massachusetts. It would create essentially a fund that would begin by paying off the COVID-related utility debt, and going forward this fund, once that debt is paid off, moving forward pay a portion of utility bills in the state,” Uyterhoeven said. “And that money is coming from a carbon tax on non-transportation sources. Right, so it’s not the kind of regressive carbon tax that the House Speaker is very much a fan of with the gas tax, but instead, taxing the polluters.”

As Uyterhoeven noted at the time, now-House Speaker Ron Mariano (D-Quincy) supported raising the gas tax when the bill passed the House. (He was House makority leader at the time.)

Mariano vouched for the bill a week before it passed, citing the need for more state government spending in transportation.

“This is a tax increase in an election year, and everyone is looking to have an impact on their district,” Mariano said in February 2020, according to State House News Service. “So the approach to this was we will listen, we will evaluate your concerns and try to address them in this first step. And again, I want to stress this. This is just the beginning. This is nowhere near the identified needs.”

The average gas price in Massachusetts as of Wednesday, March 9 was $4.306 per gallon, according to AAA. The most expensive gas in the state was on Nantucket, where a gallon of regular gas averaged $5.146 per gallon.

Mariano’s office could not be reached for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday this week. 


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