More Pain at the Pump?

By James Morrison
Boston University Statehouse Correspondent

BOSTON – As winter follows fall, so do intimations of new taxes follow elections.

In this case, it is speculation of a gasoline tax increase to fund the reworking of the state’s transportation plan.

“I will say that I am well aware that numerous discussions have been going on about increased taxes and that obviously members of the majority party don’t want to have those go public until after the election, but they are absolutely under way and going on,” House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, told State House News Service this month.

Massachusetts motorists now pay a state tax of 21 cents per gallon that goes to transportation and an additional 2.5 cents a gallon to fund the cleanup of underground storage tanks. Federal excise taxes bring the total to 41.9 cents a gallon.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, the total tax on gasoline in Massachusetts is below the national average of 49.3 cents. In New England, only New Hampshire has a lower gasoline taxe than Massachusetts.

Revenue from the tax has fallen in real and adjusted rates as gas consumption has decreased and the cost per gallon has increased. The state has not raised the gasoline tax in two decades.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s attempt to raise the tax by 19 cents a gallon in his first term was rejected by the Legislature.

There is little appetite among drivers for any additional costs.

Monday, AAA Southern New England’s weekly survey showed a gallon of regular gas cost an average of $3.76 in Massachusetts, an increase of 34 cents from a year ago.

Along the Gulf Coast, however, the average price for a gallon of regular gas has gone down to $3.54.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Malden, asked the Federal Trade Commission last week to investigate if gasoline manufacturers were gouging consumers at the pump in New England, where prices have not receded as they have in other parts of the country.

Any initiative to raise the tax isn’t likely to surface until the new legislative session in January.

When asked about the possibility of an increase in the state gas tax, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told State House News Service: “That’s never been a desire of mine to increase taxes. But on the other hand, I’m smart enough to know that until you see the figures of what you’re working with, you don’t make any pledges.”

Area legislators don’t favor an increase.

Sen. James Timilty, D-Walpole, said he won’t vote for an increase.

“That would be like taxing people for going to work,” he said.

His Republican opponent in the upcoming election, Jeff Bailey, agreed.

“I believe that the best way to raise revenue is to lower taxes. We don’t have an revenue issue here in this state, we have a spending issue,” Bailey said.

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