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Massachusetts Residents to Vote on Gas Tax Measure

Hotly debated ballot measure would prevent future gas tax increases tied to inflation.
October 16, 2014

​BOSTON – When Massachusetts residents go to the polls in a few weeks, the first question they’ll see on the ballot is one that is likely to affect gas prices in the state. If it’s approved on November 4, Question 1 on the November ballot wouldn't lower the state's gas tax, but it could stop future increases that would otherwise occur automatically and without any say by lawmakers.

According to news reports, supporters of the ballot initiative view those automatic increases as a clear-cut case of "taxation without representation." But those supporting a “no” vote on the question warn that passage could undermine progress in fixing the state’s crumbling highway infrastructure, which is often funded through higher gas taxes.

At issue is a provision in a 2013 transportation financing law that indexes the gas tax to inflation — meaning that as the Consumer Price Index rises, so does the gas tax. The group seeking to repeal the provision says taxes should never go up without a recorded vote by the legislature. Last year, for the first time in more than 20 years, the legislature voted to raise the state gas tax 3 cents, to 24 cents per gallon, reflecting a growing urgency to fund road and bridge maintenance.

According to an Associated Press report, state transportation officials estimate that indexing will produce an additional $1 billion in revenue over the next decade, and opponents of repeal suggest that would come at a nominal cost to consumers. Based on recent CPI trends, Maguire said an average motorist would pay only about $5 to $10 more per year at the pumps if the tax is indexed.

However, those in favor of the repeal counter that with higher gas taxes, prices for food and other consumer goods would rise as well, due to increased shipping costs. Including all state and federal taxes and fees, Massachusetts drivers pay a total of 44.9 cents per gallon in gasoline taxes, according to the American Petroleum Institute. That puts the state below the U.S. average of just under 49.3 cents per gallon in total taxes. Only a handful of other states, including Maryland and Florida, currently index their gas taxes, according to the institute.