A new ballot measure to repeal part of a law that indexes the state gas tax to inflation will be put before Massachusetts voters this fall.
The coalition “Tank the Automatic Gas Tax Hikes” collected 26,000 signatures in support of repealing the law, more than double the 11,400 required signatures to secure a spot on the ballot. The ballot question preserves the 3-cent increase in the state gas tax, but would abolish the portion that indexes future state gas tax increases to the rate of inflation. Opponents say the automatic increases would be undemocratic, as they would occur without a vote in the state Legislature. “Transportation for Massachusetts,” a coalition of organizations in favor of maintaining the law in its current state, is expected to launch a campaign to advocate against the repeal referendum.
Originally introduced in June 2013 as House Bill (HB) 3535, the measure sought to raise $800 million annually through an increase in the state gas tax, cigarette tax, and software services tax, as well as indexing future state gas tax increases to inflation.
The House passed this transportation financing legislation 105-47, and the Senate passed the same legislation by a 34-6 vote. Governor Deval Patrick (D) vetoed the bill after the Legislature failed to include language that would increase the state gas tax if tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike are potentially removed in 2017. The Legislature voted to override Governor Patrick’s veto and passed HB 3535. The three-cents-per-gallon state gas tax increase became law in August 2013 and is set to go into effect next January.
The law has already faced considerable opposition. In September 2013, the software services element of the bill was overwhelmingly repealed, eliminating a portion of the law that had been anticipated to raise $160 million annually on its own for transportation funding.
State officials have said an additional $1 billion is needed annually to maintain and modernize a deteriorating transportation infrastructure. The 3-cent-per-gallon state gas tax increase is expected to add approximately $7-8 million a month to fund these projects. Indexing the state gas tax to inflation is estimated generate $183 million in 11 years.