Attleboro area lawmakers don't like idea of raising gas tax
Talk of raising the state gasoline tax is growing at the Statehouse, but local state representatives are cool to the idea.
The representatives said that at this point they are opposed to an increase, but for different reasons. They also caution that there is no specific bill being considered yet.
The movement for the increase comes after the House speaker said he is open to the idea, the MBTA raised commuter fares, and a study found the state needs billions of dollars’ worth of improvements to its transportation infrastructure.
State Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, said he believes some type of revenue increase is needed, but added the gasoline tax is “regressive” and hurts working-class motorists the most.
He said the Legislature is looking for some type of tax increase because a surtax on millionaires was struck from the ballot by the Supreme Judicial Court.
But advocates for higher taxes have not yet settled on an alternative, Hawkins said.
The revenue is needed for education, transportation and housing, he said.
The gasoline tax reportedly became the focus of some advocates after House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he was open to the idea.
“It’s all on the table,” DeLeo was quoted as saying in news reports. “Quite frankly, I think we’re at a situation relative to transportation (where) we’re at a critical point. If we’re going to continue to grow our economy here in Massachusetts, transportation has to be one of the major factors that we address.”
Other local representatives were not enthusiastic.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said the problem is escalating spending on health care, not a lack of tax revenue.
Revenue is on the rise because of the strong economy, he said, but it is being eaten up by Mass Health, the state health insurance for low- and moderate-income residents.
Mass Health now takes up 40 percent of the state budget and covers 30 percent of residents, Dooley said.
A way needs to be found to control the costs of Mass Health, he said.
Dooley also said a gas tax increase would be regressive as it hurts people who need their vehicle for work.
State Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, also said he would be opposed to a higher gasoline tax.
He said the state should address its high maintenance costs instead.
Increasing the use of the gasoline tax to raise revenue also does not make sense because the use of gasoline is on the decline and will continue to decline with the coming of electric cars, Barrows said. The state should also consider higher fees on ride-sharing companies such as Uber because they contribute to traffic congestion, he said.
State Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, said “there is always talk about raising taxes” at the Statehouse, but he hasn’t seen any details yet.
“That’s not necessarily something I would be in favor of,” he said.
Howitt said if improvements need to be made in the state transportation system there should be enough money in the state’s $42 billion budget to fund them without more taxes.
State Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, said she has not heard about any specific proposals to raise the gas tax so she could not comment.
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