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Mass. Business Leaders Want 25-Cent Gas Tax Hike

Gov. Deval Patrick picked up support for a sizable increase in the state's gasoline tax from business leaders who favor an even larger hike of 25 cents per gallon.

Leaders of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and other groups told reporters the lagging national economy and crushing debt at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority made the state ripe for a transportation overhaul that included eliminating costly perks and infusing new revenue into the system.

"Our economy counts on the next set of transportation investments, as well as making sure that we're taking care of a state of good repair for our transportation system," said Richard Dimino, president of the transportation-oriented A Better City.

Patrick unveiled a comprehensive package two weeks ago that called for a 19-cent gas tax hike and a series of bureaucratic changes to streamline transportation policy. Legislative leaders have suggested that increase may be too much, and there is talk in the House and Senate of a 9-cent increase.

The business leaders said that wouldn't be enough.

"All of our elected officials have been calling for a comprehensive reform to this; 9 cents doesn't cut it," said Dimino.

Besides increasing the gas tax by a quarter, which would give the state a nation-leading 48.5 cents-per-gallon tax, the leaders want to index the tax to inflation. The tax was last increased in 1991.

Their plan also calls for maintaining existing tolls on the Turnpike, investigating methods to track and charge drivers for miles traveled, altering MBTA pensions and ending the practice of paying Highway Department salaries with bonds.

While Patrick has suggested eliminating tolls in western Massachusetts, Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said: "That's the problem that the state is facing here, is that we're not in the position - given the dire circumstances of our transportation system - we're not in a position to forgo any existing revenues."

This program aired on March 2, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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