Mass. senators push for gas tax pause and Russian divestment

The Massachusetts State House in Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The Massachusetts State House in Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Stalled legislative efforts to suspend collection of the state's gas tax and divest state pension funds from companies with business interests in Russia could reemerge for debate on Thursday when the Senate takes up a $1.6 billion mid-year spending bill.

Another push to lift the 24-cents-per-gallon gas tax features among the 51 amendments senators filed to their chamber's version of a supplemental budget (S 2776) that cleared the House this month, as do proposals to expand rental aid, address conditions at the Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, and quantify the financial impact of inaction to legalize sports betting.

The gas tax amendment (#4) from Sutton Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman would pause collection until Sept. 5, responding to skyrocketing prices in recent weeks, then require the Department of Revenue to publish a report calculating the foregone revenue stemming from the change.

The House rejected a similar effort to pause collection of the gas tax, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, breaking from others in his party, has signaled he does not view the gas tax as a priority and instead wants to focus on his $700 million package of proposed tax cuts.

A pair of amendments (#2, #28) also seek to authorize divestment of state pension funds from companies with active business operations in Russia. After the House shelved a similar effort, House Speaker Ronald Mariano said lawmakers concluded it would be "too difficult" to untangle retirement funds from Russian-involved companies.

Several proposed changes to the supplemental budget focus on the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program, or RAFT, including a pair (#10, #16) that would double the bill's funding for the program to $200 million.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr filed another amendment (#47) that would order the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to file a report estimating the "amount of foregone revenue from not legalizing sports wagering." Amid support from Baker and the House and adoption in other states, the Senate for years has opted against debating whether to allow sports betting in Massachusetts



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