Last year, the Massachusetts legislature raised the gasoline tax to 24 cents per gallon. It was the first increase since 1991, and lawmakers said it was necessary to pay for bridge and roads and public transportation.
They also indexed the gas tax to inflation, so that when the value of the dollar increases, the tax increases along with it. But a group here in Massachusetts calls that "taxation without representation" since lawmakers don't have to cast a vote on automatic future increases.
That's why Massachusetts voters next week will find a ballot question on this issue. A "no" vote keeps the tax the way it is, while a "yes" vote would decouple the tax from inflation adjustments over time.
WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer hears the pros and cons of the debate.
2 Perspectives On Question 1
On why to support/oppose question one:
Steve Aylward: "We’re really proud of what we’ve done here. We’ve got 146,000 signatures for voters all over the state, and our big concern was not that we need money for roads and bridges, we’re not going to dispute that. What we’re against is the methodology of this tax. It is really just taxation without representation, because legislators don’t have to take a vote going forward. They’re going to strap our children and future generations with a vote they took now. Economic conditions and circumstances change every year, and when they change every year, if the legislature wants to do their job, then they should, in fact, take the vote. That’s one of the many reasons we’re against it, but there are many reasons why we should take the vote."
Michael Widmer: “This is a traditional form of taxation, namely adjusting it to inflation...When you get a cost of living increase, you pay more in income tax... This happens to be tied to cents rather than percents, but the distinction is meaningless. This is a very common form of taxation. Let me put it in context: the last time the gas tax was raised, before 2013, it was increased to 21 cents in 1991. By 2013, that was worth 12 cents because of the loss of purchasing power. Now obviously, we can’t maintain our roads and bridges, and we have road and bridges that are unsafe, in poor condition, and in public transit as well.”
On raising revenue:
SA: "In the past two years, this state has brought in $1.1 billion in unexpected revenue. So, this tax was designed to raise $1 billion. Well, they already got that in the past two years in excess revenue. So if that’s the case, you know your state is wasting money at an enormous rate. So why would you want to raise taxes when you have a surplus?"
MW: "In the end, we need to maintain our roads and bridges. We do not have the budget surplus that Steve’s referring to. We’re actually running a deficit this fiscal year. We don’t have extra money for transportation. The indexing of the gas tax, the money goes directly to transportation, roads, bridges, public transit like the MBTA...And by the way, the cost of indexing, which is half a penny a year approximately, for the average driver, is $5 a year.”
Check out this WBUR explainer in 30 seconds on the gas tax:
This article was originally published on October 28, 2014.
This segment aired on October 28, 2014.