Repeal of Mass’ Gas Tax: The $100 Million Question
Friday, December 06, 2013
J. T. Carstensen, GoLocalWorcester Contributor
A gas tax repeal initiative appears to be heading to Bay State ballots next year, raising the question: does Massachusetts really need the money in the first place?
According to Ryan Fattman, a freshman state representative from the 18th Worcester district, the state has money to spare. He claims Gov. Deval Patrick is sitting on $100 million in transportation funds in hopes of keeping the automatic gas tax increases – currently pegged to the rate of inflation – in effect.
“Governor Patrick wanted a larger tax increase and he didn’t get it. There’s $100 million in chapter 90 funds that he’s choosing not to release. Those funds exist. There’s no money lost. This has never happened before, the money for infrastructure, for bridges and roads, being held hostage. It’s really insulting.”
He’s not alone in this belief. “The state already has the money,” says Chris Pinto, vice chairman of the Worcester Republican City Committee, in an e-mail. He, along with Fattman, has been a key figure in obtaining over 87,000 signatures enabling the initiative to be considered for the ’14 ballot.
“Over the past 16 months they have taken in $900 million above revenue projections! While the legislature did pass the gas tax they did not pass the bill for funding the projects. In other words they just took the revenue.
“The legislature admitted they could do without the tech tax,” a similar tax which was abolished earlier this year. “Maybe they should look at finding ways to do without automatic tax hikes.”
“Two Cups of Coffee”
“If there is $100 million lying around, MASSDOT would love to know about it.”
So says Andrew Bagley, the Director of Research for the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation.
“To say that the state has this money just locked away in a vault somewhere, and if only we could open the door…it’s a misleading focal point of this conversation. This is a political argument, not an economic one.”
This is because while the $100 million cited by Fattman is part of the state’s operating budget, the income raised by the gas tax is used as debt service to potential bond holders. To Bagley, they are two separate issues, and a potential missed opportunity for needed investment.
“We had to wait 15 years for Beacon Hill to raise the gas tax, and even then it was only three cents.” If the index were to be left in place, it “would generate $100 million in additional money by 2020. You can sell over $1 billion in bonds against this.”
“This tax provides money to fix roads and infrastructure. It’s a significant source of revenue for the state. For consumers, it’s the equivalent of two cups of coffee. Per year. “
That’s two cups too many for the 87,000 voters who signed the petition. Fattman, who personally gathered over 2,200 of them, clearly feels the issue has touched a nerve among spending-conscious voters, suspicious of legislative double standards.
“Officials receive a per diem to purchase gas. Thus, this tax doesn’t affect them. They buy their gas with public money.”
Pinto has also been a key figure in the initiative. “People are angry,” he replied. “Some felt [the gas tax index] had been repealed with the tech tax. They were even angrier when they find out it wasn't. They don't like that legislators don't have to pay the gas tax to commute.”
To The Booth
The initiative reached the state legislature earlier this week, and will soon decide whether it gets put on the ballot in ’14. Despite the fact that the index was passed earlier this year without a single Republican vote, that same legislature seems to be willing to let the issue go to the polls.
“I’d be shocked if it doesn’t pass on a voice vote,” says Fattman. “It would be a huge liability to Democrats otherwise. You’ll see this become a larger issue.”
“Democrats will have to defend (A) why they want taxation to go up automatically, and (B) why they don’t do their job and debate.”
Bagley, too, sees this issue going to the polls, and rues what he perceives to be a potentially misinformed electorate.
“No’s are a lot easier on the ballot than yeses. It’s easy to say, yes, vote it down. Meanwhile, there’s not going to be an aggressive campaign to keep the index.
“People believe gas tax is much higher than it is. We’re talking 3 cents on 3.50 / gallon gas. You see three cents of volatility in gas prices per week.”
“It’s just not a powerful vote.”
Mayor & Councilor-At-Large
Joseph M. PettyVotes Received: 8,854 Mayor, 8,451 Councilor-At LargeMayor Joseph M. Petty was elected to his ninth two-year term as Councilor-At-Large and his second term as Mayor of the City of Worcester. He is a graduate of Holy Name Central Catholic High School in Worcester, studied at Nichols College in Dudley, and received a law degree from New England School of Law in Boston.
Votes Received: 8,133 (13.80%)
Councilor Toomey was elected to her fifth term, earning the second most At-Large votes. She has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Works, which considers all matters pertaining to streets, water, sewers, sanitation, recycling, snow removal and the construction of public buildings.
Morris A. Bergman
Votes Received: 6,768 (11.49%)
The newly-elected Bergman is a practicing lawyer, a former prosecutor for the Office of the District Attorney-Middle District-Worcester and a past two term member of the City of Worcester Zoning Board of Appeals.
Konstantina B. Lukes
Votes Received: 6,520 (11.07%)
Councilor Lukes served as Mayor of Worcester from 2007-2009, and is serving her twelfth two-year term as a Councilor-At-Large.She also served four two-year terms as a member of the Worcester School Committee.
Rick C. Rushton
Votes Received: 5,720 (9.71%)
Councilor Rushton will return for a fourth term in the city council. He ha served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Economic Development, he which considers all matters pertaining to economic development, neighborhood development, housing development, marketing, workforce development, zoning, planning and regulatory services functions of the City and energy.
Michael T. Gaffney
Votes Received: 5,607 (9.52%)
Attorney Michael Gaffney was elected to his first term on the Worcester City Council. He is one of two newcomers to the council
District 1 Councilor
Tony J. Economou
Votes Received: 2,464 (59.64%)Councilor Economou will return to his District 1 seat for a second term. He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Traffic & Parking,which considers all matters pertaining to traffic and parking ordinances and off street parking facilities.
District 2 Councilor
Philip P. Palmeiri
Votes Received: 1,119 (55.84%)
Councilor Palmeiri will return to his District 2 seat for a seventh term. He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Service & Transportation,which considers all matters pertaining to cable television and telecommunications, public transportation, street lighting, taxis and liveries.
District 3 Councilor
George J. Russell
Votes Received: 1,454 (100.00%)
Councilor Russell ran uncontested, allowing him to retain his District 3 seat for a second term. He has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committe on Rules & Legislative Affairs, which initiates and reviews proposals for amendments to the rules of the City Council and any other matters affecting or determining the conduct of the City Council meetings.
District 4 Councilor
Votes Received: 1,100 (100.00%)
Councilor Rivera ran uncontested, and will be serving her second term as District 4 Councilor. She has served as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Youth, Parks & Recreation, which considers all matters involving youth, parks, playgrounds, recreation activities and Hope Cemetery.
District 5 Councilor
Votes Received: 2,289 (54.08%)
Gary Rosen returns to the City Council after defeating incumbent William Eddy. Rosen had previously served five terms on the School Committee and three terms in the City Council.
Gaming Proposals on the Ballot
Municipal ballot initiatitives in other regions of the state may have implications local to Central Massachusetts. Voters weighed in on proposals for casions in East Boston and Palmer on Tuesday.
Voters in the Western Massachusetts community of Palmer narrowly rejecting a bid by Mohegan Sun to build a resort casino in town.
East Boston and Revere
Even though voters in Revere approved the construction of a casino at Suffolk Downs, East Boston voted against the proposal. Support from both communities was needed before the venue could formally apply for a license with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.