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Mass. legislative leaders respond to Biden’s call to suspend state gas tax: No way!

Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano.

Massachusetts Democratic leaders on Wednesday rebuffed calls from President Biden for states to suspend their gas taxes in the face of rising prices at the pump, arguing any savings are unlikely to be passed on to the drivers who actually need it.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen E. Spilka have for months rejected calls from Massachusetts Republicans and others to temporarily lift the state’s 24-cent-per-gallon tax. They held firm Wednesday hours after Biden, too, pressed for action, urging Congress and state leaders to suspend federal and state gasoline and diesel taxes for three months, saying that “it doesn’t reduce all the pain but it will be a big help.”

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Governor Charlie Baker, who’s pressed lawmakers for months to embrace a suite of tax cuts he proposed, on Wednesday said he also backs suspending the gas tax “as President Biden called for today.”

“There is more than enough funding available to suspend the gas tax, pass our tax relief plan and invest in Massachusetts’ future,” the second-term Republican said in a statement posted to Twitter.

The Democratic legislative leaders said in a joint statement Wednesday that they believe “the Legislature has a role to play in providing relief,” and lawmakers have discussed pursuing a package before their formal sessions end July 31.

But, they said, suspending the gas tax is not the answer because companies are not obligated to pass on the price reduction.

“We fear that, as many economists have warned, a gas tax holiday would result in billions of dollars in profits for oil companies — and only pennies in the pockets of consumers,” Mariano and Spilka said in their statement. “This isn’t fair, and we are not interested in benefiting multinational corporations while our residents continue to feel pain at the pump.

“The Legislature is working diligently to find ways to deliver direct relief to residents,” they said, “and we will continue to prioritize solutions that put people first.”

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Gas prices have hit record highs in recent months, stretching consumers’ budgets at a time of 40-year highs in inflation.

Biden energy adviser Amos Hochstein said consumers could save about 50 cents per gallon if Congress and the states heed the president’s call and the oil industry doesn’t pocket the savings.

In addition to calling on Congress to suspend the gas tax for 90 days, Biden said Wednesday he “is calling on states to either suspend the state gas tax as well or find other ways to deliver some relief.”

But legislative leaders here, including Mariano, have repeatedly waved off the gas tax as an option, both in March and during the House’s budget debate a month later. House leaders initially said they feared suspending the gas tax would hurt the state’s ability to borrow money for road projects, but have since emphasized that oil companies stand to benefit more than drivers should they temporarily lift the tax.

“If there was a way that I could guarantee I get the money and put it into your pocket when you fill the tank, then I’d do it,” Mariano said in a Globe interview last week. “But this makes no sense to me.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.