Peter J. Durant
State representative, Spencer Republican
Recently, the average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline topped $5 for the first time in Massachusetts. This means someone with a 20-gallon tank in Natick, Plymouth, or Salem would need to spend more than $100 to fill their vehicle. Filling up your car twice a week, as many do, is approaching $1,000 per month in fuel costs. This is a significant and painful bite for many residents of the Greater Boston area and across the Commonwealth this summer.
A suspension of the 24-cent gas tax would have three immediate benefits.
First and foremost, it would provide instant relief to consumers and businesses struggling with incredibly rapid inflation.
Second, it would buy time for cities and towns to adjust and plan. As an example, budget constraints caused by the high cost of gasoline could affect spending on our first responders, potentially making communities less safe. One Michigan police department is responding to some “non-life-threatening” calls with phone conversations instead of responding in person. Added pressure on municipal budgets could push communities to seek Proposition 2 ½ overrides, extending further pain to local taxpayers.
Third, actions speak louder than words. Suspending the state gas tax would show our constituents we are committed to helping them, not just providing lip service. And if a broader tax cut package appears before the end of the legislative session, all the better. More relief from the high cost of living in Massachusetts is always welcome.
Critics will argue that suspending the gas tax will not lower prices at the pump, that suppliers will pocket the profits instead. However, Maryland, Georgia, and Connecticut demonstrated that this theory is simply not true — all saw corresponding reductions in price after suspending their gas taxes.
Others will say the Commonwealth’s bond rating will be negatively affected. However, S&P Global Ratings said temporary gas tax suspensions are unlikely to cause changes to state bond ratings.
Finally, the question from leaders on Beacon Hill is: Can we afford it? After all, suspension of the gas tax through the end of the year will cost the state upwards of $200 million, but with a major budget surplus expected this fiscal year, there is no question we can afford to give the taxpayers of Massachusetts a break they deserve.
Massachusetts campaign manager, Climate XChange; Somerville resident
Like most taxes, the gas tax is unlikable, but it plays a necessary role in keeping our roadways safe and reliable. Gas tax money helps the government fill in potholes and maintain the stability of our bridges. While inflation and rising gas prices are becoming increasingly concerning, now is not the time to put this funding at risk. According to American Society For Civil Engineers, 25 percent of Massachusetts roads are in poor condition and 9 percent of bridges are structurally deficient.
The argument could be made that gas tax funds can be replaced with other state moneys. With high inflation threatening residents’ ability to make ends meet, and the state bringing in more revenue than it budgeted, it makes sense for the government to provide relief. However, pausing the state’s gas tax is not the way to provide that relief. Gas taxes are only one small factor among many that determine the price of fuel locally. Moreover, oil sellers can pocket a large fraction of the savings from a reduced gas tax rather than passing it on to consumers.
As one illustration, Connecticut suspended its 25-cent gas tax in April but the average price as of June 14 was only 6.3 cents lower than in Massachusetts. If lawmakers want to help residents manage the sudden increase in the cost of living, sending targeted checks based on income, rather than suspending the gas tax, would be a more effective way to assist those most in need. This financial relief would ensure we don’t leave behind groups like the elderly who do not drive and would make certain that the funds end up in the hands of residents, not oil companies.
Instead of pausing the gas tax, the state government could make a lasting difference by focusing on the root cause of this crisis: our dependence on fossil fuels. Passing legislation that increases rebates for electric vehicles, especially targeted at making them affordable for low-income households, is not only a lasting solution to high gas prices, but also the climate crisis. Fortunately, Beacon Hill is close to passing legislation (S.2819) that would accomplish this, including for low-income households, helping ensure drivers do not find themselves in this position in the future.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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