Awash in revenue, Beacon Hill says no to gas tax relief

Legislative leaders are also pushing for a surtax on income over $1m

THE NEW YORK STATE Assembly last week introduced their annual budget which included a state gas tax suspension. The New York proposal pushes for a portion of the state’s gas tax for both unleaded and diesel fuels to be suspended from June 1 to December 31. New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul endorsed the gas tax suspension and hailed it as “relief” for motorists.

In late March, Connecticut Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and every member of the Democratically controlled state legislature supported a bipartisan effort to suspend their state’s gas tax from April 1 to June 30. When Lamont was asked on CNBC what will the suspension would mean to the average consumer, the governor responded  the “25 cents makes a difference in people’s lives.”

In late March, WCVB’s On the Record interviewed New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu about suspending New Hampshire’s gas tax. The show hosts, Maria Stephanos and Janet Wu, grilled Sununu on the gas tax suspension and he responded by saying “absolutely… let’s do it.” Sununu went on to say that his state has a surplus so transportation funding will not be impacted.

Even business executive Ernie Boch stepped in to provide relief. On April “Fuel’s” day, Boch gave away 7,000 gallons of free gas for approximately 500 vehicles. Massachusetts motorists lined up the night before to get in on the free gas. Boch originally had the promotion run from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., but the gas was gone before 9:00 a.m. “Absolutely difficult times, gasoline is essential in my industry, in the automotive industry, so I’m trying to give back, trying to have some fun.” Boch told reporters.

Massachusetts is getting sandwiched by common sense from all directions. There is little doubt the high cost of gasoline is having a crushing impact on our state’s motorists. Studies show gasoline is inelastic. The high or low cost does not change behavior. When prices spike, it’s the lower and middle classes who feel it the most, while the affluent do not. The debate about suspending the state gas tax is not a debate about our state’s transportation sector dependence on fossil fuels, the merits of electric vehicles, or the availability of public transportation. It’s  a debate about taking action now to help ease the economic anxiety for millions of Massachusetts motorists. There will always be time to debate other transportation related policies, now is the time for action to provide immediate relief.

While lowering the cost of gasoline is clearly a popular subject among ordinary people, for the elite Massachusetts political class, it’s considered gimmicky. “Gimmicky” is how House Speaker Ron Mariano explained it as he instructed his House colleagues to reject it on a voice vote. Gimmicky is also how state Sen. Michael Rodrigues rebuffed it during a debate and vote in the Senate.  Our state’s political class kept the State House shut down for over 700 days, all while getting extra pay to drive to work. For them, they don’t seem to have the same discomfort with soaring gas prices as ordinary gimmick-loving people.

While this debate was ongoing for much of New England, something else was happening in March. Massachusetts taxpayers were paying more in taxes than what our State House leaders ever expected. The March Department of Revenue numbers reported the state collected $3.858 billion from taxpayers. March’s numbers are $802 million (26 percent) more than what was collected last year and $427 million (12.5 percent) above the expectation for the month. It was just the latest in a long stream of many months of over-collections totaling in the billions and a once in a lifetime influx of federal money flowing into our state.

Despite these higher-than-benchmark tax collections, Massachusetts lawmakers are continuing with their plans to place a  question on this year’s ballot, which, if passed, would assess a surcharge of 4 percent on income over $1 million. The proposal would  affect high income earners and many owners of small businesses. The same lawmakers who cannot afford to suspend the gas tax and are collecting drastically more money than was budgeted  are still not satisfied. They want to trick enough Massachusetts voters into raising taxes on themselves, with a proposal that will impact many small  businesses and is not guaranteed to result in higher spending for “education” and “transportation,” as is being promised.

Meet the Author

Paul D. Craney

Board Member & Spokesman, Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance
Massachusetts taxpayers continue to demonstrate that they are very generous, while State House lawmakers continue to prove they are very greedy. Massachusetts motorists can get relief by filling up in other states. If the Legislature’s millionaire tax is passed this November, Massachusetts  businesses will be fleeing the state and relocating to New Hampshire and states like Florida with no income tax. Speaker Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka can ignore the suffering caused by higher gas prices but they will not be able to ignore the great sucking sound coming out of Massachusetts if they pass their income tax hike.

Paul Diego Craney is the spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.