Massachusetts lawmakers seek to hike fuel tax, head off VMT

| 12/7/2009

A Massachusetts legislative panel was scheduled to meet Monday, Dec. 7, to discuss a series of bills that would boost the state’s fuel tax rate and outlaw use of a vehicle-miles traveled tax.

Among the more than half of a dozen options before the Joint Committee on Transportation to aid the state’s transportation system is an effort to increase the state’s 23.5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax by 50 cents.

The bill – H3312 – that would more than triple the tax rate is intended to help cover the Massachusetts Turnpike’s debts related to the Big Dig project.

Another bill – H3188 – would boost the fuel tax by 10 cents and allow for penny increases each year. The revenue would be routed to the new Transportation Trust Fund, which was created to help ensure that revenue is spent on transportation.

The bill specifies that a portion of the money would be used to prevent toll increases on the Massachusetts Turnpike, and ultimately the dismantling of all tolls.

A separate effort – H3262 – calls for the elimination of certain tolls on the Mass Turnpike and reliance on a 29-cent-per-gallon tax increase to make up for the revenue hit. Travelers no longer would be charged to take the tollway from Weston to Boston.

It is yet to be seen how the latest round of legislation to generate transportation revenue will be viewed by lawmakers. But a proposal by Gov. Deval Patrick earlier this year to raise the fuel tax by 19 cents per gallon to help cope with transportation expenses didn’t go over well.

Vehicle miles traveled tax
With all eyes focused on coming up with more money for transportation, one bill is intent on making sure that Big Brother doesn’t meddle anymore than already occurs to get that money.

Lawmakers are confronted with dwindling fuel tax revenues as people are buying less fuel and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles. At the state and federal levels of government, they are looking into changing the way highway users are taxed – more specifically, charging truckers and others by the mile.

A Massachusetts bill – H3215 – attempts to head off this pursuit by forbidding the state, counties, cities or towns to collect a tax based on the mileage that a privately owned vehicle is driven.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says that although the VMT may be drawing a lot of attention at the federal and state levels of government as a possible solution to the transportation funding crisis, it remains unproven. OOIDA executives believe more study is needed.

The Association feels there are many unanswered questions with a proposed VMT, especially considering that the federal bill does not call for a removal of a fuel tax if established. The current system of levying federal taxes on truckers is already discriminatory and harmful. OOIDA also has concerns about how the information gathered will be used, who will have access to it, whether it will be shared and with whom.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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