Massachusetts voters to decide on 'forever tax'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/3/2013

Voters in Massachusetts will get their say on paying more in fuel tax at the pump.

The state’s fuel tax rate increased this summer by 3 cents from 21 cents per gallon to 24 cents. The increase was the result of a new transportation funding package approved by lawmakers that also ties the state’s fuel tax rate to inflation, which allows for regular increases.

A group of Republican lawmakers and activists want to get rid of the provision allowing for automatic increases. They label the law as a “forever tax” because the tax rate can increase without legislative action.

Dubbed “Tank the Gas Tax,” the group collected 100,000 signatures in an effort to get a question on the 2014 ballot to nix the regular increases. To qualify for the fall ballot, supporters were required to gather nearly 69,000 voter signatures.

Gov. Deval Patrick has called the ballot initiative “a mistake.” The Democratic governor supported the 3-cent tax increase but not tying future increases to inflation. However, he has referred to indexing the tax rate as “wise” and “fair” because lawmakers will not need to regularly revisit the issue.

The fuel tax increase was part of a Democrat-led transportation funding package that includes a $1 excise tax on cigarettes and adding the state’s 6.5 percent sales tax on computer software services. The new money is applied to roads and bridges.

In addition, a 2.5-cent portion of the fuel tax applied to underground storage tank cleanups is being rerouted to transportation.

The funding plan is expected to raise $800 million in taxes annually by 2018.

The ballot effort would not affect the tax increases already imposed.

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