Massachusetts governor open to fuel tax increase, with conditions

| 1/13/2009

Gov. Deval Patrick this week indicated that increasing the state’s fuel tax rate in Massachusetts would be a “serious alternative” to toll hikes on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Massachusetts charges 21 cents per gallon in taxes on gasoline and diesel. Another 2.5 cents per gallon is applied for an underground storage tank tax.

The governor said his support for a fuel tax increase would hinge on three conditions. First, Patrick said the tax would need to be high enough not to simply avoid the latest round of Turnpike toll hikes, but to allow the state to do away with the tollbooths altogether – or at least avoid future sharp increases.

He also said measures should be put in place to protect the fuel tax money from being diverted to uses other than transportation. In addition, Patrick said any increase must be part of a larger transportation reform effort that would simplify and consolidate the state’s various transportation agencies, The Boston Globe reported.

Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the governor’s effort to reorganize transportation in the state is something the truckers group would like to see other governors pursue.

“We think it’s very bold, aggressive leadership to call for one transportation agency to oversee all the different Massachusetts agencies. We applaud his effort in that regard,” Joyce told Land Line.

Joyce also said that while the Association doesn’t advocate increases in tolls or any other user fees, such as fuel taxes, it is important to see accountability in requests to pay more.

“The governor certainly understands the concerns of highway users,” Joyce said. “His approach is a reasoned approach. Any increase in the fuel tax comes with strings attached. And we support those strings.”

While the governor appears receptive to a fuel tax increase, new Transportation Secretary Jim Alosi has backed away from proposed toll increases on the Turnpike. The Turnpike Authority board gave preliminary approval last fall to toll increases. They cited maintenance and capital costs, as well as debts attached to the Big Dig tunnel project in Boston, as reasons for the proposed toll increases.

The Turnpike board is scheduled to vote on the issue at a meeting Jan. 22.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor