ELECTION 2014: Massachusetts voters to decide on 'forever tax'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/2/2014

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

The state’s fuel tax rate increased one year ago by 3 cents from 21 cents per gallon to 24 cents. The boost 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.

On Nov. 4, Question 1 on the statewide ballot will ask voters whether to nix the provision allowing for automatic increases.

A group of Republican lawmakers and activists pushed to get the question on the ballot. They label the 2013 law authorizing regular increases 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 the issue on the fall ballot.

Gov. Deval Patrick has called the ballot initiative “a mistake.” The Democratic governor supported the 3-cent tax increase, but did not support 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. State officials have said an additional $1 billion is needed per year for maintenance and upkeep of the state’s transportation infrastructure.

If approved, Question 1 would not affect the tax increases already imposed.

The deadline to register to vote in the fall election in Massachusetts is Oct. 15. Absentee ballots are available. Early voting will not be available until 2016.

For more 2014 election coverage from Land Line, click here.

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