As part of legislation raising money for transportation investments in the last legislative session, the House and Senate voted to raise the gas tax by 3 cents a gallon and enable the gas tax to rise automatically with inflation.
But yesterday three Republican State Representatives, Shaunna O’Connell, Geoff Diehl and Jim Lyons, and other opponents of the new state law indexing the gas tax to inflation held an afternoon press conference to announce results of their bid to round up enough signatures to advance a repeal effort on the 2014 ballot.
These opponents of the new state law indexing the gas tax to inflation announced that their effort to repeal the law captured enough signatures, over 100,000, to be placed on the 2014 ballot.
Lawmakers and activists hoping to repeal a new law indexing the gas tax to inflation claimed Thursday that they've filed more than 100,000 signatures for certification by local officials, more than enough at first blush to qualify for the 2014 ballot.
Organizers of the entirely volunteer effort stood outside the State House on Thursday afternoon to trumpet what they described as a swell of grassroots support for repealing the law that was part of a larger effort to finance new investments in transportation.
In addition to raising the gas tax by three cents, lawmakers voted to tie future increases to inflation to generate a combined $110 million in new revenue in fiscal 2014.
Steve Aylward, a Republican State Committee member and chair of the committee behind the ballot petition, said as of Wednesday over 60,000 signatures had been certified, putting the group well on its way toward the required 68,911 certified signatures to advance their proposal closer to the November 2014 ballot.
"We tapped into the fact that this is taxation without representation," said Diehl, a Whitman Republican. Diehl said organizers collected 25,000 signatures in the last weekend before Wednesday's deadline to turn in the papers.
Aylward called the idea of linking future tax increases to inflation a "hideous new method of taxation" that exempts lawmakers from having to vote on new taxes if they feel the revenue is necessary for investments.
"If you want to raise our taxes, explain why and take a vote, but do not under any circumstances put an automatic tax burden on us, our children or our grandchildren. If legislators need more taxes, they have an obligation to explain to the voters why they need to raise more taxes," Aylward said.
He continued, "They need to put on their big boy pants, and yes, Katherine Clark, big girl pants, and take a vote." Clark, a Democratic state senator from Melrose who voted in favor of the transportation financing plan, is running for Congress in the 5th District special election to fill the seat formerly held by Sen. Edward Markey.
Lyons said he found it "particularly interesting" that Democrats would support indexing the gas tax to inflation, but often rebuff Republican attempts to curtail state spending over time by arguing that lawmakers should not tie the hands of future Legislatures.
The Senate this week passed another controversial indexing measure as part of legislation raising the minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour and linking that wage to a cost of living index. Indexing supporters have argued the changes will ensure that the tax and the wage floor keep pace over time as prices and the economy change.
Transportation for Massachusetts Advocacy Director Lizzi Weyant and representatives from other advocacy groups that supported this summer's push to raise taxes for transportation investments turned out for the press conference.
"If the initiative qualifies, I think people in Massachusetts really need to weigh whether they want to lose significant investment for transportation and for the Commonwealth. Without this money we're going to see more congestion, more delays, a transportation system that's been underfunded for years continue to be unmaintained," Weyant said.
Following the press conference, an argument erupted between Weyant and the spokesman for Transportation for Massachusetts Terence Burke, of Denterlein, and Republican political strategist Holly Robichaud. "You are lying. It doesn't cut transportation one dime," Robichaud shouted repeatedly at Burke.
Robichaud was arguing that gas tax revenues would be deposited into the state's General Fund, and had not been earmarked specifically for transportation. The argument ended when Burke walked away.
Supporters of indexing the gas tax say the value of the tax erodes over time with inflation, and pointed to MassINC polling numbers form earlier this year that showed more than 60 percent of voters were willing to spend an additional $50 a year to fund roads and public transit.