Local senators took opposite positions Thursday on whether to suspend the state gasoline tax as prices rise in the midst of the Ukraine War.
As momentum grows around the country for the suspension of state gas taxes, the state Senate on Thursday rejected a Republican-led push to pause gas tax collections through Labor Day even as Gov. Charlie Baker signaled he was warming to the idea.
Sen. Diana DiZoglio voted against the measure while Sen. Barry Finegold supported it.
Finegold, along with Sens. Paul Feeney, Anne Gobi, Mark Montigny, Michael Moore, Marc Pacheco, Walter Timilty and John Velis—all Democrats—joined Republicans Bruce Tarr, Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman and Sen. Patrick O’Connor in support of the suspension. All four Democrats running for statewide office—Sens. DiZoglio, who is running for state auditor, Sonia Chang-Diaz, Adam Hinds and Eric Lesser—voted against the measure.
“Clearly, we have an obligation to respond,” Senate Minority Leader Tarr said. “This Senate has not historically witnessed such economic pain and not tried to intervene.”
Democrats generally argued, however, Wall Street and the bond rating agencies would look unfavorably on a move to backfill lost gas tax revenue with future surpluses and the oil companies might not even pass along the savings.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, gas prices in Massachusetts shot up to an average high of $4.36 a gallon on March 11, but have been slowly ticking downward averaging $4.25 across the state on Thursday, according to AAA.
Republicans in Massachusetts have been pushing for weeks to suspend the state’s gas tax in the face of those price spikes, but have met resistance from Democrats who have called it a “gimmick” and raised concerns about violating the terms of the state’s bond agreements.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues told his colleagues the tax suspension “might sound good and feel good, but you are not providing any real relief.” He said there was no guarantee that the savings would get passed on to motorists.
“Do you all trust the oil companies?” Rodrigues asked.
The House cast aside a proposal two weeks ago to suspend the gas tax until prices fell to $3.70.
Fattman’s amendment would have suspended collection of the gas tax through Sept. 5, and given the Department of Revenue 30 days to notify the state comptroller how much tax revenue was lost during that period. The comptroller would be authorized to transfer an equal sum to the Commonwealth Transportation Fund to replace any lost revenue that had been put up as collateral for state borrowing.
Fattman noted high gas prices could discourage families from Massachusetts and from out-of-state traveling to places like Cape Cod or the Berkshires this summer, hurting businesses trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.