Saturday, 2:15 PM
DiMasi pushes gas tax increase instead of toll hike
By Globe Staff
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi today urged lawmakers to "seriously consider" a gas tax increase instead of the "excessive proposal" to hike tolls on tunnels and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi
"The fact is, the Massachusetts gas tax is below the national average," DiMasi said in a statement issued this afternoon by his office. "While we would all prefer not to burden drivers with any new cost in difficult times, I believe the gas tax is a fairer way to share our costs and it should be fully considered before any tolls are increased."
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority gave tentative approval last week to a set of steep toll increases that would double the charge for cars at the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels from $3.50 to $7. The cost of driving through the Allston-Brighton and Weston tollbooths would jump from $1.25 to $2 under the plan, which is still subject to public hearings and a final vote by the authority board.
Since 1991 the Massachusetts gas tax has increased 2.5 cents to its current rate of 23.5 cents a gallon. The national average as of Jan. 1 was 25 cents, according to data from the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington D.C.
Governor Deval Patrick has said that the turnpike's financial struggles have made a toll hike unavoidable. While he has not ruled out a gas tax increase, Patrick has said that now may not be the time because of the faltering economy.
"I'm not hostile to a gas tax, let's put it that way. It's not my first choice," Patrick said on Tuesday in Plymouth. "I think it's a tough time to be talking about any broad-based tax increase and I think it's a tough argument to make before we have done all we can to simplify this structure and that's what we're trying to do."
The toll increases are intended to raise $90 million to $100 million annually, which would close the turnpike authority's deficit and solve many of its long-term maintenance needs.
In the statement issued this afternoon, DiMasi also urged transportation officials to put forward cost cutting proposals such as high-speed tolling. He urged that, when the legislative session begins in January, lawmakers to pass "comprehensive, long-term solutions to make our transportation bureaucracy far more efficient.”