Baker under pressure to rein in gas tax | News

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker is under pressure to suspend the state’s gasoline tax to help ease pain at the pump amid soaring fuel prices.

A perfect storm of supply chain disruptions, high inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent gasoline prices to record highs last week.

That’s fueling calls for Beacon Hill policymakers to temporarily suspend the state’s 24-cent gas tax to help soften the financial blow to motorists and businesses.

“Massachusetts families and businesses are already being hit by inflation that is the highest in over forty years. This is a quick and easy way for Beacon Hill leaders to demonstrate that they truly understand the realities facing faced by many people in the Commonwealth,” Paul said. Craney, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative group.

“They have the tools to help, now they just have to show their will,” he added.

Rising gas prices have also become an issue in the gubernatorial race, with Republican candidate Chris Doughty calling on Beacon Hill to suspend the gas tax.

“We need relief from soaring prices across the board, and the state has a clear way to help by putting a gas tax holiday during this current crisis,” Doughty said in a campaign statement. “It would provide instant savings for our families trying to make ends meet.”

Geoff Diehl, a GOP gubernatorial candidate who in 2014 helped defeat a law that would have indexed the gas tax to inflation, made a similar request for the tax to be suspended. He also called for a suspension of the excise tax on motor vehicles.

Baker, who is vacationing in Utah this week, did not say whether he would suspend the tax, but recently suggested that might be an option.

“If we were going to do something short-term, this would probably be where we would go,” Baker said during a briefing last week.

Gasoline prices in Massachusetts broke records on Tuesday after hitting an average of $4.24 a gallon, according to American Automobile Association of the Northeast spokeswoman Mary Maguire.

That’s up 62 cents from last week, she said, and beats the previous state record of $4.08 a gallon, set in 2008 amid the Great Recession.

“I’ve never seen gasoline prices skyrocket as quickly as they have over the past week,” Maquire said. “It’s really a dramatic increase.”

In New Hampshire, which is normally a haven for cheaper gasoline, motorists are paying an average of $4.07 a gallon for gasoline, the highest in state history, according to AAA. The previous record was $4.04, set in 2008.

The state gasoline tax generated nearly $800 million in 2019, according to the Department of Revenue. The money is used to repair roads and bridges and for other projects.

Massachusetts also charges a 2.54 cents per gallon fee for removing underground gas tanks, bringing the overall state rate to 26.54 cents per gallon.

Overall, Bay State drivers pay a total of 44.9 cents per gallon in gasoline taxes, including state and federal taxes and other fees, according to the American Petroleum Institute. That puts it below the US average of just under 49.3 cents per gallon in total taxes, according to the group.

In New Hampshire, which has a state tax of 22.2 cents, drivers pay 42.23 cents per gallon in total taxes and fees, according to API. In Maine, the total is 48.41 cents.

The pain at the pump is only expected to increase following President Joe Biden’s decision on Tuesday to block imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal.

Biden has already imposed economic sanctions on technology exports to Russian refineries and a proposed gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

In remarks on Tuesday, Biden acknowledged that the latest round of sanctions will push gas prices even higher.

“The Russians’ aggression is costing us all,” Biden said in a televised speech announcing the ban. “Since Putin began his military buildup along Ukraine’s borders, the price of gas at the pump in America has gone up 75 cents, and with this action it will go up even further.”

Biden said his administration was taking steps to offset “Putin’s price hike,” including releasing 60 million barrels of crude oil from national reserves.

The United States imported 20.4 million barrels of crude oil from Russia in 2021, or about 8% of liquid fuel imports, according to the Energy Information Administration.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey, D-Malden, who tabled a proposal last week to ban Russian oil imports, welcomed Biden’s decision.

“We must make this ban permanent so that we can finally separate ourselves from Russian oil which funds the Putin regime’s corruption and human rights abuses,” he said in a statement.

Markey said rising gas prices are a “clarion call” to accelerate the shift to renewables “so that we are never complicit in a fossil fuel-fueled conflict again.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]

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