gas prices

Does Gov. Baker Support Suspending the State's Gas Tax?

He offered his most supportive comments to date during a conversation with reporters Thursday

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With Senate Republicans preparing to force a vote on suspending the gas tax, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday offered his most supportive comments to date following a bipartisan vote in Connecticut to suspend that state's 25-cent fuel tax.

Republicans in Massachusetts have been pushing for weeks to suspend the state's gas tax in the face of prices that climbed as high as $4.36 a gallon, on average, 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.

The House cast aside a proposal from Rep. Peter Durant that would have paused collection of the gas tax until prices fell below $3.70, but Sen. Ryan Fattman has offered an amendment to a pending Senate spending bill that Baker described as "clever."

"I think the proposals that have been made from the Republican senators there deserve a fair hearing and are ones that are very similar to what they did in Connecticut and I believe in Connecticut the good news there is that was a totally bipartisan initiative," Baker told reporters after an event in Holyoke on Thursday.

Fattman's amendment would suspend collection of the gas tax through Sept. 5. The Department of Revenue would then have 30 days to notify the comptroller how much tax revenue was lost during the suspension, and the comptroller would be authorized to transfer that sum to the Commonwealth Transportation Fund to replace lost revenue that had been put up as collateral for state borrowing.

"I think it's going to be really important for us as a commonwealth to take seriously the fact that not only are we going to put our people in a position where they will be significantly disadvantaged if they buy gas in Massachusetts, it also creates a dynamic where we're not really helping them with this particular cost," Baker said.

In addition to Connecticut, which is controlled by Democrats, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, has said he supports suspending that state's gas tax.

The average price of gas in Massachusetts was $4.25 a gallon on Thursday, according to AAA, down 11 cents from its all-time peak on March 11.

Asked if he supported the Fattman amendment, Baker said, "I think the proposal the Senate Republicans have made is a very clever one and it deals with all the issues people have about how we continue to maintain our coverage ratios on our bond covenants."

Prior to his comments on Thursday, Baker had suggested the gas tax might be one place his administration would look to provide short-term relief to residents struggling with inflation. But as Democratic opposition mounted, Baker choose to focus on his budget plan to cut taxes for renters, senior home owners and low-income families as a way of providing financial relief.

"I think in many ways this is a point in time when we as a commonwealth needs to step up and do some things for the people who pay the bills," Baker said Thursday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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