Recently, the average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline topped $5 for the first time in Massachusetts. This means someone with a 20-gallon tank in Natick, Plymouth, or Salem would need to spend more than $100 to fill their vehicle. Filling up your car twice a week, as many do, is approaching $1,000 per month in fuel costs. This is a significant and painful bite for many residents of the Greater Boston area and across the Commonwealth this summer.
A suspension of the 24-cent gas tax would have three immediate benefits.
First and foremost, it would provide instant relief to consumers and businesses struggling with incredibly rapid inflation.
Second, it would buy time for cities and towns to adjust and plan. As an example, budget constraints caused by the high cost of gasoline could affect spending on our first responders, potentially making communities less safe. One Michigan police department is responding to some “non-life-threatening” calls with phone conversations instead of responding in person. Added pressure on municipal budgets could push communities to seek Proposition 2 ½ overrides, extending further pain to local taxpayers.
Third, actions speak louder than words. Suspending the state gas tax would show our constituents we are committed to helping them, not just providing lip service. And if a broader tax cut package appears before the end of the legislative session, all the better. More relief from the high cost of living in Massachusetts is always welcome.
Critics will argue that suspending the gas tax will not lower prices at the pump, that suppliers will pocket the profits instead. However, Maryland, Georgia, and Connecticut demonstrated that this theory is simply not true — all saw corresponding reductions in price after suspending their gas taxes.
Others will say the Commonwealth’s bond rating will be negatively affected. However, S&P Global Ratings said temporary gas tax suspensions are unlikely to cause changes to state bond ratings.
Finally, the question from leaders on Beacon Hill is: Can we afford it? After all, suspension of the gas tax through the end of the year will cost the state upwards of $200 million, but with a major budget surplus expected this fiscal year, there is no question we can afford to give the taxpayers of Massachusetts a break they deserve.