Massachusetts Gas Tax: Its Punch Has Been Decreasing for 20 Years

The Mass and federal gasoline tax has remained the same for 20 years. Raising it to follow inflation would be a fair and reasonable approach to paying for roads and bridges.

Taxes are necessary to provide many things people want and need, and we can all agree that roads and the rest of our transportation system are among those. In Massachusetts, the state gasoline tax has been 41.9 cents per gallon since around 1990. It's a similar story for the federal gasoline tax, at 18.4 cents since 1993. Since then, our roads, bridges and pubic transportation systems have been crumbling through both normal aging and lack of proper maintenance. I doubt anyone will disagree with that.

Many state legislators, especially those from cities and inner suburbs like Belmont, would support raising this tax. Several state officials have told me that it would be difficult to sway their colleagues from the more rural and sprawled parts of the state, that is, those who drive more.

Here is where I think raising this tax is completely justified and fair: When you account for inflation, where the consumer price index has increased by about 63 percent since 1990, the revenue from the Mass gasoline has lost a huge fraction of its buying power. So every year, if you include inflation, drivers essentially get a tax cut.

On top of that, since most people drive more efficient vehicles than they did 20 years ago, they're contributing that much less per mile driven even though the load on the roads has not diminished.

Let's do a quick example. If you used 400 gallons of gas (10,000 miles at 24 mpg), you paid about $75 in federal gasoline taxes and $165 to Mass. Does $240 buy as much today as it did in 1990? A simple and fair approach would be to restore both to 1990s levels, even if over the period of a few years, and index them to inflation going forward.

There are some side effects to this, of course. Yes, it's a minor additional financial burden. But the money would go right back into our local economy, for labor an materials for our infrastructure. We'd all benefit, short-term and long-term.

Over the past couple months, this topic has gotten more visibilty, from the governor to columnists to federal officials, both locally and nationally. Unfortunately, the anti-government and anti-tax ideologues are a huge impediment to fixing this problem.

Are we finally waking up on this issue? Are we ready to "man up" to our responsibilities and to reality?

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Erik Griswold October 17, 2011 at 09:14 PM
18.4¢ (Federal) plus 23.5¢ (State) equals 41.9 cents.
Raymond Hanna November 01, 2011 at 09:16 PM
If the current taxes were used properly in the first palce we would not be in this situation to begin with. Raising taxes is not the answer. Tolls were supposed to be used for repairing the roads, and they were to be temporary. For hungry politicians there is never enough money. Try stopping the corrupution and fraud and the waste before you raise taxes. Nobody wants to go there! So stop looking in my pocket for money that isn't yours. A lack of a tax hike is not a tax break.
Richard Carlton January 24, 2013 at 08:07 PM
Gasoline and heating oil prices are killing our economy.Gasoline is $3.56 a gal on average here in MA and heating oil is $4.00 a gal. Every time they deliver heating oil to my house, it cost me $650 to $700. That's a lot of money when we are on a fixed income.(S.S._ Gasoline prices should be taken back to 2008 levels.($ 1.98/ gal)
Vanessa Ridings January 29, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Mass gas tax is 41.9 on top of the 18.4 for the feds. Add up what all states pay to the feds and ask what the hell are they doung with those millions? Today 1/29/13 our paychecks are smaller due to the s.s.tax increase.Mass already gas a gas price HIGHER than the national average. I think government officials should try harder to balance the books instead of looking to the taxpayers to bail them out of their screw ups.how they expect us to pay more is a shame. Everything is going up but our paychecks. If we have to make due with less than the government should make due with less. I don't get a 5% annual pay raise. Why should government workers vote themselves a yearly pay raise.
David Chase January 29, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Recent study (by the Tax Foundation, no less) suggests that gas taxes only cover half the expense of roads, if that: http://dc.streetsblog.org/2013/01/23/drivers-cover-just-51-percent-of-u-s-road-spending/ . And Massachusetts has extra expenses for plowing and salting and wear-and-tear from plowing and salting.


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