Tarr, Republicans renew push to suspend gas tax

A renewed push by Massachusetts Republicans for a gas tax holiday comes as President Joe Biden said Monday he is considering a temporary pause in the 18.3-cent-per-gallon federal tax, a move that requires congressional approval.

BOSTON — Beacon Hill Republicans are making another push to put the brakes on the state’s gas tax, as Democratic President Joe Biden calls for a federal gas tax holiday to help ease the pain at the pumps.

In a letter to Democratic legislative leaders, a group of mostly Republican legislators calls for suspending the 24-cent-per-gallon gas tax as part of a relief package that is expected to be taken up before the end of the session.

“Despite efforts to thwart the effects of outrageous prices at the pump, we have failed to act,” the lawmakers wrote. “We have failed to step down from Beacon Hill to consider the realities of those we have promised to represent.”

The effort has received a boost from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who on Wednesday said he backs a gas tax holiday along with a package of other tax cuts he has proposed.

Baker said with record surplus revenues "there is more than enough funding available" to suspend the gas tax and pass the tax relief plan that he filed several months ago.

"It’s time to act and cut taxes for the people of Massachusetts," he said in a statement.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature has so far declined to take up a gas tax break, saying it would affect the state’s bond rating while providing minimal relief for motorists.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the GOP’s plan would “backfill” the projected loss of gas tax revenue with state surplus revenue. He said the state is flush with surplus revenue amid record high tax collections and can afford to cover the estimated $300 million to $400 million loss to the state’s coffers.

“State revenues are wildly exceeding what we need to operate and the resources are present to support tax relief for those who work hard every day to pay the bills of state government,” the Gloucester Republican said. “Gas prices impact those families with the lowest incomes the most — but they are a burden for all of us.”

The renewed push for a gas tax holiday comes as Biden calls on Congress to approve a three-month pause in the 18.3-cent-per-gallon federal tax.

"I fully understand that a gas tax holiday alone is not going to fix the problem," Biden said in remarks on Wednesday. "But it will provide families some immediate relief, just a little bit of breathing room as we continue working to bring down prices for the long haul."

The fate of the federal gas tax holiday is uncertain amid opposition from the Democrat's own allies on Capitol Hill, as well as skepticism from economists who doubt the move would have much of an impact on surging prices at the pumps.

Biden has been critical of oil companies, claiming they are reaping profits when consumers are feeling the crunch, along with that of inflation.

On Beacon Hill, Tarr said the state gas tax holiday idea has picked up support from some Democrats and suggested that Biden's request for a federal tax suspension "can spur action" the final days of the state's legislative session to ease the pain of the pumps.

"If Congress acts on the president’s request we have the opportunity to compound the savings by suspending the state gas tax to save motorists money," Tarr said.

In recent months, several states — including neighboring Connecticut and New York — have imposed temporary gas tax holidays.

A perfect storm of supply chain disruptions, 40-year high inflation levels and Russia’s war in Ukraine are behind the cost increases.

Gas prices in Massachusetts were averaging about $4.96 per gallon this week, compared to $2.95 a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association of the Northeast’s weekly survey of gas stations.

Massachusetts drivers pay a total of 44.9 cents per gallon in gasoline taxes, including state and federal taxes, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.

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