Ballot question draws bipartisan signature backing
By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
Voters on Nov. 4 will have four ballot questions to answer while they are making decisions on state and federal office holders.
Question 1 has a local connection and enjoyed wide bipartisan support during the petition phase — that is one to repeal a new law linking the gasoline tax to the rate of inflation.
Questions to expand the bottle bill to include containers from sports drinks and other beverages, to repeal the casino gaming law and to mandate sick time for workers in Massachusetts were also placed on the ballot.
State Rep. Geoffrey Diehl, R-Whitman, was among a group of Republican legislators and activists who organized to fight the gas tax law shortly after is passed last year. During the petition phase, however, it became clear that signatures of Democrats outnumbered those of Republicans nearly 2:1.
The margin became evident as town clerks began transferring signatures electronically to the Secretary of State’s office.
“We didn’t even ask them,” Diehl said. “They told us afterward, ‘This is one funny little fact for you — you had twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans that signed your form.’”
It is perhaps not surprising in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, but Diehl notes it is also an indication of displeasure over the “triple whammy” effect of the law. Candidates for office also depend on that cross-part appeal to win.
In fact Diehl, who is running unopposed this year, is able to devote more time toward campaigning for the gas tax repeal than for his own race.
But poll numbers don’t win elections, he cautioned, pointing to reports that opponents of Question 1 plan on spending $3 million to defeat it.
Right now, the issue’s ability to anger voters has been working in favor of the “Tank the Gas Tax” effort.
“Clearly there is no need to link the gas tax to inflation,” state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, told tankthegastax.org. “By giving the State House more and more money we are not demanding accountability.”
She equated the law with taxation without representation, a comparison with which Diehl agrees.
“It had a provision by which all future gas tax would be subject to an automatic increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI),” said Diehl of the law that initially raised the tax by three cents per gallon. “We saw it on Blue Mass Group (a progressive Democratic organization), that they consider this a regressive tax. It affects middle-to-low income families more than anybody else.”
Those consumers have to drive to work, often in less fuel-efficient vehicles and they lack the funds to replace a car with a hybrid. Corporations hit with the tax pass it along to the consumer for hit number two and a Diehl amendment to exempt municipalities from the gas tax was defeated.
“Obviously, your property taxes are hit as well because ultimately towns have to bear the cost,” he said. “It’s what you put in at the pump, anything you buy and even your property taxes get hit.”
It is the only state tax that can increase without a vote.
Within six weeks of the bill’s passage, an accompanying sales tax on internet services — the so-called “tech tax” — was repealed, but the gas tax change remained in effect.
AAA has not worked against the gas tax, as it had done on a similar measure 23 years ago, since is has partnered with MASSDOT to offer licensing services, according to Diehl. The state’s tech industries worked hard to get the tech tax repealed, by contrast.
“We were already collecting record revenue above and beyond what was expected,” he said of the fiscal climate when the tech tax was repealed. “We want people to know that you need to manage your money better before you start asking for more.”