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June 23, 2014

Referendum aims to stop automatic gas tax hikes

A Republican-led effort to repeal automatic hikes in the gas tax, based on inflation, is headed for the November ballot.

A referendum championed by the group Tank the Automatic Gas Tax Hikes seeks to overturn the incremental increases in the gas tax that would begin in January 2015. The automatic hikes were included in a law approved last year that also increased the gas tax by 3 cents, to 24 cents a gallon.

“It’s taxation without representation, plain and simple,” said Steven Aylward, the group’s chairman. “We understand that taxes and roadway repairs are necessary, but these increases shouldn’t be automatic. It’s just not fair.”

Gov. Deval Patrick and the Democratic-led Legislature pushed the gas tax increases to pay for repairs to roads and bridges. State officials estimate that pegging the gas tax to inflation would have raised $5.7 million in 2013 — a return that will grow to about $183 million in 11 years.

Aylward, a member of the Republican State Committee, said legislators often divert tax dollars that are intended for transportation needs.

“The money always finds its way into the general fund,” he said. “The state has diverted millions of dollars from transportation funds in the past, and they’ll do it again.”

On Wednesday, Aylward’s group turned in more than 24,000 signatures to city and town halls across the state — twice the 12,000 necessary to put the question to voters in November. The signatures must be certified by Secretary of State William Galvin to get on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Lawmakers who support indexing the gas tax to inflation said repealing it will have serious implications, given a budget that relies heavily on gas tax revenue to pay for road and bridge projects and other expenses.

A coalition of groups called Transportation for Massachusetts is expected to launch a major campaign to defeat the repeal referendum. The group says the increased gas tax would cost the average family only $5 a year.

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