SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

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April 3, 2013

Mass. lawmakers: Raise state gas, cigarette taxes

(Continued)

“My principles continue to be whether the financing is enough, dedicated and fair, and I will review the Legislature’s proposal in that light,” he said.

But transportation advocates who supported the governor’s approach were disappointed.

Kristina Egan, executive director of the group Transportation for Massachusetts, said the Legislature’s proposal would fail to address current maintenance needs or allow for new projects to go forward.

“You’re getting half a loaf,” Egan said.

Rafael Mares, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, called the plan “grossly inadequate” and predicted it would doom the state to at least five more years of an underfunded transportation system.

The lawmakers’ plan — which must be approved by the full House and Senate — would increase the state’s gasoline tax by 3 cents to 24 cents per gallon, raising $110 million and costing the average driver in Massachusetts between $12 and $30 per year. The gas tax would also be indexed to inflation beginning in 2015.

The proposal calls for $165 million in new tobacco taxes, including a $1 per pack increase in the excise tax on cigarettes. Taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco also would rise.

There would also be several corporate tax adjustments, including a change in the way utilities are classified for tax purposes and software modifications and system design would be subject to the sales tax.

Legislators said they would seek to end a longstanding practice by the state of borrowing funds to pay for operating costs in transportation, including some employee salaries.

The plan would also make a key policy change by dedicating all motor vehicle sales taxes to transportation — instead of a fixed percentage of the total state sales tax as is currently the case.

DeLeo and Murray downplayed any serious rift with the governor, who had spent the past couple of months promoting his tax and spending plans around the state. They said the legislative approach represented a “different method” of addressing the state’s most critical transportation needs.

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