The Ongoing Fight Against Tax Increases

Kathleen O'Connor Ives
Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives

By: State Senator Kathleen Ives – August, 2013

There has been some misinformation in the press about the Legislature’s recent vote to override Governor Deval Patrick’s veto of the Transportation Finance Bill. Some outlets are reporting that by fighting against the Governor on this veto, the legislature chose to raise the gas tax by 3 cents instead of keeping it at its current levels. That is not the case. In fact, overriding the Governor’s veto was the only way to prevent the administration from raising the gas tax an additional 3 to 5 cents to make a total increase of up to 8 cents.

Remember, at the beginning of this budget process in January, the Governor asked for nearly $1.9 billion in tax increases focused on the income tax and gas tax.

Over the course of the budget process, the Legislature reduced those requested increases to a 3 cent gas tax increase tied to inflation. I strongly opposed that gas tax increase throughout the budget process, and I also fought against measures in the bill that set up studies that could lead to tolls on the New Hampshire border.

Over the course of the transportation finance debate, I advocated for holding the MBTA accountable for its current budget, and implementing alternative funding mechanisms such as express lane tolling. I wrote about those efforts in this column (Let’s Get the Basics Right in Massachusetts, April 2013).

However, despite opposition from me and many of my colleagues, a transportation bill including the 3 cent gas tax increase passed the House 106-47 and the Senate 34-6. After that, the bill went to a Conference Committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions. When the bill came out of Conference Committee, I voted against it again, because it still included the 3 cent gas tax increase and toll studies. Unfortunately, it passed yet again 105-47 in the House and 34-6 in the Senate. That is the final bill that went to the Governor’s desk.

If the Governor were satisfied with the 3 cent gas tax increase, he could have simply signed the bill and it would take effect. But instead, he vetoed that bill because he wanted a higher gas tax, and the administration spelled out what it was pushing for by writing an amendment that specifically requested an additional 3 to 5 cent gas tax increase.

Everyone knew what this meant. If the Legislature had sided with the Governor and upheld his veto, then all the negotiating power would be with the administration for the next round of legislation. Without the votes to sustain an override, the House and Senate leadership would have to entertain a bill that the Governor would sign, and that would mean a higher gas tax increase.

If we didn’t override the Governor’s veto, a new bill would need just 50 percent plus one in each house to pass—much less of a margin than the votes on the original bill—and the Governor would sign it into law. This would happen quickly because the Governor had also vetoed local aid and a host of other time-sensitive funding priorities for communities around the state that required a quick resolution to the budget standoff. The end result would have been at least double the gas tax increase.

Fortunately, the override passed an overwhelming 123-33 in the House and 35-5 in the Senate. Republican Senator Michael Knapik voted to override the Governor as well. As the Boston Herald reported on July 25, this vote “even eclipsed the overwhelming tallies that sent the bill back to Patrick’s desk in the first place, cementing a major defeat for the governor.”

I will continue to work on ways to address our funding priorities without resorting to regressive revenue increases, and I appreciate all the encouraging words I’ve heard from supporters throughout the district who want to help me continue that effort.