Bay State businesses blasted an eye-popping 27-cent gas tax hike proposal yesterday being considered by Gov. Deval Patrick, saying the increase will send companies and customers fleeing across the state’s borders.
Critics also condemned the proposed boost - which would raise the tax to a highest-in-the-nation 50.5 cents - as a double whammy for drivers inside Route 128 who would still face tolls on top of the hike.
“They’ll be paying this increased gas tax as well as tolls. It will only further the inequity that already exists,” said Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board member Mary Connaughton.
Paul O’Connell, executive director of the New England Service Station and Automotive Repair Association, said raising the gas tax by 27 cents would cause a “flight to New Hampshire” by motorists seeking lower prices.
“A lot of our members operate near borders, and this could put them out of business,” he warned. “My gut instinct is that this stinks.”
The tax hike would be levied instead of $7 tunnel tolls and other Pike hikes to pay off Big Dig and MBTA debt. Tolls would be removed west of Route 128 by the end of next year.
The state would work to implement a pay-per-mile system by 2014 to eliminate tolls inside of Route 128. Officials would track auto use through a chip inside the state’s vehicle inspection sticker. Drivers could get a gas tax refund to avoid double billing.
O’Connell said the Patrick administration is making it harder for businesses, with its call to slap new taxes on candy, soda and alcohol.
“How much can the business community take?“ he asked.
But Rick Lord, president of the influential Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said that “broad-based financing” of the transportation system is the “most equitable” way to go - and gas taxes are the most “approriate” way to approach the problem.
Asked if an increase might hurt service stations near the borders with other states, Lord said, “The reality is we have an older infrastructure system” that needs finances and repairs.
State Rep. Steve Walsh (D-Lynn), who has called for a gas tax instead of a proposed toll hike, called the measure a good first step.
Meanwhile, a State House source said the proposal caught many legislators by surprise. Senate President Therese Murray rejected the gas tax hike, but House Speaker Robert DeLeo issued a reserved statement on the plan.