A plan to raise gas prices in Massachusetts to reduce carbon emissions is a fantastic idea.
For New Hampshire and Vermont.
As the Herald’s Mary Markos reported, Massachusetts — along with 11 other New England and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia in the Transportation Climate Initiative — is drafting plans to levy fees against transportation fuel companies for the carbon emissions produced by the gas and diesel they sell. California has a similar measure, and it’s pushed gas prices there above $4 a gallon.
But here’s a detail that should have been at least No. 2 on the List of Things Needed to Make Sure This Goes Smoothly — some of our neighbors aren’t participating as of yet.
While carbon emissions and climate change are hot button issues with many rallying to support whatever steps can be taken to better the environment, the fact remains that a gas tax will ultimately hit the wallets of Massachusetts residents. Half of the revenue would go toward Gov. Charlie Baker’s $18 billion transportation bond bill, which includes major investments in the MBTA.
So drivers will be paying more money to fill their cars, and helping to fund the MBTA, which they aren’t using. What’s a burned Bay Stater to do?
Head across the border to Vermont or New Hampshire, of course.
Mass Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney saw the flaw in the semi-united gas tax plan. “Even if one or two states come out of it, it falls apart,” he said. “This is a logistical nightmare that they are not aware of — that they are not thinking about.”
And that is particularly worrying — is there really no Plan B should Vermont and New Hampshire, both states with Republican governors, decline to join the initiative?
Jon Hurst of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts said the state could drive away business if Massachusetts raises gas taxes and neighboring states don’t.
“The bottom line is that the TCI requires regional consensus, and that likely means a far better result for consumers, and those that serve them, than Massachusetts acting alone,” Hurst said, “So we collectively and effectively move forward on solutions for transportation and the climate, while preventing the negative consequences for our families of acting like we are an economic island.”
Things could get tough on that economic island, for people on the receiving end of We Know What’s Best policies. For some, a spike in gas prices means you can’t fill up your car, or if you’re a family with more than one vehicle, you fill up only one, and begin the exhausting dance of using one car to take people to and from work and school and errands each day. For families on a budget (and who isn’t) — it means that gas money will take a larger slice of the spending pie.
And for those close enough to a border, topping up in a nearby state that doesn’t have the gas tax makes sense. It won’t be because they don’t care about emissions and the environment — but people have to live. David DeCoste (R-Norwell), who opposes the measure, sums up the consumer coin-toss:
“This is just going to give people one more reason to take a drive into New Hampshire,” DeCoste said.
The question for Gov. Baker is this: What will you do if neither Vermont nor New Hampshire join the coalition?