BOSTON (AP) - Activists are targeting a portion of Massachusetts' new transportation financing law that automatically links future hikes in the gas tax to increases in the rate of inflation.
Backers of a proposed ballot question say tying tax hikes to the cost of living creates what they call a "forever tax" that increases without lawmakers having to take future votes.
"We have a tax that just went into effect that will automatically increase with no accountability, no vote," said Marty Lamb, a former Republican candidate for state representative from Holliston.
The gas tax jumped 3 cents last week, from 21 cents per gallon to 24 cents, under the law pushed by Massachusetts House and Senate Democrats and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
The ballot question would leave the 3 cent hike in place, but attempt to nix future hikes.
Supporters say they are confident they can gather the tens of thousands of voter signatures needed to get the initiative on the 2014 ballot. They said they will rely on volunteers and hope to collect 100,000 signatures. The certified signatures of at least 68,911 voters are needed initially, although activists typically try to collect considerably more.
Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, a supporter of the question, said automatically linking future tax increases to inflation sets a bad precedent and strips voters of their voice on Beacon Hill.
"What tax is next that will be a forever tax tied to the consumer price index?" The Taunton Republican said.
The gas tax was part of a larger package of tax hikes included in a transportation financing bill. The new law also increased the excise tax on cigarettes by a dollar and imposed the state's 6.25 percent sales tax on computer software services.
Patrick has defended the higher taxes, saying they are needed because Republican governors chose to "starve" the state's transportation infrastructure to help pay for the Big Dig. He said the revenue will help make needed repairs to the state's aging roads and bridges.
But another supporter of the proposed ballot question, Les Gosule, said the higher gas tax is bad for local businesses already struggling with a high tax burden.
"What I've seen over the years is the plight of small businesses trying to do business in Massachusetts," said Gosule, an accountant from Milton best known for pushing a law signed by Patrick last year creating a three strikes provision barring parole for habitual offenders. Gosule's daughter Melissa was raped and murdered in 1999 by a man with 27 prior convictions.
Before activists can begin collecting signatures, they need to submit the language of their proposed ballot question to Attorney General Martha Coakley's office to see if it passes constitutional muster.
The deadline for submitting questions is Wednesday.
Another proposed ballot question in the works would create a higher minimum wage and enact a statewide earned sick time policy. A third would set limits on the number of patients that can be assigned to a nurse at any one time.