Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed on to the Transportation and Climate Initiative program without legislative approval, but he may soon need voter approval if Massachusetts is going to remain in the controversial cap and trade program.
Paperwork filed by bi-partisan lawmakers, citizens and the head of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance seeks to place Massachusetts’ participation the TCI program on the 2022 ballot.
The ballot measure entitled “An Act Preserving Consumer Access to Gasoline and other Motor Fuels,” states “The supply of gasoline, diesel fuel, special fuels or similar motor fuels available to meet consumer demand shall not be reduced or restricted by the imposition of any tax, fee, other revenue generating mechanism, or market-based compliance mechanism.”
The measure would need to gain 80,239 petition signatures by November 17, 2021 in order to move forward with placement on the November 2022 ballot.
“For almost all Massachusetts residents, TCI will look, feel, and act like a TAX when they fill up their gas tanks,” the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance wrote on their webpage announcing the ballot petition. “Almost all other states that had originally considered joining the TCI gas tax scheme debated the merits of it in their legislature – Massachusetts never had that opportunity. It’s good to see that steps are being taken to ensure that the Massachusetts citizenry can hold this regressive gas tax policy accountable.”
The TCI program would require gasoline wholesalers and distributors to purchase emission credits at auction and then funnel the proceeds to participating states to invest in green energy initiatives, electric vehicles and climate justice programs focused on cities and is being pushed heavily by climate activist groups, state departments of transportation and even oil giants like British Petroleum and Shell.
Opponents, however, say the program amounts to an additional tax on gasoline as fuel wholesalers pass the auction costs down to consumers in the form of higher gas prices as the pump, which could range anywhere from 5 to 9 cents per gallon in the first year to possibly 25 cents per gallon as the program continues over ten years.
The number of emission credits available for purchase would be lowered year over year, increasing the auction costs and, according to groups like the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association and the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association, limit the amount of gasoline available for purchase in the state.
Although the TCI program was originally envisioned as a regional program involving 12 states, thus far only Massachusetts, Washington D.C., Connecticut and Rhode Island have signed on to the final memorandum of understanding and the initiative has yet to be passed by the legislatures in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Proponents of the TCI program have been pushing for a special session vote in Connecticut to pass legislation authorizing Connecticut’s participation in the program, but if the ballot measure in Massachusetts is successful, it could leave Connecticut standing largely alone in the program.
Gov. Ned Lamont has championed the program in Connecticut, along with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes and the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
If passed, Connecticut estimates that it would receive roughly $1 billion over ten years that would be paid by Connecticut drivers in the form of higher gasoline and diesel prices. At least half of those funds would be overseen by an Equity and Environmental Justice Board to be spent on climate justice initiatives largely aimed at cities and areas with high air pollution.
Connecticut Republicans have steadfastly opposed the measure and some powerful state Democrats have also voiced concern and hesitation, including Senate President Pro-Tem Martin Looney who labeled the program a “regressive tax” on poor and working families.
“The government should not be artificially decreasing the amount of gasoline Massachusetts motorists can and NEED to purchase,” Mass Fiscal wrote. “It’s bad economics and cruel to those who can least afford such drastic price fluctuations.”
**Meghan Portfolio contributed to this article**