By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Massachusetts residents would overwhelmingly oppose a 15-cent increase in the gas tax to help pay for transportation needs, according to the partial results of a poll conducted for a coalition that supports raising the income tax to invest in cities and towns.
The poll, conducted by veteran Boston pollster Tom Kiley for the Campaign for Our Communities, found that 83 percent of Massachusetts residents would disapprove of a gas-tax hike to 36 cents per gallon, including 68 percent who "strongly disapprove."
The state's gas tax is presently 31 cents per gallon.
Seventeen percent of respondents said they would support a gas-tax increase, with 7 percent "strongly" approving. The poll sampled 600 Massachusetts voters from Dec. 12-15.
Gov. Deval Patrick said Thursday his administration's long-awaited transportation financing plan will be rolled out over the next month in two phases, starting with a report due to the Legislature on Monday that will detail options to pay for infrastructure improvements and maintenance.
By law, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board is required to produce a financing plan by Jan. 7 to address an estimated $1 billion-a-year gap between available resources and need. Patrick said he will make specific recommendations during his annual State of the Commonwealth address on Jan. 16, or when he files his budget, which is due Jan. 23.
"We will have a transportation plan which is not just about plugging holes and patching what is broken but really about investing in a transportation system worthy of a 21st-century economy and commonwealth," Patrick told reporters.
Asked about a gas tax increase, Patrick said: "I tried the gas tax a couple years ago and it fell with a great thud. I am not certain that a gas tax is going to do for us what needs to be done, but we will see what is proposed in the transportation finance report. I think there are going to be a number of options in that report and that may be one."
Asked about an income-tax hike, Patrick said none of the ideas for new revenue "are perfect."
The Campaign for Our Communities is a coalition of labor groups, local government boards and advocates who have endorsed an increase in the state income tax to 5.95 percent, while also raising the personal exemption level to tamp down the impact of an increase on low- and middle-class families.
The coalition has also called for raising the tax rate on investment income to 8.95 percent with an exemption for low- and middle-income seniors.
Both proposals, according to the group, would generate $1.37 billion in additional revenue annually for Massachusetts.
Andi Mullin, director of the campaign, did not return a call seeking comment.
The News Service was not able to obtain information about other revenue proposals included in the poll.
According to the poll done by Kiley, voters would prefer to that any new revenue plan should include investments in areas outside transportation, including public schools and health care.
While 18 percent said the focus of new revenue should be to pay for transportation, 77 percent said lawmakers should look to address all major funding needs, with 45 percent ranking K-12 education above roads, bridges and tunnels on their priority list and 22 percent saying health care should be the top priority. Thirty-two percent of those polled said infrastructure should be the top priority.