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Keller @ Large: Legislators who reject gas tax pause may start feeling the heat

Keller @ Large: Gas tax holiday takes toll on partisan unity
Keller @ Large: Gas tax holiday takes toll on partisan unity 02:28

BOSTON - Chances are you've seen the TV ad, in frequent rotation lately on WBZ.

"Gas prices. We know the story." intones the narrator over images of soaring prices at the pump. "And while all of us are paying the price, one senator is fighting to lower your costs."

Cue Maggie Hassan, the New Hampshire Democrat who's facing a tough fight for re-election to the US Senate.

"I'm taking on members of my own party to push a gas tax holiday, and I'm pushing Joe Biden to release more of our oil reserves," she proclaims.

It's a sign of the times. Candidates running away from their own party leadership on a high-profile issue have been an unusual sight in this hyper-partisan era. But with inflation surging and onerous gas prices staring their constituents in the face at every fill-up, deviation from the party line is a growth stock these days.

And even here in Massachusetts, where Beacon Hill Democrats nixed a Republican push for a gas tax holiday back in March, some Democrats who did support a gas tax moratorium back then tell WBZ they expect it to come up again soon.

"Nothing's ever dead on Beacon Hill, things have a life of their own," says Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), one of eight Democrats who joined the Senate's three Republicans in support of the break in March. "When people are going to the pump right now, they're feeling a lot of pain and I do think we should try to do everything we can to help out people in Massachusetts."

Notes Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), another yes vote back then: "A lot of people in my area don't have public transportation, we have towns that don't have it at all. They rely on their vehicles to get everywhere, to do everything."

Neighboring blue states like Connecticut and New York have suspended gas taxes without damaging their bond ratings, which opponents of a moratorium claimed would happen. And Hassan's Republican challengers have dismissed her bill as a gimmick, the same rhetoric deployed by Democratic leaders here.

But with prices soaring amid rampant inflation, Gobi says that dog won't hunt.

"I don't think that's a gimmick at all when we're trying to save folks a few pennies here or there," she says.

National polling in March showed 70% support for a temporary reprieve from the federal gas tax.

And with the summer traveling season at hand, look for public pressure to prompt some serious soul-searching by politicians who've opposed the move. 

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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