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Two on turnpike board support gas tax increase

Pose way to raise funds if tolls end

At least two members of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board of directors said yesterday that increasing the state's gas tax may be a way to make up for eliminating all tolls on the turnpike.

Thomas Trimarco and Mary Connaughton said raising the state's 23 1/2-cents-per-gallon gas tax would be a way for the state to afford taking down the tolls on the entire turnpike. The board is considering a proposal to remove tolls only on the western portion of the turnpike.

Trimarco is pushing a plan to raise the tax by 10 cents over three years, with the tax rate linked to inflation to allow future increases. Tolls would remain on the three harbor tunnels and the Tobin Bridge.

"We're talking about a very modest increase that the average driver . . . wouldn't even recognize," he told reporters before a turnpike board meeting.

He said it would amount to $60 annually for the average driver, but result in $300 million in state revenue.

Connaughton, a former accountant now serving on the authority board, is supporting recently filed bills in the House and Senate that would increase the gas tax, saying it's a fair way to spread the cost of eliminating tolls .

Both Trimarco and Connaughton are appointees of Mitt Romney, the former governor who supported the removal of tolls on the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike but opposed any broad-based tax increase.

Governor Deval Patrick has already indicated Romney's plan to remove the tolls would be a bad idea, saying the state can't afford the loss of revenue.

Patrick said yesterday that he does not have "any plans to raise the gas tax."