By Rick Sobey
GROTON -- Ernest Tousignant regularly stops at Prime Energy gas station on Route 119 in Groton because it's the cheapest option, he said.
But when the price skyrocketed 20 cents in three days, going from $3.45 per gallon July 11 to $3.65 three days later, his go-to station joined others around the state and country that are crushing consumers.
"It's absurd. Honestly, it's offensive to people," said Tousignant, 69, of Townsend. "There's no reason for this jump in three days. It's absolutely crazy."
This gas station is a microcosm of a disturbing trend around the state and country; in addition to "pain at the pump," food prices are rising, student loan rates are doubling and the Massachusetts budget package has new taxes, including a proposed 3-cent gas tax.
When will it stop?
Regular gas averaged $3.69 across the state on Tuesday, a 17-cent increase from a week ago, according to American Automobile Association. This trend mirrors the rest of the country; the national average was $3.64 on Tuesday, a 16-cent increase in a week.
Gas prices across the state are 18 cents higher than a year ago. The national average is 24 cents higher than this time last year.
Tensions in the Middle East and rising demand for gas associated with the summer driving season has helped drive the price up, according to AAA spokesman John Paul.
UMass Lowell Professor Michael Carter, chairman of the Department of Economics, said this summer spike is a little later than usual and it's accelerated faster, which is alarming consumers. In addition to the summer driving season and problems in Egypt, Carter said that prices are rising because of economic growth led by the U.S.
Carter expects the prices to go up 10 to 15 cents more before they come back down. Prices won't go past $4 per gallon, he said.
"Unless there's a huge hurricane or things continue to escalate in Egypt, about 15 cents more will be the peak," Carter said. "It's scaring people, but the peak of it shouldn't be sustained."
In addition to gas prices, Carter said that food prices are rising because of higher transportation costs and poor crop yields due to extreme weather.
With an increased state gas tax looming, state Rep. Marc Lombardo, R-Billerica, said that grocery store shoppers should expect even more expensive food prices.
"When you raise gas prices and tax increases, it affects everything," Lombardo said. "It hurts lower and middle-class families, and I don't understand why the governor says a gas tax increase will help families."
Legislative leaders at the State House are expected to send Gov. Deval Patrick a bill that would raise the gas tax in Massachusetts by 3 cents a gallon and force future increases in the gas tax to reflect inflation. Lombardo calls it the "Buzz Lightyear tax" because the tax is "to infinity and beyond," he said.
"It will have an unbelievable impact on families and small businesses," he said. "I hope that voters remember this at the ballot box because this is through the roof."
But the gloomy news for wallets doesn't stop there; the Stafford student loan rates doubled to 6.8 percent on July 1.
Pam Flaherty, dean of students at Middlesex Community College, said this is scary, making it more difficult for students to get an education.
"People keep saying how important a college education is, but they're making it an unrealistic cost," Flaherty said.
More students could choose community college for two years instead of a four-year school because of the loan rates going up, she said. Also, more students will be stressed because they'll have to balance classes and extra hours at a job, she added.
"Some also take care of a child or elder parent, so this just increases anxiety and overwhelms students," Flaherty said. "How do they manage it all?"