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Taxpayers greet governor’s tax proposals with mixed enthusiasm

Consider Ryan Cohlhepp unconvinced of the need for new taxes. The 36-year-old Westborough resident, who works in biotech in Cambridge, does not expect much improvement to come of the $1.9 billion new tax package the governor proposed this week, nor does he think it would be money well spent.

“To me, it’s not clear yet how much of it’s actually going to be incremental improvement, versus just digging out of the hole that we’ve already been sitting in,” he said.

A day after Governor Deval Patrick unveiled his broad revision of the tax code Wednesday night, the reaction among taxpayers was decidedly mixed. Many taxpayers agreed that the state’s roads, rails, and bridges need refurbishing and said they are not averse to paying for it.

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“They’ve got to make money somehow,” said Mita Lino, 45, of Somerville, a mother of three who owns an optical store. “If it has to go up, it has to go up. Somebody’s got to pay somewhere.”

But others, like Cohlhepp, said the governor should do more to cut waste and slash salaries and benefits in government, before turning to taxes.

That was the mantra four years ago, when the Legislature rebuffed Patrick’s efforts to raise the gas tax, saying that state government must first seek all possible efficiencies. Since then, Patrick has consolidated several transportation agencies and now argues that new taxes can no longer be avoided if the state wants to be competititive economically.

Still, several taxpayers specifically questioned Thursday whether the debt-ridden MBTA deserves an added infusion of funds or an expansion of coverage.

“That’s where I have a problem, because the MBTA has a lot of mismanagement,” said John Adams, 38, a student living in Cambridge who otherwise favors increased spending for transportation. “I’m not for it if it’s going to mismanagement.”

During his State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday night, the governor proposed raising taxes for an expansion and overhaul of the state’s transportation system and an investment in education.

The details were still somewhat stultifying to the average taxpayer. Yes, the income tax would rise, from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent, if the governor’s plan wins approval from the Legislature. But at the same time, the sales tax rate would drop significantly, from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. Additional changes in deductions and exemptions were being announced yesterday.

“What does that mean?” one woman asked outside Market Basket in Somerville. “I don’t know; is that good or bad?“

To Jim Molseed, the governor’s plan to hike income taxes and lower sales taxes is a “mysterious maneuver.”

“It’s a strange sleight of hand going on,” said Molseed, of Jamaica Plain. “They make it complicated enough that people don’t know [how they’ll fare]. Then it sort of leaves you spinning, saying, ‘Where’s the calculator?’ ”

With limited detail to estimate the impact on their own paychecks, taxpayers’ reactions tended to hew to their fiscal philosophies. Some were cynical, saying any new taxes will only be squandered.

“I don’t think taxes should be going up,’’ said Rhonda Coward, a 46-year-old executive assistant from Roslindale. “They should leave it as is. They keep raising fares, and they still can’t get things right. Where is our money going? Didn’t they raise the tolls before? What do they need from us again?”

One woman griped about unnecessary hiring in state government, pointing to recent news in the Globe that the state hired as highway safety director a woman who worked in political fund-raising and who had a lengthy record of driving accidents. “If he gets rid of all those people, he can raise taxes all he wants,” said the woman, who would not give her name.

And some agreed with the need to invest in roads, rail, and schools, but would like to see the state first make more good-faith cuts in spending.

“We have got to redo the state retirement system so it is more fair for the people that don’t work for the state of Massachusetts,” said Jack Scotnicki of Concord. “It is too generous in terms of the benefits they get for the number of years served.”

Nonetheless he and his wife, Judy, favor the tax increases they estimate could cost them an extra $800 a year. “We would give up something to do what we believe in,” said Judy Scotnicki, 70.

John Gibbons, 71, of Watertown, a musician who teaches at New England Conservatory, was nearly exuberant at the news that Patrick wants to raise his taxes.

“Good for him!” declared Gibbons. “I’ve been dying to pay more taxes for a good cause.”

He was not kidding. As someone who believes that the government has not been investing enough in roads and schools, he welcomes the added resources for services, even if it comes at a cost to him.

“I’m 100 percent behind him,” he said. “I think that’s leadership.”

Similarly boosterish was Earnest Offley, 28, of Boston, who works in human resources for the Boston public schools. “I’m all for it,” he said. “My partner and I are in the upper echelon of finances, and we understand the fact that people like us will have to pay more.”

But to Chanan Reitblat, 22, a researcher who lives in Somerville, a hike on income taxes sends exactly the wrong message.

“It’s not particularly fair to raise taxes on those who work hard,” he said. “It kind of disincentivizes income. We taxed and spent ourselves into this deficit and can’t afford to do anymore.”

“I think it [stinks],” said James Monroe Harris, 64, of Grove Hall, as he waited in South Station. “I don’t even got enough money to get on the train right now, and he’s talking about raising taxes.”

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