Legislators react cautiously to governor’s tax plan
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Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed $1.9 billion tax increase to boost spending on transportation and education is drawing a cautious response from area legislators.
In interviews, some praised Patrick for starting a discussion about tax reform and funding needed investments. But most said they are still evaluating the proposals, and several voiced sharp opposition.
“I just feel it’s difficult in this fragile recovery to justify raising taxes on anybody,” said state Representative Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat. “Within the confines of our state constitution, the governor is trying to create a more progressive tax structure along the lines of our federal taxes. I’m not fundamentally opposed to that, but I’m concerned it’s being used to increase so much.
“I’m glad the governor is focusing on transportation and education, which are two of state government’s main functions,” Ehrlich added. “Our transportation system is currently outdated and financially unsustainable. . . . The details as to what is urgent, aspirational, or inadvisable will be worked out in the legislative process.”
Senate minority leader Bruce E. Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, said he is “deeply concerned that as we try to emerge from one of the longest and most difficult recessions in the history of the country that the governor would propose $1.9 billion in new taxes to burden folks struggling to be able to maintain a household budget.”
“Equally disturbing is that the proceeds of that increase would go well beyond what we need to balance the state budget. It would be used to finance a tremendous expansion of state spending that is unsustainable,” Tarr added.
State Representative John Keenan, a Salem Democrat, wants to learn more.
“Before I take any position one way or another, I want to know all the details,” said Keenan. “But I have to commend the governor for taking the long view and telling us what the problems are and how he thinks we should fix them.
“It’s about time we all acted like adults and solved the problem of transportation deficits. . . . Whether it’s the comprehensive steps he put forward or something in between remains to be seen, but it’s a worthwhile discussion and debate to have.”
State Representative Marc Lombardo, a Billerica Republican, denounced the proposal.
“The governor can put whatever type of bow around this plan he wants, but the fact is it’s a $1.9 billion tax increase, the largest in Massachusetts history, on the struggling and working families of the Commonwealth,” he said.
The plan, which Patrick announced at his State of the State speech Jan. 16, would raise the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent while reducing the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.25 percent.
The proposal also calls for gradual increases in the gas tax, MBTA fares, turnpike tolls, and Registry of Motor Vehicles fees, as well as the elimination of 45 personal income tax deductions, for an overall $1.9 billion annual tax increase.
State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, a Newburyport Democrat, said that “lowering the sales tax is good for people in a struggling economy. But I’m still assessing the options for making up that revenue if the sales tax is lowered.”
Another Democrat, state Representative Jason Lewis of Winchester, said: “Governor Patrick has started what I think is an important and necessary conversation about tax reform.”
In evaluating the governor’s plan and any others, Lewis intends to look at four criteria: How well does it simplify the tax system; how does it contribute to making the state more competitive; is it more progressive than the current tax system; and does it raise enough revenue to meet the state’s transportation and other needs.
State Representative Paul J. Donato, a Medford Democrat, said: “I listened to the governor’s speech with great interest, and there are many things that have to be discussed. We all realize transportation and education are probably the most important things we have in our legislative session and we are going to try to find solutions to accommodate both of those.”
State Representative Christopher G. Fallon, a Malden Democrat, said: “I have some significant reservations and concerns, but I still have got to study it further before I say something conclusive.”
State Representative Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican, is opposed. “I’m very concerned that for the last 10 years we have grown our budget by [about] a billion dollars a year,” he said. “I think we need to . . . really identify the entire budget and where the additional dollars have gone over the last 10 years before we are looking at higher taxes.”Continued...