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Patrick won’t commit to sales tax rollback

Rivals say they’d heed voters’ will

By Jim O’Sullivan and Kyle Cheney
State House News Service / September 2, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick declined to say yesterday whether he would implement a tax rollback if the voters mandate it in November, pitting him against all three of his campaign rivals, who say they would abide by the referendum.

During a morning radio appearance, Patrick answered a question by saying he wanted to persuade the electorate to oppose the referendum.

“I think we work real hard to try to show them how calamitous a choice that would be,’’ Patrick said in response to a question from Jim Braude, WTKK-FM 96.9 host, about whether he would implement a reduction in the sales tax to 3 percent.

When Braude asked again, Patrick gave a nearly verbatim answer. Pressed a third time, Patrick said he thought governors and legislators had an obligation to honor the will of the voters.

“I think it is also important as leaders, and as candidates, not to just encourage the voters to drive the truck off a cliff,’’ he said.

All of the gubernatorial candidates oppose Question 3, which asks voters whether they want to slice the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, which critics say would cost the state about $2.5 billion.

A spokeswoman for Republican Charles D. Baker, said he would implement the tax cut, though he does not support it. Baker wants to bring the sales tax rate back to 5 percent, its level prior to last year’s round of tax increases.

Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who is running for governor as an independent, is “concerned’’ with the prospect of the lost revenue, his campaign spokeswoman said, but would follow through with the mandate.

“We would honor the will of the voters and suggest that the governor do the same,’’ the spokeswoman, Amy Birmingham, said.

Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein said she would package the sales tax cut with a larger restructuring of the tax code, designed to ease the burden for lower- and middle-income taxpayers while increasing it for the wealthiest.

“I think working families are paying far more than their fair share,’’ Stein said.

“I would implement it. I would make it part of a larger package to make sure that working families don’t get hit with rising property taxes and school fees and all the rest.’’

Stein said she would increase the income tax personal exemption and adjust the income tax rate, designed to provide lower-earning taxpayers with relief while targeting the top 1 percent of earners, pegging that bracket at $2 million annually or more.

On the “Jim and Margery Show,’’ Patrick said he was wary of voter mistrust of Beacon Hill, which rejected the voters’ approval of an income tax rollback in 2000, instead instituting a series of triggers ostensibly designed to take the rate down to 5 percent. The current rate is 5.3 percent.

Later in the morning, Patrick continued to sidestep whether he would support implementing the sales tax rollback if the voters approve it.

“My job will be and continues to be to talk about responsible tax policy, and that’s not responsible,’’ he said.

“Anybody has to respect the will of the voters. But the point is that if we’re going to be responsible as leaders and as candidates, then we’re going to have to tell the truth to voters. And I keep meeting people who make the same two points, that they want their taxes cut but they don’t want their services affected. And there is no way to do both.’’

Also on the ballot this year, Question 1 asks voters whether they want to restore the retail sales tax exemption for alcohol and alcoholic beverages, which was revoked last year as part of the tax package.