Groups Argue Over Size and Scope of Mass. Budget
Discussion over the proper size for Massachusetts’ budget continues as supporters of Governor Deval Patrick’s intention to raise revenues rallied in Boston Tuesday. But House legislators and other groups are advocating for a smaller tax package.
Governor Deval Patrick on Tuesday joined a rally organized by the group Campaign for Our Communities. The rally was held in support of the governor’s intention to raise approximately $2 billion in revenues for fiscal year 2014 to support investments in transportation and education.
Andi Mullin, Director of Campaign for Our Communities, said the rally drew hundreds to Beacon Hill.
“We had between  and 900 people who came to the State House to talk to their elected officials about why we need to raise revenue, why we need to raise substantial revenue, and why we need to do it fairly,” said Mullin.
Campaign for Our Communities has drafted a piece of model legislation that tweaks the governor’s plan on how th raise that $2 billion. The bill, which is being sponsored by Democratic State Representative Jim O’Day of Worcester and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston, would raise the income tax rate to 5.95 percent compared to the governor’s proposed 6.5 percent, as well as make other adjustments to the tax code.
Also earlier this week, a group of more than 50 Bay State economists signed a letter saying that the time is now to support significant investment in transportation and education. The letter reads in part…
“We support increasing personal income tax revenue because it is the most equitable and effective way to raise the sizeable funds needed.”
Bob Nakosteen, a Professor at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, was one of the signers of the letter. He said that he doesn’t expect all legislators to be on board with the plan to raise $2 billion through tax increases.
“In my opinion the governor’s proposal is closer to the mark than the other counter proposals I have heard, but we would expect compromise to arise out of this situation,” said Nakosteen.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo has been one of the key legislators seeking a smaller tax package. A staff member for DeLeo pointed WAMC to recent remarks DeLeo gave to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce where he said, “If we are to pass a new revenue package, I believe it should be far more narrow in scope and of a significantly smaller size.”
After a legislative hearing of the joint committee on transportation held on Tuesday, committee member Representative Gail Cariddi of North Adams said she and her colleagues heard testimonials from groups asking for a 20 percent cut in the governor’s plan of spending $1 billion on transportation.
“Most of the $800 million that they believe the benchmark should be in the neighborhood of, is really to fix most of the things that are not right with the system at the moment, and only about 20 percent of that would be in a new project or new vision range,” said Cariddi.
Mike Widmer, of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation testified at the hearing. He said that the $800 million should be raised by making small increases to the gas tax and to registration fees. Widmer said the idea is to keep funding for transportation coming from transportation users.
“The great concern that through the income tax almost certainly the money will be spread much more widely and we will miss this opportunity to raise the revenues we need to build a kind of transportation system that can support our economy,” said Widmer.
Representative Cariddi said her colleagues are focusing on the immediate concerns including funding for the beleaguered MBTA, providing more funding to the Regional Transit Authorities, and funding of salaries for routine highway maintenance workers
Republican lawmakers have been vocally opposed to the governor’s proposed increases in the state’s income tax.
The House Committee on Ways and Means will release its version of the budget in April.