EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

January 28, 2013

Compromise on taxes seen likely in Mass. budget

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick can certainly relate to an old adage about state government: “The governor proposes, the Legislature disposes.”

So it wasn’t surprising that Patrick was among the first to concede that his ambitious budget request that calls for major adjustments in the income and sales taxes to support new spending on education and transportation may not survive the upcoming legislative process intact.

By the time the governor puts his signature on the budget around July 1, history suggests that it could bear little resemblance to the plan he rolled out with considerable fanfare this past week.

The reason is not partisan gridlock, nor any gaping philosophical divide. After all, Democrats hold an overwhelming majority in both chambers and leaders, for the most part, have enjoyed a solid working relationship with the Democratic governor over the past six years. It has resulted in noteworthy laws as diverse as pension and health care payment overhauls and the legalization of casino gambling.

But the Legislature’s independent streak, especially when it comes to taxes and spending, is well-documented.

In 2009, when the recession battered state revenues, Patrick included in his budget request a series of targeted tax increases, including hiking the gasoline tax 19 cents per gallon and raising taxes on soda, candy and alcohol. But lawmakers rejected most of his proposals and substituted a 25 percent increase in the sales tax.

Patrick threatened to veto the sales tax hike but ultimately accepted it after the Legislature agreed to other measures he supported, including an overhaul of the state’s transportation bureaucracy.

Last year, Patrick proposed a 50-cents-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax that was dead on arrival in the Legislature after Speaker Robert DeLeo announced he would not support any new taxes.

Patrick’s $34.8 billion budget request for the next fiscal year calls for hiking the income tax rate from 5.25 to 6.25 percent, while rolling back the sales tax from 6.25 to 4.5 percent, which would result in a net revenue gain of $1.2 billion. He said the changes would make the state’s tax code fairer and actually reduce taxes for many lower- and middle-income taxpayers.

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