By Douglas Moser
---- — Two local Democratic freshmen state legislators are frustrated that Gov. Deval Patrick’s veto of the $500 million transportation bill put them in the position of having to vote for an override that increased taxes.
Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, and Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, said the veto meant they had to vote to override him even though it meant the transportation bill funded by increases to the state gasoline tax by 3 cents per gallon, the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and the application of sales taxes to certain software upgrade purchases would become law.
Both women voted against the proposal earlier because they opposed a tax increase they feared would push more of their constituents to shop across the border in New Hampshire instead of in their hometowns. And both said they still oppose the increases.
The vote opened them to attacks of changing their votes or buckling under pressure from their leadership and labels of being flip-floppers, they said.
“It is my hope that any political games over this would be stopped,” DiZoglio said. “I have one of the most bipartisan voting records in the House right now. My Republican colleagues and I were on the same page regarding this tax vote. Unfortunately, we differed on whether or not to sustain the governor’s veto.”
Each house of the Legislature voted twice on the transportation bill earlier this year, once on each chamber’s own version and once on a second version worked out between the two chambers that included more than $800 million in new revenue annually after several years. DiZoglio and O’Connor Ives voted against it each time because of the tax increases.
“I live in a border community and we’re constantly battling to keep shopping local, and it’s too easy for someone to cross the border and buy these things,” DiZoglio said.
But, Patrick vetoed the transportation bill, and DiZoglio and O’Connor Ives said the two options left were to override the veto and allow the tax increases that already passed to take effect, or to let the veto stand and risk the Legislature passing a new, larger increase in order to garner the governor’s support.
O’Connor Ives said Patrick surprised Legislators when he issued the veto threat in June because he had indicated he would support $800 million in revenue for transportation. Part of Patrick’s reason for vetoing, he said, was the potential for tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike west of Route 128 to expire in 2017 if the turnpike is deemed in good repair and if the governor at that time decides to lift the toll.
“There are a lot of ifs to that concern,” O’Connor Ives said. “It’s not a real reason to veto that.”
Republicans, who voted against the transportation plan and then voted to sustain Patrick’s veto, said the override should have failed so Legislators could go back to square one to prevent any tax increase. But DiZoglio and O’Connor Ives said a tax increase was unavoidable and this lower proposal was better than a bigger hike in the near future.
“With the same governor and strong support by the majority of Legislators for a gas tax, square one would be a 6-cent gas tax,” O’Connor Ives said. “The important thing I’d like to convey is my vote to override the governor’s veto was a vote to draw line in the sand and prevent a measure for an even higher gas tax. I didn’t support any gas tax.”
Republicans went on the offensive immediately after the override vote last week, issuing a press release that called out DiZoglio and 11 other Democrats as flip floppers who “caved” to override the governor’s veto and allow the tax increases to take effect.
“A dozen Democrats caved in to the Beacon Hill bosses and voted for a massive tax hike that even some Democrats said will hit middle class families hard,” Kirsten Hughes, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said in the release. “What is more disappointing is that every Democrat rejected a tax free plan sponsored by Republican leaders that would have met the state’s transportation needs.”
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, D-Gloucester, the Senate minority leader whose district includes part of North Andover, said the Republican proposals to fund transportation without new revenue were ignored during the debate.
“These sweeping new taxes represent the outcome of a choice the Legislature didn’t have to make, and now Massachusetts consumers and businesses are going to be forced to live with the consequences of that choice for years to come,” he said in a statement.
Republicans unveiled an effort yesterday to put a ballot question before the voters next year to repeal the automatic gasoline tax increases that begin in 2015, when the tax will be tied to inflation. State Rep. James Lyons, R-Andover, was part of that group of Republicans.
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