EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 18, 2012

DiZoglio and Rhoton spar over taxes and budget

METHUEN — Democrat Diana DiZoglio and Republican Karin Rhoton drew clear lines over income taxes in their first two debates, though both candidates said they would advocate for state funding for local aid and education.

Both also agreed the sales tax should revert back to 5 percent in a nod to the competition local retailers and businesses face with neighboring sales tax-free New Hampshire. The two women are running for the 14th Essex state House seat that includes parts of Methuen, North Andover, Lawrence and Haverhill.

“I want to make sure to keep money in your pocket,” Rhoton, a former North Andover School Committee member, told a gathering of students at a debate yesterday morning at Methuen High School.

Methuenite DiZoglio said she supported reducing the sales tax, but said the state could not cut revenue substantially and still provide local aid, education and transportation funding to communities.

“I would love to roll back every tax and say we could get rid of them all and keep our programs,” she said. “But if we don’t have tax money coming in, we don’t have money for projects like the high school.”

Rhoton said the Legislature should reduce the state income tax rate to 5 percent as it was instructed by voters to do in a 2000 referendum. “I think the vote we took to roll back the income tax to 5 percent should be heard,” she said.

After that referendum, the Legislature cut the income tax rate from 5.85 percent to 5.3 percent, where it has remained for years. DiZoglio said she wanted to leave the rate where it is for now because the funding is needed for education and infrastructure.

Both candidates supported returning the sales tax rate to 5 percent. DiZoglio said the rate was raised in response to the financial crisis, which reduced tax revenue to the state government. Now that the recession has eased, the rate could be lowered again.

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