By Douglas Moser
---- — Many local Democrats are balking at Gov. Deval Patrick’s expansive transportation and education proposals because of the tax increases included to pay for them.
However, several would support a more modest version, saying higher taxes, even with a cut in the sales tax, are a tough sell. Republicans are dead set against any tax increase, and they say any new education spending should come from reductions in spending elsewhere.
“Any time you talk about a potential tax increase, it’s going to be a tough sell,” said Bryan Sweet, chairman of the Methuen Democratic City Committee. “In the Merrimack Valley, it’s a working class area.”
Patrick, in his State of the State address in January, proposed increasing education and transportation spending, paid for with a hike in the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent. The impact would be softened with a sales tax cut from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. Overall, the proposal is estimated to net an additional $1.9 billion in annual tax revenue.
Many Democrats, most of whom are politically active but not elected officials, said while they support the broad goals of the proposal, the tax increase is too much.
“We have growing needs for transportation and education and local aid,” said Joseph LeBlanc, Ward 7 chairman of the Haverhill City Democratic Committee. “There are great needs out there.”
State Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, said the governor’s plan is too ambitious
“Concerning taxes, there were some good ideas in the governor’s proposal, such as lowering the sales tax, which should benefit border communities in regard to keeping business local,” she said. “His suggestion to raise the income tax by a full percentage point, however, has raised great concern throughout my district.”
Many were unsure whether Patrick intended to push for enactment of his current plan, or whether he proposed something he was prepared to negotiation down.
“I think he’s presented a challenge to the legislature, in my opinion,” said former Methuen mayor William Manzi.
Andover Republican state Rep. James Lyons said he opposed the income tax increase, but supported the cut in sales tax, saying it would help small businesses and communities close to the New Hampshire border.
And while he supported Patrick’s goals for increased education spending, other areas of state government should be cut instead of asking for more revenue.
“It’s not like we don’t have the revenues,” Lyons said. “The governor has to reset his priorities on Beacon Hill and target the waste, fraud and abuse running unchecked in his administration.”
Other elected Democrats also warned that the proposal needed to be pared back. On Thursday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, called for a much smaller tax package, saying he wants to address critical needs while avoiding any “collateral damage” to the state’s economy.
DeLeo told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that he shares Patrick’s top two priorities, transportation and education, but is worried the administration’s proposal would put too heavy a burden on working families and businesses.
“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,” DeLeo said.
Haverhill state Rep. Brian Dempsey, who is chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is working on the House of Representatives’ budget proposal.
“We are analyzing the governor’s proposals, and we will be putting ours out very soon,” said Colleen McGonigal, a spokeswoman for Dempsey. She said they anticipate releasing the House proposal on April 10.
The public at large seems split on the plan. A UMass-Lowell/Boston Herald poll released Wednesday found nearly 48 percent of voters strongly or somewhat support Patrick’s tax plan while nearly 46 percent strongly or somewhat oppose it. That’s within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
About 6 percent were unsure. The telephone poll of 600 Massachusetts voters took place from March 2-5.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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