Patrick applies budget pressure on lawmakers
Website lists district funding breakdowns
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
GOV. DEVAL PATRICK’S PLAN to raise $1.9 billion in taxes to finance investments in education and transportation got a two-pronged push Wednesday, as University of Massachusetts President Robert Caret made a conditional pledge to freeze tuition and fees and Patrick released information detailing planned spending increases in each of the state’s 200 legislative districts.
Hoping to amplify public pressure on lawmakers to embrace his tax reform proposal, Patrick held a press conference to announce a new web page that details proposed investments in education and transportation by each House and Senate district.
“They work for the public just like I do, and the public’s going to have to speak up. They’re going to have to say to legislators the same thing they’re saying to me, which is we want this, we get it. And we are going to have to make the case to them of the wisdom of making these investments,” Patrick told reporters at a press conference.
Patrick, who meets regularly with legislative leaders, also said he did not get the sense that he was losing the battle with skeptical lawmakers. Few lawmakers have publicly embraced his proposal, while many say they’re worried that higher taxes will hurt the economy or their constituents.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he’s heard “grave concerns” about Patrick’s tax plans. Senate budget chief Stephen Brewer has raised doubts about the ability of residents to shoulder new taxes. And House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. William Straus told the News Service this week he’s eyeing a smaller transportation financing plan than Patrick and one tied to user fees.
Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, a Holden Republican, said she had not yet seen the maps for her district, but has heard the concerns of her constituents and opposes parts of the governor’s budget.
“I think the governor wants to sell his program and will do what he can to get that across. I know the political game that’s being played and what he’s trying to accomplish. Just another day on Beacon Hill,” Ferguson said.
The new website hosted on the governor’s section of mass.gov features maps of legislative district with details of transportation projects that would be funded under the governor’s budget and the new levels of support for schools and universities, including the number of children currently on wait lists for early education and care program.
Hard copies of two maps with transportation and education investments by district were delivered to each House and Senate member on Wednesday.
“I want to take this moment to reiterate that if the Legislature advances the funding for the University proposed by the Governor and it is signed into law, we would be prepared to maintain student tuition and fees at current levels for the 2013-1014 academic year,’’ Caret wrote to Thomas.
Caret said Patrick’s budget holds the greatest promise for returning to a scenario under which the state funds half of the university system’s costs, requiring an infusion of $100 million a year. State funding, according to Caret, has slipped over the years to 43 percent, requiring students and their families to pay more in tuition and fees.
“The governor’s proposal, which envisions significant funding increases, certainly holds the promise of us receiving that level of new state investment,” wrote Caret, who last year pledged a tuition and fee freeze if the state returned to the 50-50 funding split.
Lawmakers also received a letter signed by 46 business leaders, including Former MFS Investment chairman Robert Pozen, a member of former Gov. Mitt Romney’s Cabinet, and Bain Capital Managing Director Josh Bekenstein, calling on them to approve Patrick’s spending and revenue requests.
“Governor Patrick’s proposal is a thoughtful, comprehensive plan focused on three critical outcomes – increasing school readiness, improving third grade reading, and closing the achievement gap. The bottom line is that investing in young children is one of the most cost-effective uses of the public dollar,” they wrote.
The group, which called itself Business Leaders for Early Education, said a skilled, well-educated workforce is essential to their future success.
Patrick’s tax reform plan would raise the income tax to 6.25 percent, lower the sales tax to 4.5 percent and eliminate personal and corporate tax exemptions and deductions to generate new revenue for his budget.
“The public knows and I know we can’t reform our way to a new road. We turn to taxes because roads and schools are the kinds of things we do together. We all have a stake in this,” Patrick said on Wednesday.
Patrick said it’s “right and natural for people to warm slowly to the idea of a tax increase,” and said he has encountered citizens who support his plan, others who oppose it, and some who aren’t sure.
The governor said he believes many people still don’t understand the “progressivity” of his tax plan, emphasizing that half of taxpayers in Massachusetts – those with low or moderate incomes – would pay the same or less under his proposal.
“People work hard for their money. I understand that. And while they see the value in paying their fair share, they’re worried whether their money is being spent wisely. That’s why people tend to like the part of the proposal that cuts the sales tax, but less so that part that raises the income tax,” he said.House Minority Leader Brad Jones said the governor’s maps fail to show the negative side of his proposal, namely how much extra residents will have to pay out of their household budgets.
“I think his strategy is to run around and show everyone the shiny objects that they, too, can have with a $2 billion tax increase. It’s like Christmas with all the packages under the tree. Who doesn’t want the packages until you find out you have to pay for them?” Jones said.