Taxing questions for Patrick, Legislature

When a young person once complained about taxes to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Bostonian replied, “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

Holmes’s rejoinder seems almost quaint today. Since the tax revolt of the 1980s led by Ronald Reagan and conservative activists like Grover Norquist, Americans have become decidedly tax-averse.

In 2000, Massachusetts voters decided to rollback the income tax to 5 percent from 5.95 percent. The Legislature thought otherwise and held it at 5.3 percent. Two years ago, the rate dropped to 5.25 percent.

Politicians who are so bold as to go up against anti-tax orthodoxy have basically been cut off at the knees. Gov. Deval Patrick learned the hard way during his first term when he proposed a 19 cent gas tax increase. The Legislature refused to go there, and the rest is history.

But Patrick appears to have dusted himself off from the 2009 gas-tax drubbing to fight an even bigger battle over his new proposal to raise the income tax. (His office is predictably mum on The Boston Globe report, refusing to confirm or deny it.)

The governor seems to be convinced that there is a third way to persuade lawmakers and average Joes that taxation is a painful, but necessary, fact of life. His challenge to legislators breaks down like this: I’ll show you the reforms that we have done and a few that still can work. Here’s the tally of the revenue we need to do every critical project from Provincetown to Pittsfield. I’m going to get my municipal, environment, education, business, and labor peeps to back me up. Then I’ll do my State of the Commonwealth gig and tell you what I want to do and send over to the House a budget that will show you how much I think it’s going to cost. Then I’m going to step back and let you folks duke it out.  

Or as Patrick said Monday, “Choosing to do nothing is a choice, too, and that choice has consequences.”

The governor has clearly decided to go for broke. Last week’s flurry of Corner Office announcements documented that state officials are trying to reform the way state government operates. Eliminating red tape for small business. Check. Revamping unemployment insurance. Check. Getting rid of retirement-unemployment benefit double-dipping, local-housing authorities, and instituting a slew of new retiree health care adjustments. Check, check, and check.

Patrick has unveiled a mammoth transportation plan that lays out a dizzying array of new reform proposals, including statewide electronic tolling, selling off surplus real estate assets, and value capture, topped off by a smorgasbord of new revenue options that rely on old friends like the income tax and gas tax and some newcomers, such as a vehicle miles traveled tax.

Next up was a multi-billion dollar K-16 education initiative, which offers expanded early education opportunities, increased Chapter 70 dollars, and funding at least 50 percent of the costs at the state’s universities and community colleges.

Does a lame duck governor have enough mojo left to persuade lawmakers that the state cannot survive on reforms alone? If nothing else, Patrick has executed a brilliant political masterstroke that steers the solutions—and the blame—right up to the offices of Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray.

The signals are unclear on how the budget odyssey will unfold.  Labor is out in front of the income tax.  A recent poll showed that 83 percent of respondents opposed a gas tax increase, but state public policy experts say it’s the best way to go. Over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll find out exactly how much civilization Massachusetts wants to buy.

–GABRIELLE GURLEY

Beacon Hill

The Herald’s Howie Carr, Joe Battenfeld, and Michael Graham triple-team the Taxachusetts theme. Nebraska Republican Gov. Dave Heineman is going the other direction, proposing to eliminate that state’s income tax. Patrick unveiled his ambitious plan for new education spending yesterday at a Roxbury school.

Two Fall River city councilors and a former Governor’s Council member have announced their intention to seek the seat being vacated by state Rep. David Sullivan, who is becoming executive director of the Fall River Housing Authority. And if either of the city councilors wins, former city councilor Leo Pelletier, who pled guilty last year to charges filed by the attorney general that he ran illegal Internet gambling cafes, is jumping back into that race.

The Pioneer Institute’s Jim Stergios and Charles Chieppo want to put new revenues into the state’s transportation system, but they argue that Patrick’s transit expansion blueprint “gives the same old interest groups the tools to repeat the mistakes that got us into this mess in the first place.”

Patrick, who had previously pushed to restrict the volume of guns an individual can legally purchase, is expected to file a gun control bill today. CommonWealth’s new issue profiles John Rosenthal, the prominent local gun control advocate.

Municipal Matters

A family dispute stalls the expansion of the Salem Waterfront Hotel, the Salem News reports.

Former Salem, New Hampshire, official Patrick McDougall is sentenced to two days in jail and 50 hours of community service for obstructing ambulance workers who were trying to take his wife to the hospital. McDougall claims he wanted to drive his wife himself to avoid the ambulance payment, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Aaron Swartz

Thomas Dolan, the husband of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, takes to Twitter to defend her — and to criticize the family of Aaron Swartz on the day before the funeral for the 26 year-old computer prodigy and online activist who committed suicide last Friday. In a Chicago suburb, family and friends gathered yesterday for Swartz’s funeral.  In a sign of the left-right convergence on the issue of overzealous use of federal prosecutorial power that Swartz’s case has raised, Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he will investigate the government’s prosecution of Swartz on computer hacking charges. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California files “Aaron’s law.” Former federal judge Nancy Gertner tells WBUR Ortiz should not have prosecuted Swartz.

Casinos

And then there were three: Just before yesterday’s deadline, a proposal for a casino in Milford was submitted to the state gambling commission, making it the third bid for the lucrative Eastern Massachusetts license. Eleven firms in total submitted applications to the state’s Gaming Commission; a pair of western bidders ask for extensions on the state’s bidding deadline. Herald business editor Frank Quaratiello notes that casinos are still a long ways off, considering that, when lawmakers legalized gambling, the Red Sox had just hired Bobby Valentine.

Raynham Park owner George Carney, backed by a Pennsylvania casino owner, was one of two applicants to submit bids for the state’s sole slot machine license. The Sun Chronicle plays up the long-running tension between Raynham and the Plainridge Racecourse, which is also seeking a slots license.

National Politics/Washington

The NRA says its membership has grown by a quarter-million people since the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre and talk of more gun control. The organization is calling President Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for having armed Secret Service agents guard his kids while rejecting calls for armed guards in schools. And the legislative fight over gun control hasn’t even started yet.

Sen. John Kerry’s extensive financial holdings — and those of his billionaire wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry are receiving scrutiny in advance of confirmation hearings on his nomination to be secretary of state.

The House version of the Hurricane Sandy relief bill will not include money for the fishing industry outside of New York and New Jersey.

House Republicans say the Treasury should prioritize government payments — something the Treasury says isn’t possible — when the government reaches its statutory borrowing limit.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is out the door in March.

Elections

Rep. Michael Capuano won’t run for John Kerry’s Senate seat. Capuano is rumored to be contemplating a run for governor.  Rep. Steve Lynch says he’s still a maybe, but might be leaning a little more toward no because of Capuano’s decision.

Former Obama health care aide Don Berwick talks about his interest in the Corner Office.

Business/Economy

Boston Fed chief Eric Rosengren is bullish on job growth, but warns that big cuts in federal spending would slow economic growth.

Education

Enrollment at 40 percent of private colleges and universities declined last year, reports Here & Now.

The ACLU sues over a New Hampshire scholarship tax credit.

Health Care

The National Review takes Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a conservative Republican who is no friend to the White House, to the woodshed for acquiescing on Obamacare and accepting the federal money for Medicaid expansion.

Transportation

Weymouth residents near the new Fore River Bridge project demanded the state and contractors maintain open communications with them during the construction of the $244 million replacement bridge that is disrupting their lives.

Put Keller@Large down as being against the annual No-Pants Ride on the MBTA. And get off his lawn.

Energy/Environment

Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” says a new federal report. WBUR kicks off a series of reports on climate change.

Big subsidies and skillful regulation have turned Massachusetts into a solar state, CommonWealth reports. The hefty revenue streams from solar are attracting big investors such as Warren Buffett, writes Holman Jenkins Jr. in the Wall Street Journal.

Honeywell International has agreed to pay Quincy $4 million and void a controversial $22 million no-bid contract signed by former mayor William Phelan to equip and maintain city buildings with energy conservation devices.

Criminal Justice

A former Andover High School basketball player gets supervised probation and mandatory counseling for participating in a hazing incident at a summer camp, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Media

A new report examines how journalism startups are surviving financially.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

A New York judge rules that Agence France-Presse and the Washington Post infringed on the copyrights of a photographer by using photos of the Haiti earthquake that he posted on Twitter, Reuters reports.

Get a taste of the new book on Scientology by Lawrence Wright.