Massachusetts House speaker offers leaner tax hike plan


BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo called for a much smaller package of tax increases than has been recommended by Gov. Deval Patrick, saying he wants to address pressing needs while avoiding any "collateral damage" to the state's economy.

"I'm worried that the administration's proposal places too heavy a burden on working families and businesses that are struggling to survive," DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, said in a speech on Thursday to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Patrick in his state budget request has called for a net tax increase of $1.9 billion to pay for transportation and education improvements.

His plan calls for raising the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent, while lowering the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent.

DeLeo said he shares the same two priorities -- transportation and education -- as the Democratic governor, but wants to minimize the impact on taxpayers.

"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," he told the gathering of business leaders.

"We seek to fund the priorities we need to enhance the economy, without creating any collateral damage," he added.

Following DeLeo's speech, Patrick said in a statement that he looked forward to seeing what the House proposes but new revenues "must be adequate to the task" of investing in transportation and education.

While he has aggressively tried to sell his budget plan in recent weeks, Patrick has also said repeatedly that he was open to alternative revenue proposals.

DeLeo emphasized in his speech and in later remarks to reporters that he was not trying to pick a fight with the governor and that he continues to have a strong working relationship with the administration and expects to eventually arrive at a "mutually agreeable" solution.

He said House leaders are still mulling various options and will seek a revenue source earmarked entirely for the state's transportation needs.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said earlier this week that it might have to raise fares as much as 33 percent or slash some service if it does not receive additional funding from the state. The MBTA faces a $140 million deficit in the next fiscal year.

DeLeo said the House will devise a plan aimed at avoiding the need for fare increases.

He said the plan would also help smaller regional transit authorities around Massachusetts.

"I think it was a very sensible, focused approach and also manageable," said Michael Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.


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