By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON — Sensing a political moment unlikely to come around again soon, Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday said he has not yet resigned himself to accepting anything less than the $1.9 billion in new revenue he has requested to invest in education and transportation.
The governor also rejected new criticisms of his revenue plan lobbed by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation that a new sales tax on “Big Data” and software solutions would hurt the state’s tech industry and overall business climate. Patrick’s budget counts on $265 million from the tax code change.
“Though we are asking people to pay a little bit more, we are assuring people they will get a lot more,” Patrick told reporters after huddling for about an hour with more than a dozen Massachusetts business leaders and economists supportive of his plan to generate new revenue through a series of tax reforms and rate changes.
“There’s also a consensus here that the $1.9 billion we have proposed is the right number for transportation and education and we should try as much as possible to land there,” he said.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo has committed to finding a new revenue stream to support investments in transportation and infrastructure, but as spring arrives he has yet to produce a plan or settle on a revenue number that he says should be smaller than Patrick’s.
“We are unlikely as a state government to go back to the people any time soon to ask for additional tax increases. I just think this is it for a time,” said Patrick, who has less than two years remaining in his second term.
And for the record, the governor assured that he has not changed his mind about seeking a third term, despite an errant joke that for a fleeting moment had the political establishment and Twitter abuzz on Wednesday.
After Patrick’s appearance at a project management conference at UMass Boston, New England Cable News hit send on a Twitter message that read, “#Breaking: @MassGovernor announces he’s running for a third term,” and for four minutes the political world stood still. Then came a correction. Patrick was just joking, the network said.
“I wasn’t even out the door and people told me Twitter was lighting up,” Patrick said, laughing about the miscue.
“I’m really, really excited about what’s going to happen here in the Commonwealth, particularly if we make these investments in transportation and education. I think we’re going to see a very steady growth, in fact, an emergence out of recession already that’s been faster than the national average really take off. And it would be fun to be around for that and to be governor for that, but it’s also true that I want to be able to go home at night and I promised Diane two terms and I really mean two terms,” Patrick said.
Asked what the kerfuffle said about the age of social media, Patrick quickly pivoted back to the issue at hand. “Let me tell you about what I think about social media. If it’s about supporting our investments in transportation and education, I am all for it,” he said.
Patrick met, as he often does, with Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray on Monday afternoon, but said he did not come away with any sense that House leaders had arrived at a decision or plan to address transportation financing. DeLeo said this month he would prefer to tackle the issue before the budget next month.
“The House hasn’t landed yet on what they want to do,” Patrick said.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation published a report Tuesday comparing Patrick’s plan to tax software solutions as a good rather than a service to “Pandora’s box,” suggesting business products from custom web design to cloud computing, data storage, computer programming and software installation could be subject to taxation.
Patrick said he disagreed that the tax change would make Massachusetts less competitive. “These are companies that are dealing nationally and the majority of states treat these matters exactly as we have proposed. Again, this is not something I proposed lightly, but it’s not like it’s an outlier by any means,” he said.
Strategies for Children and Horizons for Homeless Children also announced with the governor standing by that 87 business leaders across the state – up from 47 at last count – had signed on to letter supporting Patrick’s plan to invest $900 million in new revenue in education.
The statements of support came as the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education told the News Service it would not support any increase in education funding that was not “highly targeted and based on strong evidence of what works.”
“We have concerns that a large portion of his spending plans would increase funds to districts that are unrestricted with no oversight and no strings attached. We’d like the money tied to initiatives we know work. We think the answer is not just spending more money,” said Tricia Lederer, director of communications for the alliance.
The alliance supports a bill filed by Rep. Alice Peisch, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Jason Lewis that would change the school funding formula.
“That’s wrong,” Patrick said, arguing that many of the increased funds for early education and care programs will come in the form of vouchers determined by income, and other increases in local education aid are critical to the public education system.
“We still have districts where teachers are paying for supplies with their own money. We still have classrooms that are too crowded. We have enrichment programs that have been cut in individual school districts that would make a difference in terms of reaching the kids we’re leaving behind,” Patrick said.
Education Secretary Matt Malone, suggesting the Business Alliance for Education was closely linked to the charter school movement, had a similar response. “They’re wrong and they need to get their facts straight,” Malone said.
Malone said the increases in Chapter 70 funding would flow to school districts investing in proven programs such as extended learning time in Gateway cities and full-day pre-school for four-year-olds.
“These are targeted investments,” Malone said.