NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 4, 2013

Gov's push for tax plan gets muted response

By Staff reports
Newburyport Daily News

---- — AMESBURY — Gov. Deval Patrick has made a new push for his plan to hike taxes to pay for increased spending on education and transportation, but local lawmakers say the plan won’t survive its run through the House and Senate intact.

Late last week, Patrick put a local-centric angle on his plan to raise taxes by $1.8 billion. His staff launched a website containing a detailed breakdown of how much money each community will receive.

Locally, Newburyport stands to hit the biggest jackpot, with $684,740 more for schools next school year, and $2.6 million more for roads projects over the next decade.

Next is Amesbury, which would see $248,863 for schools next school year and $2 million more for roads over the next decade.

There are millions more allocated for specific projects such as resurfacing Route 1 in Salisbury, Route 113 in West Newbury, Route 1A in Salisbury, Newbury and Rowley. The full list is available at www.mass.gov/governor/agenda/choose-growth.

There is also some $25 million to build two bike trails — a trail in Newburyport that follows an abandoned rail line from the commuter train station to the South End and along the city’s waterfront; and a much longer “Border to Boston” trail that locally follows old rail lines through Georgetown, Newbury and Salisbury. That latter trail would connect directly into Newburyport’s Clipper City Rail Trail and Salisbury’s Ghost Trail and Old Eastern Marsh Trail.

But the governor’s plan has already run into strong opposition in both the House and Senate, where there is little appetite for hiking taxes. Patrick wants to increase the income tax rate by 1 percent and eliminate 44 tax deductions and credits. At the same time, he would lower the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent and double personal exemptions.

“I don’t see that plan being intact by the time it comes out of the House and Senate,” said state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, while speaking at the Amesbury Chamber of Commerce’s legislative luncheon on Friday. “I think a different package will come out, and it won’t be as big.”

“Most of our infrastructure has been done. We are very fortunate,” he said.

State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, said she favors a drop in the sales tax, but other aspects of the plan aren’t palatable — for instance, eliminating a capital gains tax deduction on home sales that many senior citizens count on. When seniors decide to downsize, that tax deduction is crucial, she said.

“It’s too hurtful to seniors,” she said.

O’Connor Ives said while there is general agreement on the need for more spending on education and transportation infrastructure, she wants to see more specifics on how funding those expenses will impact people.

“I want to make sure that whatever revenue stream is decided on, that it doesn’t hurt working people,” she said.

Both Costello and O’Connor Ives were intrigued by a plan that would create express lanes on major highways. Motorists would pay a fee, collected electronically as they pass by high-speed electronic tolls, to have the privilege of using these high-speed lanes. Money raised from the tolls would be used to pay for highway improvements.

“I would prefer to see transportation revenue raised through transportation uses,” O’Connor Ives said.