Dot's reps united in backing sales tax
The Dorchester delegation in the state House of Representatives joined the majority of their colleagues this week in support of hiking the sales tax to 6.25 percent from 5 percent, as Gov. Deval Patrick threatened to pull out his veto pen unless his tax and reform measures are taken up instead.
Members of the delegation added to the final vote of 108 to 51, helping secure a veto-proof majority. The all-Democratic delegation includes Reps. Willie Mae Allen, Linda Dorcena Forry, Gloria Fox, Marie St. Fleur, Brian Wallace and Marty Walsh.
Faced with cuts to local programs, lawmakers said they had little choice but to raise the tax. The small group of House Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, argued that an additional levy would hurt consumers and businesses.
Hundreds of individuals from advocacy groups crowded the State House on Monday, the day of the vote, to push for a tax increase to sustain youth anti-violence programs and others that were endangered by a stark $27.5 billion budget House lawmakers released last week.
"I have a lot of programs I'm looking to fund," said Wallace.
"We need revenue," said Walsh. "There's critical basic services we need restored. No one wants to vote for taxes. It's something we had to do."
Even so, lawmakers admit deep cuts are still on the table.
"Is everything going to be funded? No, it's not," Forry said.
House legislators added that there was little support for Patrick's call to increase the gas tax by 19 cents as a way to pay for the state's decaying transportation infrastructure.
"I thought it was the best of all worlds," Wallace said of to the sales tax increase, which is expected to bring in $900 million in revenues. (Out of that figure, $200 million will be sent to cities and towns in the form of local aid for municipal programs and services.)
Patrick disagreed and has launched a campaign demanding that lawmakers pass a slew of reforms first, ranging from ethics to transportation to pension rules.
Patrick has proposed his own tax increases, including lifting tax exemptions on meals, alcohol and soda and candy, but the proposals have gained little traction in either the House or the Senate. The House and Senate have passed pension and transportation reform proposals; both of those are being hammered out behind closed doors. The Senate, which was wracked by former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson's federal corruption charges, may take up an ethics package next month after the House passed its own version last month.
In a letter delivered to lawmakers just as they were set to vote on the sales tax, Patrick wrote, "I have deep reservations about imposing a higher sales tax on people during these difficult economic times, especially at the risk of costing the Commonwealth jobs and at a time when we can least afford that trade-off. Doing so without meaningful results on the reform agenda is unacceptable."
The letter was followed by an email to his political supporters, exhorting them to call their lawmakers and forward the letter to their friends. Talking points were posted on BlueMassGroup.com, a left-leaning website that has been supportive of Patrick. On Tuesday, Patrick, struggling with low poll numbers, posted a YouTube video on his state website urging citizens to call their lawmakers to demand "real reform."
For their part, members of the Dorchester delegation were demure in their reactions.
"There's a lot of games being played," said Wallace. "That's part of being up here. I think we're all trying to get through this [economic crisis]."
The Senate is expected to release its version of the budget in mid-May.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.