The Boston Herald
Wednesday, March 29, 2000
Tax relief not yet on budget horizon
by Ellen J. Silberman
The fiscal 2001 House budget slated to be released
tomorrow doesn't include any immediate tax relief, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul R.
Haley said yesterday.
"Not for this year," said Haley
(D-Weymouth). "We don't think now is the time to be cutting back on our tax base.
We've already cut taxes by some $2.5 billion over these past 10 years."
Offering a second day of budget highlights, Haley
stressed the need to shore up the state's low- and moderate-income housing programs before
giving money back to the taxpayers.
"We need to make sure that we cover the base and
we make sure that there's adequate funding in place to support the overhead costs,"
Haley said as he unveiled a plan to increase housing funds by one-third.
Despite the tough anti-tax cut talk, Haley left the
door open for a future tax cut and sources said the budget does include a promise of lower
taxes down the line.
Rep. John H. Rogers (D-Norwood), the chairman of the
House Taxation Committee, has been pushing for a deferred tax cut for more than a year.
Under Rogers' plan, the state would approve a future income tax cut and put the difference
between the current rate and the reduced rate into a special fund.
"At the end of that investment period the
taxpayers benefit from the tax cut," Rogers said. He called his plan "more
responsible than the rollback petition" being pushed by Gov. Paul Cellucci.
The state last year agreed to gradually reduce the
income tax rate from 5.95 percent to 5.75 percent. Currently, the rate is 5.85 percent.
Haley said next year's reduction to 5.80 percent was fully funded in the House budget.
Cellucci's ballot initiative would continue the
decline, dropping the income tax rate to 5 percent by 2003. But many Democrats believe the
state cannot afford the $1.2 billion tax cut at the same time the state is trying to find
as much as $1.7 billion to cover Big Dig cost overruns.
"There's going to be a big fight around this tax
cut," said Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston). "I don't think it's going to be a kind
of automatic knee-jerk reaction among the population of Massachusetts to go for the tax
cut as long as we can describe this ... in terms of what people want in terms of
education, what people want in terms of medical care and what lots and lots of people want
The Boston Herald
Wednesday, March 29, 2000
All pumped up: Cellucci battles state's automatic gas
by Cosmo Macero Jr. and Joe Battenfeld
The Cellucci administration today is moving to head
off a hidden state gas tax hike that would force already overburdened Massachusetts
motorists to shell out millions more at the pump every month.
A little-noticed provision in state law could trigger
up to a three-cent increase in the state's gas tax if prices continue to soar as expected
through the summer.
Such an increase would cause political problems for
Gov. Paul Cellucci, who has sought to craft an image as an anti-tax crusader.
Lt. Gov. Jane Swift plans to unveil legislation today
to freeze the current gas tax at 21 cents per gallon and prevent the automatic increases
from making it to the pump, sources said. Cellucci is in China on a trade mission.
The proposal, however, could run into some resistance
in the Legislature, where some lawmakers have suggested gas tax increases help pay for the
"We're hoping legislators agree with us that
consumers shouldn't be punished at the pumps," another administration source said.
"If they're against this, then it's anti-consumer."
If no action is taken, the state gas tax will increase
as soon as this spring, the first hike since 1991.
Under the state's current legislative formula, the gas
tax will increase by one cent when the average price per gallon reaches $1.68. State
officials predict that level could easily be reached by Memorial Day.
The average price now for a gallon of regular gas in
Massachusetts is $1.59 -- keeping with a national trend that has seen prices go through
The state's gas tax will increase by another two cents
if average gas prices top $1.80 per gallon, which experts say could happen by the end of
the summer. That would put the state's gas tax at 24 cents per gallon.
The Cellucci administration's legislative plan is
aimed at preventing a possible public relations nightmare for the governor -- a tax
increase under his watch.
The governor has vowed to block any tax increases and
is pushing a referendum this year to roll back income taxes.
A hike in the gas tax would be particularly disastrous
because of growing anger by motorists at skyrocketing prices.
The governor's plan would not only freeze the gas tax,
but also discard the current formula which would trigger increases.
The move -- while aimed at giving consumers relief --
would also be a pre-emptive strike against those who suggest further increases should be
considered to help fund the $13.1 billion Big Dig, sources said.
"The governor has been very clear that he doesn't
want the gas tax to be used (for the Big Dig)," said one administration source.
Lawmakers will have to approve the gas tax freeze.
But sources said the administration has already
rounded up key support for the measure from the powerful American Automobile Association.
That endorsement is considered significant, since AAA
has refused to endorse a partial rollback of the 18.4-cent federal gas tax.
"It's obviously starting to put a strain on the
economy," said one source close to the governor.
Just the one-penny increase in the state gas tax would
cost motorists an additional $2.3 million per month at the pumps, administration sources
And if prices continue to rise, as many experts
project, drivers could end up paying an additional $7 million to $14 million per month if
the tax isn't frozen.
Under current law the tax would rise another two cents
per gallon if the average price reaches $1.80, and three cents on top of that if the price
Federal officials have already warned that the average
gas price nationwide could be $1.80 per gallon by year's end.
In Massachusetts, average prices have rocketed from
$1.03 per gallon of regular in March 1999 to $1.59 per gallon today.
The state first instituted a two-cent gas tax in 1928.
It reached five cents in 1953, and eight and a half cents in 1980.
After that, state officials introduced formulas making
the tax a percentage of the price per gallon.
The current tax is 19 1/10 percent of the average
price, with a minimum tax of 21 cents.
Wednesday, March 29, 2000
CLT goes to bat for critics of Fenway Park subsidy
BOSTON (AP) A conservative anti-tax group is joining
the lineup of those opposed to taxpayer subsidies for a new Fenway Park.
Citizens for Limited
Taxation, which is currently promoting a $1.4 billion income tax cut
ballot initiative, is taking part in the formation of Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies.
"It's one thing to
make us pay taxes for essential services that benefit everyone, like public safety, or
that care for otherwise helpless people," said CLT head Barbara Anderson in a
statement. "But taxpayer subsidies for a game? taken from working families and given
to wealthy club owners? Please."
Peter Catalano, of Fenway Action Coalition, a
neighborhood group, said the addition of CLT to the stadium opposition provided an
"I think it certainly will broaden the political
spectrum of the groups involved," he said. "It is rather dismaying that CLT to
this point is the only group in the conservative movement that has stepped forward to
object to this public expenditure."
A news conference was scheduled for today to announce
CLT's opposition and the creation of CASS.
Other members of CASS include the Massachusetts Public
Interest Research Group, Save Fenway Park, Massachusetts Senior Action and the Fenway
Community Development Corporation.
The Red Sox last year proposed a new 44,000-seat
facility to be built adjacent to the existing ballpark. The cost was estimated at $550
million. The team has yet to make public what it will request in taxpayer help, but it has
been estimated to be more than $200 million.
PS. A request has been made by Patti Amirault, wife of
Gerald, that letters be written to Gov. Cellucci requesting that he commute Gerald's
sentence -- now pretty much the only way to obtain any justice in that senseless
injustice. If you are so inclined, you can get her letter with instructions on how to respond and other
information on this longstanding outrage.