Tuesday, April 23, 2002
House scans 'menu' of tax hikes
as it wades into budget debate
By Steve Leblanc
BOSTON (AP) House lawmakers, battered by months of gloomy economic warnings, will be offered a "menu" of possible tax hikes during a closed-door caucus Tuesday.
The meeting comes as the House wades into a potentially fractious debate about the best way to close an anticipated $2 billion spending gap for the fiscal year starting July 1.
By the end of the week, a key House committee is expected to release a bare-bones budget plan designed to show lawmakers the deep cuts that would be needed without increased revenues.
House leaders have warned that cities and towns could see a 10 percent cut in state education aid under the stripped-down budget.
To help offset cuts, lawmakers will be asked to weigh a range of possible tax hikes, including rolling back some of the dozens of tax cuts enacted over the past decade.
"It's like a Chinese menu. It's like a cafeteria plan," said Rep. Paul Casey, D-Winchester, a member of a special tax panel appointed by House Speaker Thomas
Casey said the panel won't recommend specific tax hikes, but will show how much each tax hike would raise. Casey said the menu will include corporate tax cuts passed during the 1990s. Some members had criticized Finneran for not mentioning corporate tax hikes.
The goal of the caucus is to make sure lawmakers have solid numbers during a tax debate scheduled for next week, according to panel member Rep. William Greene, D-Billerica.
"We're trying to give people all the information we can possibly can," said Greene. "We can't get through this just by laying people off. We don't have enough people to lay off."
Finneran's critics accuse him of trying to scare lawmakers into voting for higher taxes by releasing a "scorched earth" budget that relies only on cuts.
"He's going to ... generate a tide of people up here to pressure their lawmakers to raise taxes," said Rep. Francis
Marini, R-Hanson. "The problem isn't that we don't tax enough, it's that we spend too much."
Finneran spent the past few months warning about what he said is an impending budget crisis. He's suggested freezing the income tax rollback at 5.3 percent and boosting the cigarette tax.
Acting Gov. Jane Swift also has softened her "no new taxes" rhetoric, no longer pledging to veto any tax hike that reaches her desk.
There has been some progress on the budget front.
Swift said a supplemental budget she will file Tuesday will include money to rehire 194 Department of Social Service social workers laid off earlier in the year.
Last week Swift, Finneran and Senate President Thomas Birmingham agreed to use state reserves in part to close an estimated $689 million gap in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Advocates are turning up pressure on lawmakers to raise taxes, rather than cut services.
Several hundred activists gathered at the Statehouse on Monday to urge budget writers spare substance abuse programs.
Erin Desrochers, 28, said cutting programs not only targets the most vulnerable, but doesn't make fiscal sense.
"It's only going to end costing more in the long run," said
Desrochers, a recovering alcoholic living in a Cambridge-based treatment program. "They're going to end up on the streets and in the jails."
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Human Services Coalition plans to release its analysis of the state budget's effect on programs for poor families, the elderly and disabled. The group is organizing its own rally at the Statehouse next week.
The state's largest teacher's union is also running television ads urging lawmakers to raise revenues rather than cut education spending.
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State House News Service
Monday, April 22, 2002
Ralliers urged to back lawmakers
who raise taxes, preserve services
By Rick Collins
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON ... Advocates and users of state-funded substance abuse treatment programs were urged Monday to support legislators who may be nervous about taking politically perilous votes to raise taxes.
"You must tell them that you will support them if they support you," said Betty Funk, director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Corporations of Massachusetts. "That when they support you, you will be out there holding signs for them."
The House Ways and Means Committee will propose a no-new-taxes fiscal year 2003 budget this week that is expected to spare no program from the chopping block. The budget will demonstrate the impact of solving an expected $2 billion-plus revenue shortfall next year with the use of cuts and reserves alone.
Since tax hikes are often unpopular with voters, particularly in an election year, supporters of substance abuse treatment services arrived by the hundreds today to deliver the following message: we'll vote for you even if you raise taxes.
"The most important thing I can say to you today is your job doesn't end here today. You've got to show up at the polls," Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D-Boston) told more than 300 people gathered at the Grand Staircase to rally against budget cuts for substance abuse treatment programs.
"Legislators will listen to you if you vote," said Ricardo
Quiroga, executive director of Casa Esperanza, a Roxbury-based alcohol and drug abuse center.
Funding for substance abuse programs this year was cut $3.2 million, or 8 percent, in December to help offset a $1 billion drop in tax collections. Jonathan Scott, president and executive director of Victory Programs, a Boston-based residential addiction treatment facility, said additional cuts could have dire consequences for those who can't afford private treatment.
"We're on the brink of letting people die in the streets," Scott said. "You need to tell legislators that addicts are not second-class citizens. Addicts deserve care."
Supporters said for every dollar the state spends on treatment and recovery programs, it saves seven dollars it would otherwise spend on court proceedings, prisons, welfare and public health programs. "We need to be graphically clear of the cost of no treatment," Funk told
ralliers. "We have to let people know treatment works."
A special House committee charged by Speaker Thomas Finneran to look at ways to enhance state revenue collections is expected to release its recommendations in a closed-door caucus on Tuesday. Possible suggestions include hiking the state gasoline and cigarette tax and freezing the scheduled income tax rate rollback. House debate on tax hikes and revenue options is slated for next week.
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The Boston Globe
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
Rollback freeze gathers support
By Chris Tangney
With legislators set to debate the budget amid the worst
fiscal crisis in a decade, momentum is building for a freeze in the voter-approved income tax rollback.
Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate who responded to
a Boston Globe survey strongly favor temporarily delaying the tax cut. Sixty members of the House support the
freeze, while 16 oppose it, and 13 say they are undecided. Another 68 did not
In the Senate, 16 said they would vote for the freeze and
four said they would not. Seven members said they are undecided, while 12 did not answer the survey.
Although the number of lawmakers who now say they will back
the freeze falls short of a majority in the House or Senate, the survey indicates the Legislature's increasing openness to
delaying the rollback, and lawmakers' growing comfort in stating publicly they will vote for
the delay. There are currently 157 House members and 39 senators.
"There is certainly a degree of comfort in the House with
the idea of a freeze," said House Assistant Majority Whip Lida E. Harkins, a Needham Democrat who supports the freeze.
"With a $2 billion problem, we will need combination of the freeze and
other taxes to close the gap."
The survey, conducted during the past month, is another
indication of the rapidly shifting debate over taxes on Beacon Hill. Earlier this month, Acting Governor Jane Swift abandoned
her once-unflinching opposition to a delay in the income tax reduction during closed-door
negotiations with Democratic legislative leaders.
Still, the number of lawmakers who declined to answer the
survey reflects, in part, the apprehension many legislators feel as the vote approaches.
The Globe sent the survey by e-mail to each legislator, then
followed up with a telephone call to each office.
The state income tax is scheduled to fall to 5 percent in
January, marking the final phase in a three-year reduction that represents the largest tax cut in state history. Voters
approved the rollback, 59-to-41 percent, in November 2000.
Freezing the tax rate at the current rate of 5.3 percent
would generate approximately $240 million in revenue next year, but it would also undo the will of voters who approved the
For many lawmakers, especially those elected after the
fiscal crisis of the early 1990s, the vote on the rollback is among the most controversial they have confronted.
"Tax votes are always the toughest votes," said Kevin G.
Honan, a Brighton Democrat who supports the freeze. "But dramatic steps must be taken and that means tax increases and
Representative Kevin W. Fitzgerald, a Boston Democrat who
has served in the Legislature for 25 years, said the Legislature should raise the rate back to 5.6 percent, which
would generate $700 million.
"This is the toughest spot we've been in since I've been on
the Hill," Fitzgerald said.
The state is expected to face a budget gap of $2 billion in
fiscal 2003, which begins July 1.
The income tax freeze represents only one avenue that can be
taken to raise revenues.
Today, House members are expected to be presented with a
list of revenue-raising options to solve the budget crisis.
The House budget is expected to be released by the end of
this week, and debated during the following two weeks. The action then moves to the Senate.
Several lawmakers discussed the need for a comprehensive
plan, and suggested that halting the tax rollback would not be their first choice, but that they are running out of options.
Senator Dianne Wilkerson, a Boston Democrat, said that
increasing the capital gains tax could be equally as effective as freezing the income tax rate, and that both are necessary.
"[The rollback] is on the list of things that must be
addressed to bring the deficit down," she said. "But it's not first on the list."
Several representatives who said that they would support the
freeze stressed that it be temporary and that the reduction be resumed when the economy improves.
However, the promise of those supporting a freeze that it
would be a temporary delay worries opponents.
"They said it would be temporary 10 years ago when they
raised the rate from 5 to 5.95 percent," said Christopher P. Asselin, a first-term Democrat from Springfield who supports
rolling back the tax as scheduled.
Asselin anticipates that it will be a very difficult vote
for many members, but stressed that his constituents want to see cuts rather than tax increases.
"In essence, a freeze on the income tax rollback is a tax
increase," Asselin said.
Representative Christine Canavan, a Brockton Democrat, said
she is in a tight bind. She would like to save programs but feels she must preserve the voters' will.
"My district was strongly in favor of Question 4," Canavan
said. "It's a double-edged sword: If I vote to raise taxes, for whatever reason, I'll be remembered solely as someone who
raised taxes, not preserved programs."
Many of those legislators who support the freeze represent
Boston or communities close to the city. Only two Republicans, both House members, said they would vote for the freeze.
House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and many members of his
leadership team would not participate in the survey on the income tax rollback.
The speaker said he is undecided on the matter. Senate
President Thomas F. Birmingham, however, supports freezing the rate until the state emerges from its woeful fiscal state.
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