The Boston Globe
Friday, June 7, 2002
Some eye hike in income tax rate
Democrats cite rainy day fund
By Rick Klein
Some Democratic senators, saying that a proposed $1.2
billion tax and fee package doesn't go far enough to shore up state finances, are backing a move to raise more taxes by
increasing the state income tax from 5.3 percent to 5.6 percent.
State Senator Frederick E. Berry, vice chairman of the Ways
and Means Committee, has filed a budget amendment that would generate an estimated $210 million in the next fiscal
year by hiking the income tax effective next month. His amendment would
direct all of that cash to the state's rainy day fund, ensuring that the state will have adequate reserves in future
years even if the economy does not recover quickly.
"It's the fiscally responsible thing to do," said Berry, a
Peabody Democrat and the Senate's longest-serving member. "There's no sun on the horizon. All we have is clouds. It's
time to build the ark."
Berry has six cosponsors for his amendment and said he has
the support of a majority of the 40-member Senate, though he acknowledged that it will be difficult to find two-thirds
support - the threshold needed to override a gubernatorial veto. Swift has said she would
veto any significant tax increases. The Senate's $23.2 billion budget plan will be
debated and approved next week.
Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham has expressed support
for a 5.6 percent income tax. But his spokeswoman said he has not decided if he will support the amendment. Senate
Ways and Means chairman Mark C. Montigny said the idea is worth debating
on the Senate floor, but so far he has not taken a position on Berry's amendment.
Taxation Committee chairman Marian Walsh is also filing a
budget amendment that would subject alcoholic beverages to the sales tax. Such a move would generate about $57 million
a year, and Walsh wants the money earmarked for homeless shelters and to treat drug
addiction and alcoholism.
"It's a very helpful, common-sense approach," said Walsh, a
West Roxbury Democrat who is also supporting the move to increase the income tax.
Senate Minority Leader Brian P. Lees said he'd be "surprised
and very angry" if any of the body's six Republicans backed any move for more taxes. He said Democrats have lost touch
with voters if they think it's a good idea to pile on more taxes to sock away money for the
"It's raining right now, and you can't hit the taxpayers
over and over and over again with new taxes," said Lees, an East Longmeadow Republican. "The only thing coming out of the
Democrat camps is more fees and taxes. It's mind-boggling."
The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday proposed
more than $1.2 billion in new taxes and fees, including a freeze of the voter-approved income tax rollback, increased
taxes on capital gains and cigarettes, and hikes in various court and Department of
Environmental Protection fees.
The taxes were part of a budget proposal that - despite a
slowdown that's been described as a fiscal crisis - would boost spending $332 million over this year in the fiscal year that
begins July 1. That's $200 million more than the proposed spending plan for fiscal 2003 approved
by the House last month.
Still, senators will be pressured to spend even more in the
budget by a variety of special interest groups, especially if they raise additional taxes. Clergy representatives were at the
State House yesterday asking lawmakers to boost spending on programs for at-risk youth
and home care for the elderly.
"Our safety net is starting to become very weak, and the
holes are beginning to show through," said the Rev. Richard Richardson, chairman of the political affairs committee of the
Black Ministerial Alliance. "There's room for revenue enhancements without really hitting the
Michael J. Widmer, president of the nonpartisan
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said he supports Berry's idea of using a tax increase to replenish reserves. But he
questioned approving more spending.
"If anything, the Senate budget needs to shave spending, not
add to it," Widmer said.
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Friday, June 7, 2002
Fee hikes run gamut to grave
By Steve LeBlanc
BOSTON -- Divorce could get more expensive in Massachusetts if
state lawmakers get their way.
So could the cost of a nursing home bed, a speeding ticket,
a driver's license, a felony conviction and the fee for filing a will.
The increases are among dozens of fee hikes strewn throughout budget proposals by the
Massachusetts House and Senate.
Faced with what Democratic leaders say is a $2.7 billion
spending gap for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, lawmakers are scrambling for ways to balance spending cuts with
The House has already overwhelmingly approved a $1 billion
tax package, including a freeze of the state income tax rollback and a 75 cents hike on a pack of cigarettes. Senate
Democrats say they also have enough support for the package to override a veto by
Republican Gov. Jane M. Swift.
The fee hikes touch on a wide range of activities, from the
cost of the care of a burial lot to the fee for filing a change of residence with the Registry of Deeds.
The most controversial new fee would charge nursing homes $9
a day per bed, or about $3,300 per year.
Supporters say the fee will allow the state to tap into
about $145 million in federal matching funds and will aid nursing homes with higher numbers of Medicaid residents.
Private nursing homes say the move will drive up their
Lucy Corsini, a resident of a private nursing home in
Natick, said she worked and saved for 44 years and shouldn't be penalized by the new fee.
"I didn't inherit any money from anyone," said
The House and Senate do not agree on all proposed fee hikes.
The House budget, approved last month, would boost the cost
of a Massachusetts driver's license from $33.40 to $40, and a car registration from $30 to $36. The registration fee
could generate $23.4 million. The higher license fee would pull in $5.9 million more.
The Senate budget does not include those hikes.
The House and Senate do agree on some higher fees, including
boosting the cost of a speeding ticket from $25 to $30, which would generate $1 million; and charging lawyers a
higher application fee to the Massachusetts bar, from $275 to $385.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford,
defended the fee hikes, saying some fees had not been increased in decades.
"We tried to raise fees minimally and look at areas where
there was truly a gap between fees and services," he said.
Many of the proposed fee hikes are in the judiciary,
including the court costs for an adult convicted of a misdemeanor ($35 to $50), the fee for filing a civil
restraining order ($50 to $75), and the cost of filing a will for safe keeping ($40 to $56).
Critics fault the Senate leaders for proposing new court
fees while at the same time making deep cuts to the judiciary, including a 6 percent cut for district courts.
"We'd like to see any new revenues generated from the court
system be put back into the courts," said Martin Healy, general counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association. "We're
always concerned when court fees are raised. In some instances you may
be denying access to the courts."
Montigny said the court fees are fair.
"When you are running a very expensive system like the
courts, those who are filing complaints or being called before the court ought to be paying higher user fees," he said.
The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the budget next
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