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Friday, October 29, 2010

If Patrick is re-elected, hang onto your wallets again

State House News Service
Friday, October 29, 2010

Poll shows support for Grad Tax
By Kyle Cheney

Republican Charles Baker has bludgeoned Gov. Deval Patrick for voicing support for the concept of a graduated income tax, but Massachusetts voters would support that tax structure by a wide margin, a Friday News Service poll shows.

About 57 percent of those surveyed said they favor “a graduated state income tax in Massachusetts, which raises or lowers a person’s tax rate based on income level,” while 34 oppose such a system and 9 percent were undecided.” The poll of 400 registered voters was taken between Oct. 25 and Oct. 27 and carried a 4.8 percent margin of error.

The poll showed widespread support among Democrats, who favor the plan 62-26, with 12 percent undecided. Republicans oppose a graduated income tax 41-52, with 5 percent unsure. Independents broke in favor of the system, 57-34, with 9 percent undecided.

The state is prohibited by the Massachusetts Constitution from levying taxes based on income brackets, and proposals to amend the constitution to permit it were defeated by voters in 1962, 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1994.

Backers of a graduated income tax say it is fairer because upper income brackets pay a higher proportion of their earnings on taxes, while a flat tax overburdens lower-income residents. Opponents say taxing different income brackets at different rates leaves the door open to perpetual tax increases targeted at different income brackets each year, and would discourage people from climbing the income ladder.

Patrick took heat on the campaign trail for expressing support for a graduated income tax, although he’s emphasized he has no plans to propose one and that it would take a multi-year effort to amend the state constitution to permit a graduated tax. The state’s current income tax rate is 5.3 percent regardless of income bracket.

“I think a progressive income tax is fairer than the flat tax we have,” he said during a radio appearance last month. “I don't think that the time is right for anyone to be talking about new taxes.”

Asked about the poll results, the Baker campaign suggested that a graduated income tax would amount to raising taxes “significantly” on “working people and job-producing small businesses.”

“As anti-tax advocate Barbara Anderson pointed out yesterday in a memo to Governor Patrick, every time the progressive income tax was put before the voters, it was rejected,” said Baker campaign spokesman Rick Gorka. “What does the Governor not understand? Raising taxes during a recession is a job killing policy.”

Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington), co-chair of the Legislature’s Committee on Revenue, declined to comment. Kaufman has previously discussed his desire to pursue “comprehensive” reform of the state’s tax code next session, calling for “a difficult and adult conversation about how we tax ourselves.”

“It would be my hope to do it next session,” Kaufman told the News Service in May. “It's an intellectual challenge first and then a political challenge next, so stay tuned. I'm heavily invested in rose-colored glasses. I think we can do this, but we’ll see.”

He told the News Service at the time that state and local taxes currently are “regressive,” with low-income residents “paying the largest share of their income” on state and local taxes and wealthier residents paying less as a percentage of income.

Anderson told the News Service Friday she is confident that any effort to move to a graduated income tax would be defeated. She said critics of the policy warn voters that a graduated income tax would give lawmakers license to target specific income brackets for tax increases year after year, and that the argument resonates in “every working class city in the state.”

“That was one of those concepts that everyone grasped immediately,” she said. “That’s why the graduated income tax is very unpopular.”

Anderson said a graduated income tax would not necessarily equate to a tax cut for lower-income residents, noting that once granted the power to adjust tax rates, the state could simply raise taxes on wealthier residents. She said the proposal would also serve as a disincentive for people to earn more.

Anderson said her first exposure to the concept of a graduated income tax came when her husband described it as the one “where the harder you work the more they steal from you.”

“He instinctively understood what the problem was,” she said. “Working class people just seem to understand this instinctively.”

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