Governor Patrick Goes Long, and Local Reaction

Governor Patrick unveiled his finance plans for transportation and education during his state of the state address Wednesday night, putting together a package that includes a cut to the sales tax, and an increase in the income tax. I have done a post on this before the speech which which looked at the menu of options that Governor Patrick had laid out. Now we have the plan, which not only seeks to stabilize our rickety transportation system but to increase investment in that sector by financing projects that the Governor feels the Commonwealth needs. I hope to have a separate post that will look at some of the key data involved in this plan in the next few days, but for now let us focus on the politics, and initial local reaction.

The Eagle Tribune ran a story asking local legislators for their initial reaction to the Governor’s proposals, and locally there was not a bunch of enthusiasm shown. Democratic Senator Barry Finegold expressed reservations about increasing the income tax, and has in the past been a vocal critic of the MBTA. Republican Rep. Jim Lyons was not supportive, and looks to take additional investment out of the existing budget. A very key player is House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), who was non-committal. Democratic Rep. Linda Dean Campbell spoke out forcefully against the Governor’s plan. From the Tribune.

State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, said Patrick’s plan is “too expensive and risky.”

“We need to remember unemployment is still high and we have some big health care expenses coming up,” Dean Campbell said. “The Legislature and the governor have done some good work recently cutting spending and building our reserves, that’s what needs to continue. … Our transportation problems have built up over a decade. We’re not going to solve them overnight.”

In the past, Dean Campbell said she opposed attempts to increase gas and sales taxes, but that she would potentially consider a modest increase to the income tax or increasing tolls on state roadways to pay for important initiatives.

“It’s the fairest tax if we have to raise taxes,” she said of the income tax. “But we have to be careful not to derail our slow recovery and go backwards. The governor’s timing is off for these ambitious educational and transportation plans. He needs to go slower.”

State Senator Kathleen Ives was non-committal, and Methuen Rep. Diana DiZoglio was not a part of this Tribune story.

At least in the Merrimack Valley the Governor starts out from behind. But let us not count the Governor out up here just yet. He visited Haverhill this week and toured some key economic development sites, with Mayor Fiorentini hosting, along with Ways and Means Chair Dempsey. and the rest of the legislative delegation. And the Governor, to his credit, has placed some pretty large enticements into the package, including a substantial lowering of the sales tax, which will only help border communities. His inclusion of extra monies for the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, and additional Chapter 90 money for localities, means that there will need to be some big decisions made as the Legislative process begins to work. And that process will bring some counter pressure on legislators to consider including, and paying for, some of the items that clearly benefit the region. The Governor was also scheduled to visit the home town of Senate Ways and Means Chair Senator Stephen Brewer today, as well as other stops, and he brings with him projects that legislators have been clamoring for. The Governor, in his own way, is showing that there is no free lunch. And that, from a fiscal responsibility standpoint, is critical to understand. A major part of our fiscal problem, as a Commonwealth and as a nation, comes from thinking that you can have major projects that do not have to be paid for. It is not, and has never been, true. The State House News Service captured the conundrum for legislators this relatively simple concept has created.

“To say, “Hell no, we won’t go,’ isn’t necessarily a good vetting process,” said Sen. Brewer, the recipient of a Patrick visit on Friday to tout investments in infrastructure.

Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Somerset Democrat and top deputy to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, summed up perfectly the corner Patrick has backed legislators into.

“It’s hard not to think they’re great ideas, but I do have to worry what it means for the people in my district. We have a (higher) unemployment rate than anywhere in the state, but we’re the ones who want the South Coast rail so badly, so I’m on kind of a swing,” Haddad said.

The question is how many will jump.

The Governor is very good at his job.

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