Local legislators react to Patrick’s last plea

BOSTON – Gov. Deval Patrick gave a testimonial in support of his $1.9 billion tax proposal to the Joint Ways and Means Committee Friday.
State Sen. Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield) said it was an unusual address, something Patrick himself acknowledged.
“I wanted very much to testify personally about my budget proposal.  I thank you for allowing me the unusual opportunity to do so and commend you for holding hearings like this across the state,” Patrick said.
Knapik said it was Patrick’s “final opportunity in a public way to lobby for his priorities.”
While Knapik said Patrick’s priorities of education and infrastructure investment are something he agrees with, he also said transportation investments are something he believes will boost the state, as well as job creation.
“The economy continues to be somewhat problematic,” said Knapik, “And our unemployment rate is flat.”
Patrick, however, touted the state’s low unemployment rate.
“Massachusetts has recovered from the global economic collapse faster and stronger than most other states.  Our unemployment rate is well below the national average, and just yesterday the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that we have added back nearly all the jobs we lost during the recession,” he said, acknowledging that “with almost 233,000 people still looking for work, we have more to do.  The questions are:  Are we satisfied with the pace of our recovery?  And if not, are we willing to do what it takes to grow faster?  Almost all of us agree that we can accelerate our growth, create many more jobs, and significantly strengthen our economic outlook by deepening our investment in transportation and education.  That is what my budget proposal is all about.”
Patrick estimated it would cost one billion dollars in new annual spending to continue to pay the bills his administration inherited; restore roads, rails and bridges to a state of good repair; and expand the system modestly but strategically to stimulate economic growth in underserved parts of the commonwealth.
Patrick’s proposal includes a tax hike to generate that one billion dollars. He said families making up to $62,000 annually would see little difference, while families making over $62,000 would see an increase in total state taxes, according to their ability to pay.
“To give you a sense of the order of magnitude, a typical individual at $100,000 could see an increase in total taxes of about $400 per year,” said Patrick.
Knapik said Patrick’s proposal includes an overall state budget growth of about seven percent. Something Knapik said just isn’t feasible in this economy.
“A state budget that grows maybe four or five percent, that’s pretty reasonable,” Knapik said. “One that grows by seven percent is far reaching. That extra three percent he proposes is where you need a big tax increase.”
Knapik said the state should see a boost in revenues next year once the resort style casinos are built.
After outlining the reasoning behind his budget, Patrick commented on remarks made about his “legacy.”
While Patrick stated that his proposal was not a push to leave a legacy behind, State Rep. Donald F. Humason (R-Westfield) believes that’s exactly what it was.
“I think it is about his legacy,” said Humason. “This is something you’d propose at the start of a term when you had more time to work on it.”
Humason agreed with Knapik that a seven percent growth is unrealistic for today’s economy.
“No one I know is getting a seven percent increase,” he said. “The critics say he’s asking for seven and hoping to get three or four, but when you read his proposal, he wants all seven percent.”
Humason said the lieutenant governor and Speaker of the House still need to weigh-in as the House begins to craft its own version of the budget. Humason said he would not approve this budget as presented, adding that he would not approve any major tax increase until the government shows it can use taxpayer money more wisely.
“Fix the waste and fraud and be responsible stewards of public money and then I would consider it. But not before,” Humason said.
Humason said the proposal was not favored by Republicans or Democrats.
Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) said he was in agreement with much of Patrick’s plan.
“I think there is little you can disagree with on his priorities,” Downing said. “Even if you don’t agree with how it’s funded, you can’t argue with the priorities.”
Downing cited education and transportation investments as paramount to the success of citizens and the state. He added that this proposal is just the beginning of the conversation.
“We have to see what comes out of the house and go from there,” said Downing. ‘We have to look at all the components and determine what is needed and how it can be funded – there are still several moving pieces, from the house budget to federal cuts.”

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