Updated: Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013, 5:06 PM EST
Published : Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013, 5:06 PM EST
BOSTON (AP) — Acknowledging resistance to proposed tax changes that would raise nearly $2 billion in new revenue, Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday launched a new push to sell lawmakers on his plan to significantly boost funding for transportation and education.
The administration delivered maps to each legislator in the House and Senate detailing how the new investments in transportation and education would benefit their districts. Officials also made public a letter from University of Massachusetts President Robert Caret promising a freeze in tuition and fees in the next academic year if additional funding is approved.
As part of his state budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1, Patrick asked lawmakers to raise the state income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent while lowering the sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. The net result of those changes, along with other proposals including an increase in the cigarette tax, would raise an additional $1.9 billion in revenue, according to the administration.
While virtually everyone was enthusiastic about the prospects of a modernized transportation system and improved schools, the governor said, the reality of how that would be funded — especially the increase in income taxes — wasn't as warmly received.
"People are hesitant to pay more taxes. People work hard for their money, I understand that, and while they see the value in paying their fair share, they are worried about whether their money is being spent wisely," Patrick told a Statehouse news conference.
"That's why people tend to like the part of the proposal that cuts the sales tax but less so the part that raises the income tax," he added, noting that it is natural for people to "warm slowly" to tax increases. He also reiterated that under his proposal, taxpayers who earn less than $60,000 a year would pay less, not more, in taxes.
The tax changes have received a tepid response from legislative leaders, some of whom have questioned the wisdom of raising taxes while the economy is still struggling to recover. The House and Senate Ways and Means Committees are holding hearings on the governor's proposed budget, with the House expected to release its version of the spending plan in late March.
The governor denied that the release of the district-by-district breakdown of his transportation and education proposals — posted Wednesday on the governor's official state website for public viewing — was an attempt to pressure lawmakers into accepting his plan. He also repeated his willingness to entertain alternate ways of raising the necessary revenue.
"We can quibble about whether these are the right means to meet those objectives, but I think there is a growing consensus ... that these are the right objectives. And I've expressed again and again that I am flexible about the means," Patrick said.
Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, said she had received mixed reactions from constituents about the governor's budget proposal.
"I don't think anyone is in disagreement that we have serious transportation needs," she said, noting the lack of public transit services in her central Massachusetts district.
"The problem is so many people are suffering right now, there is a large unemployment problem and people are struggling to keep themselves stable. And the thought of the extra money they might lose worries people," said Chandler, the assistant Senate majority leader.
Caret, in a Feb. 26 letter to UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Henry Thomas III, said students and their families provide about 57 percent of the university's funding, but Patrick's budget would bring UMass closer to its goal of having the state provide half the school's revenue.
If the Legislature backs the governor, "we would be prepared to maintain student tuition and fees at current levels for the 2013-2014 academic year," Caret wrote.
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