Belmont's state legislators reacted cautiously to yesterday's announcement by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick of his budget outline in the coming fiscal year.
In submitting his $34.8 billion budget to the Legislature Wednesday, Patrick said the proposed income tax hike is part of a comprehensive package aimed at investing in the state's infrastructure including increased spending for public transportation, education and in driving growth.
"The Governor has advanced a plan to tackle two of our District's and the Commonwealth's greatest needs - transportation and education. For years, in part because of the deep recession, key investments in these vital areas have faltered," said Dave Rogers, state representative for the 24th Middlesex District which encompasses Belmont and parts of Arlington and Cambridge.
Yet Rogers also pointed out that "it is still quite early in the process and I'll need time both to study the budget details and to hear from my constituents."
"That said, I am pleased that the Governor's plan forces all of us, in the Legislature and in our community, to think deeply about our options and make important decisions about our future," he added.
Belmont's Will Brownsberger, state senator for the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District that includes Belmont, parts of Watertown, Cambridge and some Boston neighborhoods, said that "[L]ike most legislators and most careful observers, and in fact, most leaders in the business community, I am convinced that we have to substantially increase our investment in transportation infrastructure, especially the MBTA."
"That money will have to come from someplace and it won't be painless -- we've undertaken many cost-cutting reforms, but we can't cut our way to a solution. I am also very conscious of a host of other needs in state and local government," he said.
"I'm not sure what the fairest approach to raising needed funds is or how many of those other needs we can address this year. There will be a robust debate over the next few months," said Brownsberger.
Patrick's proposal seeks an increase in the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent coupled with a reduction in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. It also doubles personal exemptions.
Despite the proposed income tax hike, Patrick says that low and modest-income workers will pay less in taxes under his proposal, and only the "more fortunate see a larger increase."
"I do not submit this proposal lightly. I understand that many households in Massachusetts continue to struggle from the impact of the Great Recession, but I am confident that investing meaningful in education and transportation today will significantly improve and expand job growth and economic opportunity tomorrow," he said.
Patrick's budget calls for a total investment of $6.79 billion in education next year, with $131 million going toward early education, $226 million in Chapter 70 local aid, and $152 million toward making college more affordable and accessible.
In transportation funding, Patrick is asking for a $13 billion capital investment over 10 years, including money to repair roads and create a public transportation system that is modern and reliable.
"This is what the people of the commonwealth have asked for," he said. "Ask any of the folks who were outside in the cold at Arlington Street today whether they want those kinds of investments. They totally get this."
The $34.8 billion budget reflects a 6.9 percent increase from last year and would create $828 million in new revenue.
Still, Patrick said, many programs – including some for seniors – will not get the funding that many people want. And "hardly any line item is back at the pre-recession level."