Reluctant state rep says he had to support sales tax hike
The Massachusetts House turned Beacon Hill politics on its ear Monday with an overwhelming vote in favor of raising the state sales tax from five percent to 6.25 percent. Supporters say the move will raise $900 million.
Rep. Tim Madden, whose legislative district includes Martha's Vineyard, voted for the increase. He said he did so reluctantly.
"It wasn't something I wanted to do, it was something I felt I needed to do," said Mr. Madden from his statehouse office. "The bottom line is, we're broke. We've already cut a lot of programs, some of which I feel are absolutely essential. As much as I hate any tax, we needed to do something."
Mr. Madden said he favored an increase in the income tax. "I expressed that to the leadership," he said. "That was just off the table. To me it seemed the most equitable way, but it wasn't open for discussion."
The final house vote, 108-51, is one vote more than needed to override a veto, something governor Deval Patrick promised in a letter sent to every House member just before debate began in the chamber.
In his letter, Governor Patrick said he would veto the sales tax increase unless the legislature first approves legislation to reform the state's transportation system finances, and ethics regulations for lawmakers, state pensions, and municipal finance.
"I have deep reservations about imposing a higher sales tax on people during these difficult economic times, especially at the risk of costing the Commonwealth jobs and at a time when we can least afford that trade-off," the governor wrote. "Before we consider any broad-based tax increase, we must first regain the public's confidence in government's ability to steward public funds wisely."
Mr. Madden takes offense
The letter threatening a veto did not sit well with many House members, including Representative Madden.
"I took a little offense to it, quite frankly," said Mr. Madden. "The governor should realize that we're in this predicament together, and everyone's opinion needs to be accounted for. It's a democracy."
Mr. Madden also disputed the governor's criticism of progress on reform measures. He said the House has already acted on transportation, pension, and ethics reform. "In my opinion, our reform went further than his on some measures - some we didn't go as far," said Mr. Madden.
While various reform measures were approved in the House, and others approved in the Senate, none have received final passage by the legislature.