Gov robocalls for taxes to teachers unions

Gov. Deval Patrick seems to be willing to pitch his tax reform proposal by any means necessary, even resorting to recorded phone messages that he admittedly hates.

Teachers and educators over the weekend received a robocall from Patrick asking them for their help in swaying lawmakers to embrace the need for $1.9 billion in new revenue for schools and transportation.

Patrick recorded the message for a “large percentage” of the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s 110,000 members in K-12 and higher education. In it, he urges them to contact their representatives and senators to encourage their support of his plan to invest new revenue in early education, community colleges and universities.

“We want the members to recognize what’s at stake and lend their support,” said MTA spokeswoman Laura Barrett.

Praising their work and the success of Massachusetts students, Patrick said in the call, “But we both know that achievement gaps persist and that closing those gaps will take resources and investments in our young people. We can’t keep asking you to do more with less.”

The robocall was paid for by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and Patrick said he recorded the message at the request of MTA President Paul Toner, urging teachers to sign postcards that are being mailed to teachers by the union and send them back to their lawmakers. He also asked them to attend a March 12 rally at the State House hosted by the Campaign for Our Communities in support of the governor’s budget.

When asked about the call on Monday, Patrick said it was the only robocall he planned to record, though he has participated in several conference calls with constituency groups and will do more of those.

“I hate robocalls,” Patrick said, a fact he made clear on the call itself, which he closed by saying, “And thank you for your patience with the robocall. I hate ’em like you do, but I need your help. Thank you.”

Patrick has proposed raising the income tax a full percentage point to 6.25 percent, reducing the sales tax to 4.5 percent, and eliminating a number of personal exemptions and deductions to pay for investments in transportation and education. His plan has been met with resistance by many state lawmakers worried about the impact on the economy and family budgets.

“I think the reservations about the means are entirely predictable, and have said so all along. But the point is to focus on the ends. People want more transportation, not less. We need to reach all the kids in our schools, not just some of them or most of them,” Patrick told reporters.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the governor has been undeterred by the reluctance of some lawmakers and many in the general public to accept his tax proposal, rarely wasting a moment when the two get together to talk about education and transportation. “I think the governor’s as strong as ever in terms of what he feels is a great need that he feels we need to address here in the Commonwealth,” DeLeo told reporters on Monday.

Expressing surprise at the size of Patrick’s proposed income tax hike, DeLeo said over the weekend that he is exploring “any and all alternatives” to the governor’s plan to boost the income tax.

“I told the governor that I would keep an open mind but I will tell you that the income tax tends to cause a bit of concern shall we say amongst the electorate,” DeLeo said during an interview that aired Sunday morning on WCVB’s “On the Record” program.

One alternative losing momentum is the idea of hiking the gas tax and dedicating new revenue to infrastructure improvements. “What once seemed as a feasible possibility now seems to be a little more difficult than it was because of the high cost of gasoline and the fact that what we’re hearing anyway is that those gas prices may not diminish until possibly the summer well beyond our budget,” DeLeo said Monday after meeting with Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray.

Patrick on Monday said he was not bothered by DeLeo’s comments, suggesting he had to go through a similar thought process. “That’s not a problem. I totally understand that. My own proposal was iterative in the sense that I tried a lot of different models before I settled on this one,” Patrick said, promoting a new web tool his office posted online Monday allowing residents to craft their own tax reform plan and see how much revenue would be generated.

Patrick said he’s never “been stuck on one way” to generate the revenue, but hopes teachers and other members of the public will help him insist to the Legislature that significant new revenue is needed to improve education and infrastructure and grow jobs.

Describing “widespread enthusiasm” for the goals of his budget, Patrick said, “I think what is predictable and something we all have to work through is that people wish they could have it without paying for it, but we’re going to have to pay for it and find the best way to do so.”

DeLeo said he’s heard a range of opinions from House members, including some who don’t want to raise any new revenue for investments and others willing to support the governor’s full proposal. Though he has acknowledged the need for additional spending on transportation and supports the governor’s goals of investing in education, DeLeo said the size of the proposal is “part of the concern.”

“Right now I think that folks are still hurting somewhat. I don’t think we as a Commonwealth or as a country obviously are completely out of the recession. Obviously we are improving from where we were, but the economy and peoples’ ability to pay is still a question mark,” DeLeo said.