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DeLeo opposes increases in taxes

House leader says finding jobs is crucial

‘Citizens are already living paycheck to paycheck and stretching their dollars as far as humanly possible.’ ‘Citizens are already living paycheck to paycheck and stretching their dollars as far as humanly possible.’
By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / January 29, 2010

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House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said yesterday that he opposes new taxes to help bolster next year’s budget, setting up a potential showdown with Governor Deval Patrick, whose budget plan calls for minor tax increases on tobacco, candy, and soft drinks and for trimming tax breaks for some businesses.

“Citizens are already living paycheck to paycheck and stretching their dollars as far as humanly possible,’’ DeLeo said in a speech marking his first anniversary as speaker. “We cannot and will not ask them to do more.’’

The line drew loud applause from House members. DeLeo used his remarks to outline some budget priorities in advance of putting out his own proposal for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

For the coming year, DeLeo said, his top priority will be finding jobs “for those who don’t have them and keep others working.’’ He said he will seek to fully fund the state’s workforce training grants, which help displaced workers learn new skills, and will work with the governor to speed up the release of federal stimulus money for “projects that will provide the quickest employment opportunities.’’

The speaker also said he will again consider legislation to bring casino gaming to Massachusetts, because, he said, casinos create jobs. “It is a fight to expand our tourist attractions, which in turn help to drive our economy,’’ DeLeo said, adding that he will insist that any gambling bill “require the creation of permanent jobs.’’

“We can and must do more, and we must do it now,’’ he said.

On Wednesday, Patrick released his $28.2 billion budget, which, in addition to proposing new taxes on tobacco, candy, and soft drinks, would scale back tax incentives for the film and biotechnology industries. The tax increases, administration officials said, represent only a quarter of 1 percent of the budget.

“It’s obviously their prerogative to build a budget however they want to build it,’’ said Jay Gonzalez, Patrick’s secretary of administration and finance. “The governor had his turn yesterday and filed his budget recommendation. It did include some proposals to limit certain tax expenditures. New revenue was the smallest component of his budget solution.’’

The House will release its own budget proposal in mid-April.

DeLeo has been speaker since last January, when his predecessor, Salvatore F. DiMasi, resigned amid controversy. DiMasi was later indicted by a federal grand jury on corruption charges and is awaiting trial.

DeLeo has come under fire recently from a small group of lawmakers, who have accused him of keeping the activities of the House secret and refusing to allow most bills to come before the membership for full debate. He has also been unwilling to disclose details of $378,000 in fees the House has paid a private lawyer in connection with the DiMasi investigation.

Yesterday, those lawmakers said DeLeo’s speech reinforced their view that he wields too much power.

“He gave a speech to the members laying out our goals without consulting us,’’ said Representative Matthew Patrick, Democrat of Falmouth. “This is indicative of what he thinks of the membership. We’re just there, I guess, to fulfill his policies and his goals.’’

In the speech, DeLeo also promised to look for reforms he said would result in savings to taxpayers.

During the past year, he said, the Legislature overhauled ethics rules and the pension and the transportation systems, driving “a stake through the heart’’ of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, an agency that he said “was out of financial control.’’

The pension and transportation changes, he said, will save the state $6.5 billion over the next two decades.

He praised the governor and Senate for helping balance the current year’s budget “with more compassion and efficiency’’ than other states. Through cuts, revenue enhancements, and reforms, state officials “won the praise’’ of Moody’s, the bond rating agency, DeLeo said.

He also cited the education bill passed earlier this month, calling it “the most significant’’ reform of education laws since 1993. The new law effectively doubles the amount of charter school spending in the worst-performing districts and gives management new power to turn around underperforming schools.