Patrick’s stand on income tax not as simple as Baker asserts

Globe Staff / October 27, 2010

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THE CLAIM: In Monday night’s gubernatorial debate, Republican Charles D. Baker said Governor Deval Patrick had suggested imposing a “progressive income tax’’ during an Oct. 6 appearance before the North Shore Chamber of Commerce. In the heated back-and-forth that followed, Patrick denied Baker’s assertion. “It’s exactly wrong,’’ Patrick said. “I was there. I know what I said. You were not.’’ Baker’s reply: “I’ve seen the video.’’

THE FACTS: A Globe reporter attended Patrick’s presentation to the North Shore business group and made an audio recording of the event. The recording shows that, during a question-and-answer session, Patrick said that “conceptually’’ he would favor rolling back the state’s sales and income taxes, after the economy improves. He added: “Personally, I’d like to see a progressive income tax and not a flat income tax. But that’s a multiyear campaign that is a broad, public discussion. That’s where I’d like to see us go.’’ A progressive state income tax would be based on a person’s income; the current income tax is a flat 5.3 percent.

THE ANALYSIS: Context is key. Baker made his debate-night charge after correctly pointing out that Patrick has supported other tax increases while in office, implying that Patrick would seek to impose a progressive income tax to raise new state revenue. But Patrick’s statement before the North Shore Chamber of Commerce was made after he said he would like to roll back tax revenues, not increase them. And he made it clear that he would support a progressive income tax as a substitute for the current flat-rate tax, not as an additional tax. On the other hand, upper-income taxpayers would pay a higher rate than others, and their total tax bill could go up.