Governor Patrick isn’t just proposing to raise more money for transportation and education. In seeking a major income-tax hike, a much lower sales tax, and the elimination of a host of deductions, he’s also looking to perform major surgery on the state’s revenue system. Patrick’s tax plan reflects some important principles that the Legislature should also observe, most notably the need to spread the burden of taxation fairly. Yet in their quest to bring in more revenue for real needs and strategic investments, the Legislature should recognize that a complicated tax structure can only be remade so quickly. A simpler mix of tax reforms, with a smaller hike in the income tax, a modest increase in the gas tax, and no change to the sales tax, would still meet the Commonwealth’s needs.
Patrick’s proposal couples a hike in the state income tax, from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent, with a reduction in the sales tax, from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. It would also raise the personal exemption for all tax filers while eliminating a raft of sales, income, and corporate tax deductions. The result, Patrick says, would be a system in which lower-income workers face less of a burden, while those with higher incomes pay a greater share.