Local Democratic legislators who initially voted against the recent state tax increases — which includes a 3-cent-per-gallon hike in taxes at the gas pump — said they later helped allow it to pass to avoid the larger tax increase proposed by the governor.
By voting to override Governor Deval Patrick’s veto of the bill, state legislators passed a new law that provides an average $600 million annual investment in transportation over five years — $500 million of it from higher taxes — with the actual amount reaching $805 million by the fifth year.
Representative Diana DiZoglio, of Methuen, one of the legislators who made the switch, said she had opposed the bill because “the mix of revenues being proposed would have a negative impact on the border communities I represent.”
DiZoglio said she later voted to override the veto because “it was clear to me that if it came back to the House floor again, we were going to see [a larger tax increase] and I was not willing to see that happen.”
The tax package includes an increase in the gas tax from 21 cents to 24 cents per gallon, indexed to inflation starting in 2015; a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax; and the addition of the sales tax to computer software services.
In vetoing the bill, Patrick said he could accept the lower amount, but that the $805 million projected was not entirely guaranteed revenue since it failed to take into account the $135 million the state stands to lose annually if Western Massachusetts tolls come down in 2017.
Republicans have signaled they plan to make the tax increases an issue in the 2014 elections. Most recently, a group of GOP lawmakers and activists said they will try to place a question on the 2014 ballot to repeal the bill’s provision on inflation-based future gas tax increases.
Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, a Newburyport Democrat, voted against the tax bill but later in favor of the veto override, which was approved by the House, 123 to 33, and the Senate, 35 to 5, on July 24.
Ives said she had opposed the bill because “it included the gas tax increase and the software service tax, and studies for new tolls on the borders of Massachusetts.” She supported the override because the governor was seeking a larger gas tax increase to cover the potential lost toll revenues.
“No bill would have been passed if the override didn’t happen, and inevitably we would have seen a new bill with that higher gas tax in it,” Ives said.
Representative James J. Dwyer, a Woburn Democrat, cited similar reasons for his votes against the bill and for the override.
“I didn’t want any increases in any taxes, period. . . . I don’t think it does business any good. So my vote, the way I looked at it, was against the governor’s proposal,” he said of the override vote.
Local Republican legislators voted against the tax increases from the start, while some Democrats supported the governor’s initial bill because they agreed with the need for transportation improvements.
Senator Thomas M. McGee, a Lynn Democrat and cochairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Transportation, supported the bill and the veto override.
McGee said numerous reports and his committee’s extensive discussions with business, community, and transportation leaders have demonstrated that Massachusetts faces a significant need to bolster its transportation system.
“By making these investments, it really allows us to compete nationally and to continue to grow our economy and be a place where people want to invest in their business,” he said.
He voted to override the governor’s veto, McGee said, because “the governor was looking for more money than the Legislature was able to build consensus on.”
Representative Lenny Mirra, a West Newbury Republican, voted against the tax bill because it contained tax increases while a plan offered by House Republicans did not.
“I have towns very close to the New Hampshire border and we lose people from those businesses to New Hampshire all the time,” he said. “This just exacerbates that and makes us less competitive for businesses and more expensive for consumers.”
Another Republican, Representative Marc L. Lombardo of Billerica, voted against the bill, saying the tax increases will hurt families and businesses.
“When you look at the software tax . . . it’s going to cut to the core of a growth industry in Massachusetts and will really be a roadblock to future growth and start-ups,” he said.
Senator Joan B. Lovely, a Salem Democrat, supported the legislation because “the governor and the Legislature are very concerned about . . . the poor fiscal shape” of the transportation system.
Lovely said her constituents seemed accepting of the gas tax increase since “it’s a use tax — you use the road, you pay for the road.”
Representative Ken Gordon, a Bedford Democrat whose district also includes Burlington and part of Wilmington, also supported the legislation.
“I’ve heard from businesses who have told me we must invest in our infrastructure, including out transportation. What they have told me is if we can find a way to help people get to work in [this area], that that would help businesses to stay here and move here,” he said.
Representative Paul Brodeur, a Melrose Democrat, supported the bill because “we have a significant structural deficit in our transportation funding that needs to be addressed or the economy can’t grow.”
Representative John D. Keenan, a Salem Democrat who voted for the bill, thought the override was the best way to go.
“Nobody takes a tax vote lightly, especially in this economy, but I think everyone on all sides understands that we had an issue with transportation that needed to be addressed,” he said. “My Republican colleagues may disagree with how we did it and the governor may disagree, but ultimately we solved the problem.”