$5.4B question: Where to squeeze? Advocates, state at WSC to talk budget.


Byline: Danielle M. Williamson

WORCESTER - Continuing with the grass-roots meetings he held throughout his gubernatorial run, Gov. Deval L. Patrick sent one of his administrators last night to Worcester State College to solicit public feedback on the budget.

"We have to close a gap of $5.4 billion on a budget that's only $28.5 billion," Education Secretary Paul Reville told a group of 15 people, most of them advocates for local social service agencies.

"How would you get our budget into balance?"

Mr. Reville's daunting $5.4 billion question wasn't entirely rhetorical, as several forum attendees weighed in on existing budget-balancing proposals, and offered some of their own. Mr. Reville reminded the audience that suggestions about keeping programs and services should be coupled with ideas about how to increase revenue.

He contrasted the governor's preference for "targeted" taxes on alcohol, soda and candy sales with the House of Representatives' proposal for an increase in the sales tax. The governor and House have presented their fiscal 2010 budget proposals, while the Senate is expected to debate its budget next week.

Six volunteers from the low-income advocacy group Neighbor to Neighbor, which supports a sales tax increase, suggested restoring the tax rate on dividends and interest from 5.3 percent to 12 percent, as it was in 1998.

They estimated this would raise $450 million.

Volunteer Claire E. Townsend of Worcester presented a list of Neighbor to Neighbor's ideas, which included closing the telecommunications loophole that exempts...

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