When Gov. Deval Patrick announced his $34.8 billion budget proposal last week, Wayland representatives Tom Conroy (D-Wayland) and Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) said they felt a certain amount of surprise over some of the elements, but were glad to see several of the governor's recommendations.
In particular, both representatives said they were generally pleased to see Patrick's emphasis on transportation and education, but still needed some time to "digest" the details, particularly the suggested changes in the tax structure and what exactly would be funded under the proposed transportation and education elements.
Patrick's proposal asks for an increase in the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent coupled with a reduction in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. It also doubles personal exemptions.
"Overall, it's a very bold move," said Peisch, who represents Wayland's Precinct 4. "I share [the governor's] interest and support for the two big pieces that are getting attention. I was expecting proposals to increase revenues for our transportation deficit. I was surprised by the magnitude of the education funding. I am and have always been a strong advocate for public education."
The budget calls for a total investment of $6.79 billion in education next year, with $131 million going toward early education, $226 million in Chapter 70 local aid, and $152 million toward making college more affordable and accessible.
"I'm a huge fan of public education, so the fact that the governor places emphasis on this is something I agree with," said Conroy, who represents Wayland's Precincts 1, 2 and 3. In particular, Conroy said he was glad to see early education mentioned as part of the governor's proposal since, he said, studies have repeatedly shown early education plays an important role in breaking a cycle of poverty.
In transportation funding, Patrick is asking for a $13 billion capital investment over 10 years, including money to repair roads and create a public transportation system that is modern and reliable.
"Certainly the transportation funding should be helpful," Peisch said, adding that she supports improving existing infrastructure before investing more in expanding the system. "The lack of investment in the commuter rail has led to many problems. We need to invest in making sure the infrastructure we have is in good repair."
Conroy agreed that the governor's transportation proposals were necessary and overdue.
"We've been talking about the need to fix our transportation system for years," Conroy said. "The governor has put forth a bold plan to address those needs."
When it comes to the tax changes, both representatives said the income tax change wasn't entirely surprising, but the amount and its coupling with the sales tax change were.
Conroy said he was "certainly surprised" by the sales tax cut.
"I think it's intriguing," Conroy said. He explained that during his office hours Jan. 25 in Sudbury, Marlborough and Wayland, he heard from several residents about the tax changes and how their lives would be impacted.
"Some people mentioned being willing to pay more in general because they understand the needs are out there," Conroy said. He added that a small business owner, however, told him that the increased income tax rate would make it difficult to hire new employees.
Peisch explained that she anticipated an income tax hike, but not necessarily the amount.
"I'm very mindful of the fact we're still in a difficult economic situation and raising taxes has consequences," Peisch said. "I really have to understand what the impact of that is."
The $34.8 billion budget reflects a 6.9 percent increase from last year and would create $828 million in new revenue.