NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) - Governor Deval Patrick's proposal to increase taxes to pay for education and transportation improvements is the kind of thing that can generate a lot of debate at the breakfast table, and that was exactly what happened in Northampton Tuesday morning, but this debate was broadcast live all over the Valley on WHMP radio.
Patrick wants to raise the state's income tax, while lowering the state sales tax in order to generate more revenue to pay for various infrastructure projects. Other funds from the plan would benefit early, regular, and higher education.
Held over breakfast at Sylvester's Restaurant, the forum, called " Higher taxes for higher ed.," brought together three local college officials who support the Governor's plan and two of its opponents. While the proposed transportation improvements were briefly mentioned, the focus was on the governor's ideas for the state's public colleges specifically.
UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, Springfield Technical Community College President Ira Rubenzahl, and Greenfield Community College President Robert Pura are backing the proposal, which they say would relieve some of the burden of college costs on students.
Dr. Jay Fleitman, the Chairman of Western Mass Republicans, opposes the tax hike plan, and says that it is part of Patrick's larger vision to expand the role of state government.
Paul Nicolai, the former chairman of Citizens for Limited Taxation said that there is too much waste in the public higher education system as it is, and that more funding will not make the state's colleges better.
"UMass wants to be a world-class institution. As a result, it went out and bought a law school two years ago which we don't need as a public. We've got so many lawyers we don't know what to do with them," said Nicolai, who is an attorney himself.
"We don't need a world-class institution to provide access to our children to higher education. What we need is to provide them with the money they need to go there."
Nicolai went further; questioning the need for a public higher education system at all, suggesting instead that the system be privatized. Rubenzahl strongly disagreed, saying that there simply would not be enough space for students in private institutions if public colleges were to be eliminated.
He also said that the public higher education system has been cut deeply since a series of 1998 tax cuts, and that the tax system in the state needs to be reformed to make it fairer.
"This idea that people are paying more taxes today is just not true, and the rich, let's be very clear, the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes," Rubenzahl said.
The fate of the tax proposal is in the hands of the Legislature, which so far has appeared resistant to pass any major tax increase.