BOSTON (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley and Republican rival Charlie Baker sparred Wednesday over tax policy, with Coakley insisting that she would seek to raise taxes only as a last resort and has no immediate plans to seek a graduated income tax in Massachusetts.
Coakley raised the possibility of a graduated tax during a debate Tuesday night with Baker. On Wednesday, after a tour of a homeless shelter for veterans in Boston, the attorney general said she hoped as governor she would not have to raise taxes, but, if necessary, she would look to a solution that would not hurt middle-class taxpayers.
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The state has a flat income tax rate of 5.2 percent. Changing that to impose a graduated income tax — under which wealthier residents would pay a higher percentage of taxes — would require a change in the state constitution, a process that would take at minimum several years to complete.
A legislative commission on tax fairness recommended this year that Massachusetts scrap the flat tax in favor of a graduated tax, which advocates argue is more progressive because it places less of a burden on middle- and low-income taxpayers.
Coakley indicated Wednesday that she had no immediate plans to push for a constitutional amendment on taxes.
“I hope taxes go down,” she added. “I support the income tax going down if the economy improves.”
But Coakley has also acknowledged during the campaign that she would consider tax increases if current revenues are insufficient to cover state investments in education, transportation and other key government services. On Wednesday, she chided Baker for calling for targeted tax reductions without saying how he would offset hundreds of millions in lost revenue.
“I say it’s a typical Republican playbook … cut taxes and hope for a trickle-down effect,” she said.
Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, promised during Tuesday’s televised debate that, if elected, he would not raise taxes on middle-class taxpayers, though he has declined to take a “no-new-taxes” pledge as he did during his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign four years ago.
“She said during the debate last night that she was interested in pursuing a graduated income tax, something that the voters have rejected soundly at the ballot box several times over the course of the last 20 or 30 years,” Baker said Wednesday after a private meeting with mayors and other municipal officials.
“I think what voters want right now is a state government that is as thrifty as they are, and they will get that from me,” he added.
Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick opted not to seek a third term.
The election is Nov. 4.
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