Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Partisan Politics Mark Tax Clash Former `Miracle' State Faces Epic Fiscal Woes; Democrats Say `Hike,' Republicans Say `Cut'. MASSACHUSETTS

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Partisan Politics Mark Tax Clash Former `Miracle' State Faces Epic Fiscal Woes; Democrats Say `Hike,' Republicans Say `Cut'. MASSACHUSETTS

Article excerpt

MASSACHUSETTS' political drama begins a new act this week as legislators gird for a fight over newly proposed tax increases and budget reforms.

Lawmakers who failed to agree on more than stopgap measures last year are now under heightened pressure as the state's deficit mounts toward an estimated $1 billion total for this year. The legislature, traditionally dominated by Democrats, faces the added challenge of elections only six months hence with more Republican challengers than the GOP has mustered in years.

The House Ways and Means Committee proposed a $13.3 billion budget for 1991 on Monday, $500 million higher than estimated spending for the current fiscal year. The proposal anticipates $1.1 billion in new revenues, which the committee reportedly seeks from tax hikes on personal income and gasoline.

While restoring human-service and Medicaid cuts offered by Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) in January, the plan would consolidate several state agencies, and restructure the state's $2.2 billion Medicaid program, which has been blamed as one of the main "budget busters."

Massachusetts is not the only state in financial trouble. Twenty states have made budget cuts to stave off deficits this year, according to Marcia Howard, research director of the National Association of State Budget Officers. The Northeast in particular has been hard hit by an economic slowdown that has left New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire struggling to make ends meet.

But the Bay State's fiscal fiasco approaches the stature of a Greek tragedy. The former "miracle" state's credit rating tumbled into the cellar last winter, and the ex-presidential candidate Dukakis is now a lame duck in the governor's office. After months of legislative torpor, epic battles now confront the leading actors.

Among the players is House Speaker George Keverian (D), who led last year's unsuccessful charge for a tax hike. …

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