BURLINGTON -- Gov. Deval Patrick made a strong pitch for his new tax plan during a meeting with area business leaders Thursday, but acknowledged that lawmakers are unlikely to give him everything he wants.
"I've been doing this for six years now," Patrick told reporters at the Burlington law firm Riemer & Braunstein. "Rarely have I got back from the Legislature exactly what I've sent in. So I understand there's going to be some give and take."
Patrick is asking the Legislature to approve a bold revenue plan designed to fund transportation and education spending. It would be paid for with a hike in the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent, but offset with a decrease in the sales and meals taxes, from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent.
The proposal, unveiled during Patrick's State of the State address Wednesday night, has drawn mixed reviews from lawmakers. House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, accused Patrick of putting his legacy on the backs of taxpayers, while others applauded the governor for tackling neglected road and bridge projects.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, praised the plan for including a provision that doubles personal income-tax exemptions. He said this will ease the tax burden on the middle class.
"That means that for most working-class families, middle-class families, they won't see an increase in their taxes, even with the tax rate going up, because of that exemption that prevents taxation on some of their lower income," said Eldridge.
The personal exemptions, which reduce the amount of income that is subject to tax, would be doubled to $8,800 for an individual taxpayer, $13,600 for a head of a household, and $17,600 for a married couple filing jointly.
Other lawmakers said they have received calls and emails from constituents urging them not to support the governor's proposal. One of those lawmakers, state Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, said she will take a wait-and-see approach to Patrick's plan.
"I have to see the numbers and what it would do to the average person," she said.
Patrick justified cutting the sales tax in exchange for increasing the income tax by arguing that sales taxes tend to have a disproportionately bigger impact on lower- and middle-income residents. But state Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, noted that many Massachusetts residents already avoid paying sales tax by shopping in New Hampshire, which does not have a sales tax.
"That's always present in people's minds," said DiNatale. "We're minutes from the border. It's difficult to compete with zero. We could drop it to 4.5 percent, which is a motivating factor, but they could still go to New Hampshire and pay nothing. I don't know how you compete with that."
Patrick argued that Massachusetts competes with more states than just New Hampshire.
"At 4.5 percent, we'd be more than competitive with other states in the region and indeed with states beyond the region with which we compete," said Patrick.
Vermont's sales tax is 6 percent, New York's 4 percent, Connecticut's 6.3 percent, and Rhode Island's 7 percent.
Under his plan, the income-tax hike, Patrick said, would go to support education initiatives, while in the future all proceeds from the sales tax would go to a public-works fund that will support transportation, school construction and other public infrastructure. Sales-tax proceeds would be off-limits to any other state programs.
A report from the state board of transportation received by Patrick earlier this week called for an additional $1 billion a year to maintain and modernize the state's transportation system. The report detailed a chronically underfunded system that remains burdened with debt from the Big Dig highway project and other past commitments.
State Transportation Secretary Rich Davey said Patrick's tax plan would give regional transit authorities in cities like Lowell and Fitchburg an additional $400 million to purchase new buses, as well as significantly increase bus service.
"Our focus has been on the T, rightly so, it's the largest by far and it's the economic engine of the metropolitan Boston area," said Davey. "But there are a lot of other places around this state that need more reliable transit services, and our plan will deliver on that."
Patrick also outlined a plan this week to expand access to education for students from birth through high school.
State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, said the state cannot continue to neglect public infrastructure projects and must also increase its investment in education. Still, she said she wants time to crunch the numbers before deciding whether to support the governor's plan.
"The average taxpayer, whether we want to call them middle class or working class, has really been hit very hard, and I don't feel as though we've rebounded out of this recession," she said. "They continue to struggle."
Follow Chris Camire on Twitter @camirereports.