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Taxes and trust

Given what Gov. Deval Patrick was talking about last week, the state may soon be seeing a revival of the much overused “Taxachusetts” moniker.

As part of his State of the Commonwealth address, Patrick outlined an ambitious vision for the rest of his term of office, one that propels the commonwealth forward in public transportation and education, areas he says provide the foundation for economic growth.

But such initiatives do not come cheap.

Therefore, in pitching his proposals, Patrick called for new taxes, expected to generate some $2 billion. At the forefront was a request to increase the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent. To offset this increase, he proposed doubling the personal exemption for all taxpayers and eliminating 45 itemized deductions.

But that’s not all. The governor wants to reduce the state sales tax from the 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent.

These moves, he says, would generate the necessary revenue to pay for his vision in education and transportation while at the same time reforming the state’s existing tax code, making it simpler and fairer.

We all understand why there must be taxes ... as it was once expressed in the state of Ohio’s journal of the Senate, back in 1847, “Rightful taxation is the price of social order ...”

Nor are you likely to get much of an argument against simpler and fairer taxes, even though what that phrase means might not be agreed upon as readily.

The issue here is trust.

Although the governor states that the additional tax money will be used for specific purposes, can he and the Legislature be trusted to make this happen?

History’s verdict is probably not.

How often has funding targeted for a specific purpose somehow been siphoned off or diverted into the general fund? The public has seen too many cases of broken promises and misuse of existing tax revenue to jump at the chance to open up their wallets once again. At the very least, Massachusetts taxpayers are going to have some misgivings about turning over hard-earned dollars to the state, even for what seem to be the right reasons.

We want to trust the governor here. Education and public transportation should be a priority, one that must be adequately paid for if the state is to grow and prosper.

But our confidence is being tested.

The governor must provide the public with details to show that the tax reforms will work and that the money generated won’t be misspent. And Patrick must be able to get the Legislature to agree to it all.

Faith alone will not do the trick.

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