- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

BOSTON | Republican Massachusetts state Sen. Scott Brown has repeatedly said he’s opposed to higher taxes as he campaigns for the late Edward M. Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat.

Higher fees are a different story.

During his first year in office, then-Gov. Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican, proposed hundreds of millions in new and higher fees to help dig the state out of a $3 billion fiscal hole.

Mr. Brown on Tuesday defended his support of those increases while he was a Massachusetts House member, saying fee increases aren’t the same as broad-based taxes that touch nearly everyone.

“There’s a big difference between taxation and fee increases,” Mr. Brown said after a campaign stop in Boston. “A lot of the fees that were increased were user fees for people that were using a particular service and I did support it as well as the majority of the legislature.”

Mr. Brown has tried to portray himself as the fiscal conservative in the race. During a recent debate on WBZ-TV, Mr. Brown faulted his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, for her opposition to extending George W. Bush-era tax cuts.

Mrs. Coakley said the tax cuts aid only the top 2 percent of Americans, but Mr. Brown said opposing them amounted to support of job-killing tax increases.

“We need to create more jobs by reducing taxes, reducing fees,” he said.

Mr. Romney proposed 33 new fees and 57 fee increases in his administration’s first year, including raising the costs of using an ice-skating rink, registering a boat, taking the bar exam and getting a duplicate driver’s license.

A survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures found Massachusetts led the nation at the time in such increases, raising fees and fines by $501 million. Mr. Romney’s administration pegged the number at $260 million, not including $140 million in business tax “loophole closings.” They said the other increases were passed before he took office.

The issue of taxes and spending flared as both Mr. Brown and Mrs. Coakley tried to portray each other as a spendthrift and a foe of small business.

Mrs. Coakley’s campaign released a series of Mr. Brown’s budget votes as a lawmaker since 1999. Some were votes in favor of a budget, and others were initial votes meant to move the budget along.

During that time - between fiscal 2000 and fiscal 2009 - state spending increased by $7.2 billion, a number Mrs. Coakley tried to pin on Mr. Brown, saying it clashed with his image of someone who held the line on spending.

“While Scott Brown supports the Bush-Cheney tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that contributed to our growing national deficit, I believe we should be offering real tax relief to those middle class families and small businesses who need it most,” Mrs. Coakley said.

Mr. Brown brushed off the criticism.

“I’ve been called a lot of things. I find it quite amusing that I’m being called a big government spender,” he said, adding it is Mrs. Coakley who will follow in the “tax and spend” tradition of Democrats.

A Coakley campaign spokesman conceded that “while she didn’t have a vote, she did not oppose those budgets.”

While Mrs. Coakley spent another day out of sight, Mr. Brown made a campaign stop at a brewery in the city’s South Boston neighborhood to pick up an endorsement from National Federation of Independent Business, which represents more than 7,000 members in Massachusetts.

Mrs. Coakley also made a pitch for the small business vote by unveiling a middle class, small-business tax-relief plan.

The plan calls for providing small businesses with extra capital, spurring job training by supporting a job training tax credit and increasing tax credits for businesses that hire veterans.

The proposal also includes making permanent a $2,500 college tax credit and increasing tax credits for child care.

Joseph L. Kennedy, a Libertarian running as an independent and no relation of the late senator, is also seeking the seat.

Mr. Kennedy died Aug. 25 of a brain tumor.

Wednesday is the last day to register to vote in the special election, which is scheduled for Jan. 19.

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