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Keverian Criticized For Handling Of Tax Bills

Reps. Say Speaker Should Push Harder

By Chip Cummins

As new indications of the state's worsening budget crisis continue to flood the State House on an almost daily basis, state legislators say they are frustrated with the House leadership's sluggish pace in dealing with the problem.

In the latest of these indications yesterday, the Governor's Revenue Advisory Board lowered this year's revenue growth estimates for Massachusetts by 2.6 percent. The advisory board now estimates that the state's fiscal year 1990 revenue will actually decrease by 1.9 percent.

That revenue estimate revision caps off months of lagging revenue collections, which have strengthened calls from legislators and administrators for a comprehensive tax increase to close the estimated $800 million deficit.

But House speaker George Keverian '53 (D-Everett), whose $1.2 billion tax package was rejected by the House last November, has said he will not present another plan to the House until he is assured of enough votes for passage. And legislators say that means the House might not see a tax bill until the end of April.

Keverian, who won the speaker's gavel as a proponent of House reform, has repeatedly said he will not use strong-arm tactics to win support. But his reluctance to press for a new tax increase has frustrated many Democrats, who have traditionally supported Keverian but want to put the state's budget woes behind them.

"I think there has been concern that he could be more forceful," said Rep. Joseph K. Mackey '74 (D-Somerville), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. "It may be in times like these that some strong arming is necessary."

Keverian's last effort to muscle a proposal through the House proved fruitless. In December, Keverian asked several of his committee chairs to resign if they could not support his November tax plant. But the speaker backed away from the threat when it became apparent that he did not have the votes to pass the bill anyway.

The House considered another tax package in January, but scrapped it when Keverian admitted the new, scaled-down plan was not the fairest the House could offer. And late last week Keverian announced that a tax proposal would be on the House floor yesterday, but backed away from that claim over the weekend.

Keverian's wavering has fueled attacks from his opponents in the November state Treasurer's race. It has also alarmed many in the House.

Peter A. Vellucci (D-Cambridge) said he has been lobbying fellow representatives for a tax increase and was frustrated by Keverian's delay.

"The time has come to stop talking and do something productively," Vellucci said.

Vellucci added that the House might be in better shape if Majority Leader Charles F. Flaherty (D-Cambridge)--expected to succeed Keverian as speaker next year--were currently in charge.

Even though these representatives are working with the House leadership on a tax package, Vellucci said he did not expect to see a bill on the floor for at least another two weeks.

"We're working to craft a tax package that can pass," Vellucci said.

According to the Cambridge representative, the new package might include a 20-percent income tax increase, a 1-cent sales tax increase and a gasoline tax increase.

But Rep. Robert A. Havern '72 (D-Arlington), another ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said a tax package will not make it through the House unless it has a comprehensive budget along with it. And that's where Keverian seems to be heading, legislators say.

Some Blame Dukakis

Other state representatives have blamed the Dukakis administration for a lack of leadership on the tax issue.

Rep. John H. Flood (D-Canton), chair of the Taxation Committee, said he has also not received any indication that Keverian is committed to resolving the deficit soon. But Flood added that the speaker has been put in an awkward position by Dukakis.

"The house leadership is trying to fill a vacuum in executive leadership," Flood said. The Canton Democrat, who is running far behind Francis X. Bellotti and Lt. Gov. Evelyn F. Murphy in the governor's race, said Dukakis should resign.

Dukakis has proposed purchasing bonds to pay off the current budget debt, to be paid back over a period of several years with new taxes. He has publicly supported a tax increase since last year, and his administration denies that he has not been an active advocate of his position.

"It's just a matter of a couple of votes in the legislature," said Susan Kaplan, a Dukakis spokesperson. "We feel we are working with the House leadership and the Senate leadership."

"He has been very clear, and there is not much more he can do to get his point across," Kaplan said.

Move Expected by June

Although different lawmakers blame different people for a lack of initiative on the tax package, most on Beacon Hill seem to admit that some form of tax increase will be passed before the end of the fiscal year in late June. If not to save the state from this year's mammoth deficit, they say, new taxes are necessary to prevent an even worse situation next year.

"We clearly need a tax package to deal with next year's budget," Mackey said.

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