Nicola Sturgeon refused to exempt low-paid workers from income tax hikes in a heated exchange during First Minister’s Questions.
The SNP leader signalled increases may be necessary to protect public services when she outlined her programme for government this week.
At Thursday’s FMQs, she was challenged by Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, to rule out imposing a bigger burden on the country’s 2.2m basic ratepayers.
Ms Davidson asked the FM if she agreed that basic ratepayers, who earn between £11,500 and £43,000 a year, should not have to pay more.
The Glasgow MSP replied: “Usually when you open a debate and commit to listening to what others have to say it makes sense to carry on and do that before ruling things out in advance.”
Ms Davidson warned that “jacking up” taxes would grave consequences, quoting business leaders warning of the impact on the economy of “squeezing the last drop” out of taxpayers.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s message is loud and clear – she’s coming for the pay packets of workers right across Scotland,” the Tory MSP said after FMQs.
“The First Minister made a promise not to increase income tax rates for basic rate taxpayers, and now she’s going back on it.”
Speaking in the chamber, Ms Sturgeon said she wants an “honest and mature debate” about how to use Holyrood’s tax powers to ensure the country has the public services and business support it deserves.
In a hint she is against increasing the bills of lower earners, the SNP leader said they would “not simply transfer the burden of austerity on to the shoulders of those who can least afford it”.
She added: “The Tories want extra spending but they also want tax cuts for the richest.
“That is not a credible position but that should hardly be surprising because the Tories are increasingly not a credible party.”
A paper examining options for income tax – including an analysis of opposition party proposals – will be published in due course.
A spokesman for the First Minister was asked if the SNP’s 2016 manifesto commitment to freeze the basic rate of income tax until at least 2021 “to protect those on low and middle incomes” still stands.
The spokesman said they are minority administration and “budgets have to be passed on a consensual basis”.
All Holyrood parties bar the Tories have called for tax rises.
In a call for an end to a waiting time scandal that has seen 9,000 children suffer delays to mental health support since 2014, Scottish Labour’s acting leader Alex Rowley urged Ms Sturgeon to “finally use the Scottish Parliament’s tax powers to stop the cuts to local public services”.