Advocates renew push for ‘millionaire tax’ in Massachusetts

BOSTON (AP) — Advocates renewed their push Wednesday to create a so-called “millionaire tax” in Massachusetts.

The proposed constitutional amendment is needed to help funnel additional dollars into public education, public colleges and universities, and the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation, supporters said.

The proposal is being pushed by Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor unions, community organizations, and religious groups.

Massachusetts’ communities of color in particular are being harmed by inequitable access to transportation and higher education, Pablo Ruiz, deputy director of the SEIU State Council, said during a press conference Wednesday.

“Before the pandemic the Massachusetts economy was working great for a few at the top but that prosperity wasn’t reaching most of our people,” he said. “A few multimillionaires are hoarding their wealth.”

Opponents have warned that revenues could fall well short of projections if the millionaire tax causes wealthy taxpayers or business owners to flee the state.

Some Republican leaders have also said any attempt to undo the state’s flat tax amounts to a cash grab.

The proposed 4% surtax on the portion of an individual’s annual income that exceeds $1 million would generate about $2 billion in revenue and be earmarked for investments in education and transportation, backers said. The $1 million threshold would be adjusted each year to reflect cost-of-living increases.

Sabrina Davis, an organizer with the Coalition for Social Justice and Bus Riders United, said she grew up poor in Fall River and relied heavily on public transit, falling back on more expensive cab rides when the buses weren’t running.

“Our family used public transportation because we couldn’t afford a car. We had to schedule our lives around the bus schedule,” she said during the press conference. “It felt like a vicious cycle. I needed a job to save up for a car, but I needed a car to get a job.”

The business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is urging lawmakers to hold off on voting on the initiative until 2022 to give themselves more time to consider the state’s revolving economic circumstances, weigh the potential negative impacts of the change, and get a better sense of federal tax law changes under consideration by Congress.

“Once the initiative is approved by the constitutional convention, no further changes can be made to the question before it is put to voters,” Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Eileen McAnneny said in a written statement last week.

“Taking more time to fully understand the changing economic and fiscal climate is a reasonable and critically important next step,” she added.

In 2019, lawmakers moved the proposed constitutional amendment one step closer to the ballot by approving the measure by a 146-48 vote during a joint session of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The proposed amendment needs a second vote during the current 2021/2022 session to be placed before voters on the November 2022 ballot.

The Massachusetts House and Senate will meet in a combined constitutional convention for the first time during the current legislative session on May 12.

The state’s constitution currently requires that all income be taxed at uniform rates. An earlier, similar effort to raise taxes on about 20,000 of the state’s wealthiest residents was knocked off the 2018 ballot after a legal challenge by several business-backed organizations.

The Supreme Judicial Court threw out that version of the millionaire tax, ruling it violated restrictions placed on citizen initiatives by combining taxes and spending in a single ballot question.

Because the current proposal — though identically worded — was initiated by legislators rather than through voter petitions, legal experts have said it’s unlikely to face the same legal roadblock.