Massachusetts' Highest Court Knocks Down ‘Millionaire Tax' Ballot Question

Massachusetts' highest court has struck down a proposed "millionaire tax" ballot question, blocking it from going before state voters in November.

The Supreme Judicial Court, in a split decision, ruled that the initiative petition should not have been certified by the attorney general.

The constitutional amendment would have imposed a surtax of 4 percent on any portion of an individual's annual income that exceeds $1 million. The measure called for revenues from the tax to be used for transportation and education.

According to State House News Service, the court found that voters who favored a graduated income tax but not earmarking funds for a specific purpose and voters who wanted to designate funds for transportation and education but not to adopt a graduate tax structure would be in an "untenable position."

"A voter who commuted to work on an unreliable subway line, but who did not have school-aged children and was unconcerned about public education, might want to prioritize spending for public transportation, without devoting additional resources to public education, but would be unable to vote for that single purpose," the decision said. "A parent of young children, who lived in a rural part of the Commonwealth and did not own a motor vehicle, would be unable to vote in favor of prioritizing funding for early childhood education without supporting spending for transportation."

Several business groups sued to stop what proponents had termed the Fair Share Amendment from appearing on the ballot, claiming it violated constitutional restrictions on ballot questions.

The suit was filed by officials from three major business groups - the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation applauded the ruling Monday, calling it a "great day for all Massachusetts taxpayers."

"We are encouraged not only by the outcome of today's SJC decision but also by how various community members and organizations throughout the state came together on such a critical issue to ensure the preservation of the Commonwealth's strong, competitive business climate," the Massachusetts High Technology Council added.

The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, which collected more than 150,000 signatures in support of the measure, said it is "incredibly disappointed" that the state's high court has blocked the measure from going before voters. 

The citizens group faulted a "few wealthy corporate executives and their lobbyists" for bringing the lawsuit against the proposed constitutional amendment.

Senate President Harriette Chandler, a Democrat, said she is "terribly disappointed" in the SJC's decision.

"At a fundamental level, this decision impedes the fight for economic equity, as well as the investments we need to make improvements to our schools, our rails and our roads," she said. "As I have said since January, without this Fair Share Amendment, we will need to be creative and take a hard look at potential revenues from new sources to address the very real challenges we face as a Commonwealth."

The Massachusetts Democratic Party called the decision "a crisis" for Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

"What is his plan to repair our crumbling roads, fix our unreliable public transportation systems, and invest in our critically underfunded public schools?" Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford said. "Will he continue his irresponsible campaign to cut the sales tax, which will rip over $1 billion from our schools, roads, and public safety services? Or will he, for once, stand up for the working families of the Commonwealth and make the investments to move our state forward?"

Baker has consistently declined to stake out a position on the surtax, saying it was not guaranteed a spot on the ballot.

A Suffolk University poll of 500 likely voters, conducted earlier this month, found more than 66 percent in favor of the surtax.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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