By Bob Katzen
The first question on the November ballot asks voters if they favor a proposed constitutional change that would allow a graduated income tax in Massachusetts and impose an additional 4 percent income tax, in addition to the current flat 5 percent one, on taxpayers’ earnings of more than $1 million annually. Language in the change requires that “subject to appropriation, the revenue will go to fund quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.”
Supporters say the change will affect only 18,000 extremely wealthy individuals and will generate up to $2 billion annually in additional tax revenue. They argue that using the funds for education and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation will benefit millions of Bay State taxpayers. They note the hike would help lower income families which are now paying a higher share of their income in taxes.
Opponents argue the new tax will result in the loss of 9,500 private sector jobs, $405 million annually in personal disposable income and some millionaires moving out of state. They say that the earmarking of the funds for specific projects is a phony sham and argue all the funds will go into the General Fund and be up for grabs for anything.
While considering the measure in 2019, Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading) offered an amendment that was defeated 34-123 by the House and 6-33 by the Senate. The amendment would have required that the revenue generated by the 4 percent tax be in addition, not in lieu of, the amount of funding for education and transportation that the Legislature already spends on those two areas.
Amendment supporters said this will prevent a “bait and switch” scenario in which $1.9 billion in new revenue from the 4 percent tax is dedicated to transportation and education but then the Legislature takes money out of the money currently spent in those areas and spends it elsewhere. The net result would be that the $1.9 billion would be essentially spent in other areas rather than the two promised ones.
Amendment opponents said the intent of the amendment is clear and there is no evidence that this is a “bait and switch” amendment. They argued that the proposal is on solid ground and that there is no need to add this language.
“Question 1 supporters claim all of the revenues generated through the proposed surtax on income above $1 million will go to education and transportation, but the truth is this funding would be ‘subject to appropriation,’ which means the Legislature can spend it any way it wants,” said Jones. “I offered the amending language requiring that any revenues raised be allocated ‘in addition to’ and not ‘in lieu of’ funding that is already being spent in these two areas. Voters have an expectation that Question 1 will provide for increased spending on education and transportation, and my amendment would have offered some degree of certainty that that will actually happen. Without this stipulation, I’m afraid voters are being sold a false bill of goods that could result in a ‘bait and switch’ that provides no net increase in education or transportation spending.”
“The Jones amendment, twice proposed and defeated…during the constitutional amendment debates, was intended to codify proponents’ alleged intent and assurances and hold them to it,” said Chip Ford, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation which opposed and defeated the last two graduated income tax ballot questions to amend the state constitution in 1976 and 1994. “The amendment would have enshrined in this constitutional amendment what is being blithely asserted by proponents, that all new revenue from the potential surtax on millionaires would supplement rather than supplant existing spending on transportation and education. If anyone needs evidence that this is a ‘bait and switch’ scam to deceive voters, they need look no further than those two defeats of that one amendment.”
“This amendment that was offered and rejected, would have held accountable the proponent’s claim that this 80 percent income tax hike would be used for the additional spending on education and transportation,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson for the Mass Fiscal Alliance. “It failed because the Legislature cannot be bound by a ballot question for how it spends our tax dollars. If Question 1 is passed, there is absolutely no guarantee this 80 percent income tax hike would be used on additional spending for transportation and education.”
Three key players who support Question 1 did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on the Jones’ amendment, including Questions 1’s co-sponsors Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Rep. Michael O’Day (D-West Boylston), as well as Andrew Farnitano, spokesperson for the “Yes on Question 1” campaign.
(Here is how your local legislators voted on the Jones amendment that would require the revenue generated by the 4 percent tax be in addition, not in lieu of, the amount of funding for education and transportation that the Legislature already spends on those two areas. A “Yes” vote is for the Jones amendment. A “No” vote is against the Jones amendment. Please note that this is not a vote on Question 1 itself, but rather a vote on the Jones amendment).
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven Was not yet elected Sen. Patricia Jehlen No