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Teachers, Workers Call for Lawmakers to Pass ‘Millionaires Tax’

Apr 11, 2019 | MassLive.com

April 11, 2019 3:18 PM
By Steph Solis | ssolis@masslive.com

Hudson humanities teacher Alex Hoyt said he has seen the impact of the education funding gaps in his classrooms.

In Worcester, he said he had enough paper for one printout per day for each of the 32 students he taught as part of his graduate practicum. Hudson, by contrast, has a copy center, smaller class sizes and other resources.

“I’m grateful for what Hudson provides, but I recognize that the disparity with Worcester is not necessary or just. Schools all across Massachusetts are suffering from a lack of resources, even Hudson,” Hoyt said, adding that he was one of 12 teachers who were laid off last year. He and one other teacher were rehired this year.

Hoyt was one of several workers and advocates who testified Thursday before the Revenue Committee backing a “millionaires tax” to fill funding gaps in education and transportation. Supporters and opponents spent hours making their case about the proposal, which would increase the income tax by 4 percent for households that make more than $1 million a year.

The proposal is identical to the citizens’ petition that was expected to go on the November ballot but was struck down by the Supreme Judicial Court in June over a procedural issue.

Now Rep. Jason Lewis , a Democrat from Winchester, and West Boylston Democrat Rep. James O’Day, are taking up the cause in the Legislature with S.16/H.86. Lewis said on Thursday that low- and middle-class families are paying a greater percentage of their income in taxes, and the bill helps level the playing field so families making more than $1 million pay more to fill funding gaps in education and transportation.

“We have a choice. We can either continue to accept the status quo, or we can do something about it,” Lewis said Thursday in his testimony to the committee. “I for one don’t believe that I was elected to just accept the status quo, and I know you don’t either.”

Lewis estimates the measure would bring in $2 billion in revenue that would go to the education and transportation budgets. He said the tax would only apply to about 14,000 households in Massachusetts.

The $1 million mark would be adjusted each year to reflect cost of living increases and would be earmarked for transportation and education.

Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, expressed concerns that the state would be too reliant on income taxes than other streams of revenue.

“While the prospect of taxing a small number of taxpayers to generate significant new revenue is appealing on its face, there are inherent problems with this approach,” McAnneny testified.

The tax debate comes at a time when Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to address disparities in education and transportation systems in disrepair. The Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission stated in a 2015 report that the state is underfunding public education by $1 billion to $2 billion and that the districts hit hardest are those with the most low-income families, special education students and English language learners, among others.

Lawmakers have raised concerns about the lack of revenue to make transportation and infrastructure repairs. The MBTA board voted in March to raise subway fares by around 6 percent but didn’t increase bus fares or prices for seniors and people with disabilities.

Cao Ling Zhu, 47, of Malden, said she takes the 6:45 a.m. bus from Malden to get to Boston, where she works as a home health aide and a staffer for the Chinese Progressive Association. The bus she takes seven days a week is often late, making her late to work.

“This hurts me, and as a home health aide, this impacts the kinds of people I serve,” she said in Cantonese through a translator Thursday afternoon.

By the time she gets out of work, the last bus has already left. She makes the 35-minute trek home each evening in rain, sleet or snow.

The “fair share amendment,” as supporters call the proposal, garnered enough votes in a petition to get the amendment on the November ballot. The Supreme Judicial Court struck down the ballot initiative in June, ruling the measure included two “unrelated” provisions, proposing the tax increase and earmarking the funds to education and transportation spending.

A citizen-proposed amendment must collect nearly 65,000 signatures, pass two successive legislative sessions with 25 percent of the vote and pass with a majority vote on the general election ballot, according to state law. Such a petition has certain restrictions, including the test of “relatedness” that was the basis for the SJC ruling.

The constitutional amendment filed by legislators doesn’t face the same “relatedness” test. This amendment needs a majority vote in legislative sessions in 2019-2020 and 2021-2022. If it passes, the earliest the amendment could go on the ballot would be in November 2022 and, if successful, would take effect in 2023.

The last time around, the tax proposal garnered support for more than half of lawmakers. A WBUR poll in 2018 suggested that 77 percent said they support the millionaires tax, while 18 percent said they oppose it.

Opponents argue the tax would hamper the state economy’s historic growth. Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, argue that Connecticut, New Jersey and other states that have imposed similar taxes didn’t make enough revenue as expected.

“Projected and promised revenues have not in fact materialized in other states that adopted similar hyper-progressive tax policies, further damaging their fiscal condition, budgetary planning and ability to support key state investments,” Anderson testified.

Council leaders said some of their members said they do support higher taxes, but not the proposed constitutional amendment being considered by state lawmakers.

Hoyt, the middle school teacher, said he’s financially stable. He said he spends a few hundred dollars on school supplies every year, but he doesn’t spend as much as teachers in struggling districts because Hudson provides school supplies.

While some of that can be written off in taxes, Hoyt said some colleagues simply can’t afford to spend hundreds on school-related costs and wait a year to be partially reimbursed, though many try anyway.

“Teaching is so much about sacrifice, and I think the reason that I’m here and a lot of people that I’m going to be testifying with today are here is, not to say that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice, but sacrifice should be equalized,” Hoyt said in an interview with MassLive. “It shouldn’t just be teachers putting in the extra work. It ought to be from the top.”

And the funding gaps affect much more than school supplied, Hoyt. Schools have struggled to pay for guidance counselors, social and emotional support programs and shrink class sizes. Hoyt said he knows teachers in other districts who had to pay for their own projector or air conditioner.

Find the original article here.

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