Raise Up Asks Lawmakers to Look to Biz, Not Just Workers, In Revenue Debate
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, State House, Boston, Aug. 21, 2019
With at least the House gearing up to take a run at a broad transportation financing package when legislators get back to work this fall, the battle lines are being drawn as business organizations and advocacy groups attempt to influence whatever legislation might eventually emerge.
The latest salvo came Wednesday morning from Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition of more than 100 labor, community and faith-based groups that has successfully worked to secure minimum wage increases, a new paid family and medical leave program and guaranteed earned sick time. In a letter distributed to lawmakers, Raise Up pressed lawmakers to work towards an “economically progressive” revenue proposal.
Raise Up, which has been behind the proposed 4 percent surtax on income over $1 million, pushed back against recent commentary from business groups like Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts High Technology Council warning against new taxes to funnel more money into public transportation.
“We need major new investments in transportation and public education, but we cannot continue to balance out budgets solely on the backs of low- and moderate-income people,” Raise Up Massachusetts wrote in its letter.
The group added, “Large, profitable corporations benefit greatly from a well-educated workforce and a reliable transportation system, and it’s time for them to contribute themselves to fund those investments, not just ask the rest of us to pay more. The Massachusetts corporate community needs to explain just how businesses plan to do their part to fund our transportation and public education systems.”
Business groups have increasingly decried the Boston area’s public transportation woes as a hindrance to economic growth. Traffic and congestion on the roads make for long and frustrating commutes by car, and the unpredictable nature of public transportation frequently makes workers late to their jobs.
But the High Tech Council, one of the groups that successfully petitioned to remove the so-called millionaire’s tax from last year’s ballot, pointed to the state’s strong economic performance in fiscal year 2019 to argue that “Massachusetts does not have a revenue problem despite repeated claims that billions in new taxes must be imposed to support state spending.”
Last fiscal year, state tax collections totaled $29.69 billion, an increase of nearly 7 percent over the previous year and eclipsing budget benchmarks by $1.1 billion. The High Tech Council said it is concerned that political leaders could make decisions that halt the momentum of the private sector, which it said “has buoyed the commonwealth.” Compounding that concern are “the calamitous economic results” in states like Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey, where the council said policymakers “unwisely relied on over-taxation of productive economic activity to manage their fiscal affairs.”
In its letter Wednesday, Raise Up lays the blame for the “current transportation and public education funding crisis” at the feet of AIM, the High Tech Council, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, the Massachusetts Taxpayers’ Foundation and the National Federation of Independent Business — the groups that were successful in their opposition to the millionaire’s tax.
“Now, large, profitable corporations and their lobbyists are calling for working people to pay more, and they think they deserve a big round of applause for letting the rest of us pay higher taxes,” Raise Up wrote. “Business organizations across the state are discussing transportation financing plans that would have road users pay even more, without taking any responsibility for businesses themselves to chip in.”
Earlier this month, Associated Industries of Massachusetts President and CEO John Regan said that businesses “already burdened with business and compliance costs” could be put under greater stress if the Legislature opts for tax increases.
“Beacon Hill is awash with calls for more revenue. But the slowing of the economy during the second quarter means this is exactly the wrong time to place additional cost burdens on business,” Regan said. “If the economy goes into a downturn while costs are increasing that will create big challenges for employers.”
As congestion on the roads and unreliable service on public transportation test the patience of commuters and other residents, House Speaker Robert DeLeo has indicated that he is open to tax hikes or just about any other policy prescription to address the state’s critical transportation needs.
In April, two dozen business groups, including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, banded together to promote a statewide agenda for transportation as the Massachusetts Business Coalition on Transportation.
James Rooney, head of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said last month that the group had not yet gotten to the point of debating specific proposals, like an increase in the state gas tax or in the user fees paid with each ride with services like Lyft or Uber, but had reached “a point of shared understanding” of the problem.
“If there’s something that we did achieve consensus on, it is that anything that is proposed in the form of revenue needs to be packaged with measurable outcomes. I think I can say that we’ve agreed universally that we don’t think the right approach is just an easy revenue-raising proposal,” he told the News Service last month.
Raise Up said any near-term revenue proposal must include a commitment from the Legislature to continue the work necessary to get the millionaire’s tax before voters on the 2022 ballot, must be “economically progressive” to bring the share of the burden on higher-income people in line with that of lower-income residents, must raise enough revenue to meet the state’s needs and must be “supported by the public and capable of surviving attempted repeal.”