July 04, 2018
We’ve heard the expression “the devil’s in the details” bandied about recently. It’s a cliché that can contain some truth.
But the details can sometimes hide devils.
Take the Massachusetts economy, for example, where statistics show a state firing on all cylinders. The Commonwealth weathered a crippling recession and has experienced an explosion of investment, wealth creation, and employment. With a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, a growing labor force, and even rising wages, Massachusetts is the envy of other states. Construction jobs are flourishing, business profits are up, and the state has shed its antibusiness reputation. Continue reading
By Jon Chesto and Joshua Miller
JUNE 18, 2018
The Supreme Judicial Court on Monday rejected a ballot question that would have raised the state income tax on Massachusetts’ highest earners and put that money into transportation and education, delivering a crushing defeat for progressive activists and organized labor and removing a volatile issue from this fall’s election.
In a 5-2 decision, the court sided with business groups that argued the proposal was unconstitutional. The measure would have imposed a higher income tax rate for personal earnings above $1 million, a levy that would have brought in an estimated $2 billion in new revenue next year. Without that new money, several top elected officials were already hinting at the need for the Legislature to increase taxes or fees.
The majority of judges agreed with the business groups’ primary legal argument, saying Attorney General Maura T. Healey was wrong to certify the initiative because it had multiple subjects that were not related. The state constitution requires such ballot measures to have subjects that are related or “mutually dependent.” Continue reading
By Rachelle G. Cohen
JUNE 18, 2018
Make no mistake, Massachusetts just dodged the economic bullet that the so-called millionaires tax would have been.
But to those public employee unions and progressives that were virtually salivating over the potential $1.9 billion in new revenue extracted from the wallets of the state’s wealthiest residents, there ought to be a broader lesson — play fair.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5-2 Monday that the effort to impose a 4 percent surtax on households with incomes of more than $1 million — thereby raising their tax rate to 9.1 percent, the fifth highest in the country — could not properly be put before the voters because it simply tried to do too much. Continue reading
By Jeff Jacoby
Sometime this spring, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will decide whether the so-called Fair Share Amendment can appear on the state ballot in November. The proposal would amend the Commonwealth’s constitution, which for more than 100 years has decreed that income may be taxed only at a uniform rate. If approved, the initiative would subject anyone with more than $1 million in income to a surtax 4 percentage points higher than the state’s regular income tax rate of 5.1 percent. The tax on million-dollar-plus incomes would thus rise to 9.1 percent — a prodigious 80 percent increase in the marginal tax rate.
Left-wing advocates have long resented the flat-rate income tax. They’ve repeatedly tried to get voters to approve an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution doing away with it. Five times they have sponsored ballot initiatives to open the door to graduated tax rates. Five times voters have said no.
The latest effort, spearheaded by a coalition of labor unions and progressive activists called Raise Up Massachusetts, comes with two twists. Continue reading
By Jon Chesto
If the business groups challenging the millionaires tax win their legal battle to block the ballot question, they might have the now-defunct greyhound industry to thank.
That’s because the Supreme Judicial Court justices who heard arguments for and against the question today zeroed in one aspect — the “relatedness issue.” They pointed to earlier precedents by invoking memories of a 2006 ballot question to end greyhound racing as well as one they nixed in 2016 involving classroom curriculums and testing.
The “millionaires tax” would increase the income tax on any earnings above $1 million from 5.1 percent to 9.1 percent, based on today’s rate, and direct the extra funds to transportation and schools. As much as $2 billion a year is on the line.
By Jeff Jacoby
Some things Massachusetts gets right.
For 101 years the state constitution has commanded that income be taxed at a uniform rate, a shield against populist agitators whipping up class envy to raise taxes. The constitutional ban on graduated income-tax rates keeps the Legislature from raising revenue at will by targeting one bracket at a time. Lawmakers have to change everybody’s tax rate — or nobody’s.
A ballot initiative now being pushed by a left-wing umbrella group would change all that. Raise Up Massachusetts wants to amend the constitution by requiring a sharp increase in the tax rate for income over $1 million. The activists know that the state’s voters have repeatedly rejected initiatives to eliminate the state’s uniform-rate rule. So this time there’s a sweetener: The proposed amendment decrees that all revenue raised from the new tax may be expended for only two purposes — public education and public transportation. Unfortunately for Raise Up Massachusetts, their sweetened ballot question is illegitimate. Continue reading
By Andy Rosen
“Research by the Mass. High Technology Council shows the state has the highest per capita concentrations of science, technology, engineering, and math degrees and also has the highest percentage of workers who hold bachelor’s degrees.”
For years, Massachusetts tech executives have been complaining about how hard it is to fill job openings — that whether they’re looking for a few or 50, there just aren’t enough qualified candidates for companies to grow at the pace they want.
So imagine if one tech company came in and tried to hire 50,000 people.
That’s the potential if Amazon selects Boston for its second headquarters. Overnight, just about every company with a tech focus or IT department would find itself in head-to-head competition with one of the biggest draws in the business. Continue reading
By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey
“We’re talking about a program that has become the dominant feature of state spending,” said Mark Gallagher, executive vice president at the Massachusetts High Technology Council, an employer group. “We have to get serious in addressing the underlying cost drivers.”
Massachusetts legislators, in a showdown with Governor Charlie Baker, again rebuffed his plan to curb the state’s rising health care costs, in part by moving some poor adults off of the state’s health care safety net program.
The Democrat-controlled House and Senate on Wednesday approved a related Baker proposal to raise $200 million a year for the state’s Medicaid program through new fees on employers and use it to help fund health costs. But they rejected a complementary set of proposals to curb spending, which Baker wanted lawmakers to approve as a package.
The governor could accept or veto their decision. It was not immediately clear how he would respond. Democrats in the Legislature have enough votes to override his veto.
The policy dispute between the governor and lawmakers, who generally get along, highlights the immense challenge of helping the poor while keeping public spending in check. It also puts Baker in a difficult spot with the business community, which supports paying new fees only if the state also implements the governor’s cost-cutting plan.
Business groups said Wednesday that they would urge Baker to use the veto. Continue reading
By Jim O’Sullivan and Priyanka Dayal McCluskey
“Chris Anderson, president of the Mass. High Technology Council, said there was “no policy or public expenditure issue . . . that will have greater impact on the Commonwealth’s immediate and long-term economic health and fiscal stability than the Legislature’s prompt and favorable adoption of the package of MassHealth reforms.””
Governor Charlie Baker on Monday signed a $39.43 billion budget but urged lawmakers to revisit his proposals to rein in the growth of state health care spending as part of a new fee on businesses.
Legislators had passed a $200 million health care fee at Baker’s request but so far have rejected his calls to curb MassHealth spending — prompting complaints from the business community, which does not want to bear the costs of a new fee without promised changes to the program.
So Baker wants the Legislature to go back to work. Continue reading
By Jeff Jacoby
Massachusetts voters have made some reckless choices over the years (two words: Barney Frank), but on the subject of income taxes their judgment has been consistently prudent and restrained.
In 2000, for example, the voters approved a ballot initiative reducing the income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5 percent; but in 2002 and 2008 they defeated measures that would have wiped out the income tax altogether. In 1998, voters overwhelmingly said Yes to taxing dividends and interest at the same rate as ordinary income. During a recession in 1990, on the other hand, they firmly said No to a sharp rollback in state taxes and fees. Continue reading