Coalition Sues to Block Tax

By Marie Szaniszlo

““When you amend the constitution, you prevent the Legislature from touching it. The process of setting taxing and spending policy via amendments will open the floodgates to a series of constitutional amendments,” Anderson said.”

A coalition of business groups yesterday filed suit in the state’s highest court to try to block the proposed “millionaire tax” constitutional amendment from making it on the 2018 ballot.

In a 77-page lawsuit filed in the Supreme Judicial Court, the heads of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Tax­payers Foundation challenge state Attor­ney General Maura Healey’s 2015 certification of the proposed amendment as constitutional.

That certification cleared the way for two votes by the state Legislature — one in 2016, the other in June — to allow voters to decide next year whether Bay Staters should be subject to a 4 percent surtax on any portion of their income that exceeds $1 million.

“Constitutional amendments are extremely rare, and none have been proposed to impose a specific tax rate on a specific class of taxpayer in our state constitution,” said Christopher Anderson, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs and president of the High Tech Council.

“When you amend the constitution, you prevent the Legislature from touching it. The process of setting taxing and spending policy via amendments will open the floodgates to a series of constitutional amendments,” Anderson said.

In a statement yesterday, Emily Snyder, a spokeswoman for Hea­ley, said: “We believe our office made the right call in certifying this question in accordance with the constitutional requirements. We look forward to defending this decision in court.”

In addition to arguing that the process is unconstitutional, Anderson said the proposed amendment, if it passes, would create a “competitive disadvantage” that would be difficult for Massachusetts to recover from.

“All of the organizations (that are plaintiffs) are totally committed to job and economic growth for the commonwealth,” he said. “We’ve made great progress from the ‘Taxachusetts’ days of 20 years ago when we had high tax rates, declining state tax revenue and rising unemployment.”

The proposed amendment would affect about 19,600 residents, or 0.5 percent of all state taxpayers, officials say.

Studies suggest that a minority of those people will move to states with lower tax rates, but the majority will choose to stay.

The Service Employees International Union, one of the measure’s chief proponents, did not return a call seeking comment last night.

But the union and other supporters, who call the proposal the Fair Share Amendment, have said it would raise an extra $2 billion annually, which the state would have to spend on education, transportation and infrastructure.