Judges Scrutinize Income Tax Surcharge

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.

One way the biz groups hope to knock the question off the ballot is by arguing it contains unrelated matters­ — a tax increase and two different spending initiatives.  That could violate a requirement that ballot questions be focused on related issues, in part to prevent packaging popular concepts with controversial ones.  That’s what the happened in the 2006 ballot question, which included measures to expand existing penalties against animal cruelty in addition to the greyhound racing ban.  The SJC ruled against that one. But dog-racing opponents returned with a narrower question that made it to the ballot two years later and became the law of the land.

Perhaps the proponents behind this income tax surcharge thought that promising money for transportation and education would help the proposal’s chances at the ballot.

If that’s the case, the strategy could backfire if the Supreme Judicial Court ends up deciding that they made their proposal too wide-ranging to go before the voters.