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State government • opinion

Ready to sue to protect tax cap giveback

We’re ready in case lawmakers move to change law

CommonWealth Magazine | August 28, 2022
Paul D. Craney, Board Member & Spokesman, Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance

© CommonWealth Magazine

NEARLY 40 YEARS AGO, the esteemed taxpayer watchdog group Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) and the Massachusetts High Tech Council (MHTC) had the foresight to fight and win the passage of a taxpayer protection law. That law would prevent taxpayers from being gouged during times of plenty, when state tax revenues skyrocket far more quickly than wages and the standard of living. For only the second time since its passage, that protection law has been triggered and this time in a spectacular fashion.

Legislators seemingly forgot the law, known as Chapter 62F, existed, and were caught flat footed when Gov. Charlie Baker announced that it would likely be triggered this year and deliver nearly $3 billion (roughly 7 percent of all income tax collections in 2021) in tax relief back to the people who actually paid the taxes.

Almost immediately, House Speaker Ron Mariano and other legislative leaders began thinking of ways to alter, bypass, and flat out remove the taxpayer protection law to keep the money in their coffers to spend as they wish. During the last weekend before the legislative session ended, the speaker arrogantly said “…everything’s on the table. We could undo the law. We could change it. We could postpone it.” For once, the speaker was being transparent. But if legislative leaders think they can make an end run around Chapter 62F, they’ll most definitely be faced with opposition.

Last Monday, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, and Citizens for Limited Taxation announced that we are partnering with the New England Legal Foundation and the Goldwater Institute to prepare to bring suit to enforce Chapter 62F of Massachusetts law, should such action be necessary. The original backers of the 1986 law, which also include Chris Anderson of the High Technology Council\, along with members of Citizens for Limited Taxation, are among the potential plaintiffs. Taxpayer plaintiffs from every county and from many taxpayer organizations are ready to go. Chapter 62F permits 24 named taxpayers in the Commonwealth to bring an action in the Supreme Judicial Court or Superior Court to enforce the provisions of that law. The state auditor must comply by her statutory deadline of September 20 to certify the Department of Revenue’s numbers, which will be made public on September 1. As attorney Dan Winslow said during the announcement on Monday, “the taxpayers have lawyered up!”

The Goldwater Institute and the New England Legal Foundation sent a letter on behalf of Massachusetts taxpayers to Auditor Suzanne Bump. While we expect the auditor to continue to comply with the certification requirements, we are prepared to fight to ensure that the will of Massachusetts voters is upheld by seeking to enforce these critically important and statutorily guaranteed fiscal safeguards, demanding the government follow the law.

A copy of that letter may be found by clicking here.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure Massachusetts taxpayers get back billions of dollars of their hard-earned money. Two years ago, MassFiscal successfully lead the charge against ranked choice voting. Last November, after years of MassFiscal leading the opposition to the disastrous Transportation Climate Initiative gas tax scheme, we celebrated as it fell apart.

MassFiscal’s latest effort to protect nearly 4.7 million taxpayers of their potential $3 billion in assets could be our greatest effort ever. Every taxpayer in the state will benefit from our lawsuit effort, every single one of them has taxpayer money coming back to them. We will do everything in our power to ensure this happens and to hold politicians accountable if they try to evade this law. Some State House politicians would like nothing more right now than for us to fail to limit their insatiable appetite to spend, but we are committed and prepared to bring them to court if they think they can delay this process for even one minute.

The next important date is September 1. The Department of Revenue will make public their data and then the auditor has until September 20 (or sooner), to confirm the data. If need be, MassFiscal and our allies will file a lawsuit at 9 a.m. on September 21 if the auditor fails to act in the interests of the taxpayers. We have your back!

Paul Diego Craney is the spokesperson for Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.