Massachusetts has been known for years as “Taxachusetts.” The new, so-called millionaires’ tax — a constitutional amendment that was approved by a narrow majority of voters in November — simply confirms that stigma.The Constitution is hereby amended to set a 4% surtax on the portion of an individual’s annual income above $1 million. That’s in addition to the state’s 5% personal income tax rate.But now that the ballot question has become law, having been approved by 52% of voters, it is up to the Legislature to figure out how to spend it.
The ballot question, as written, says: “Revenues from this tax would be used, subject to appropriation by the state Legislature, for public education, public colleges and universities; and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation.”That seems pretty straightforward. But already the jockeying over what is expected to be a multi-million dollar annual windfall has begun.On one side, North of Boston Media Group Statehouse writer Christian Wade reported, are the supporters of the measure, who want to change state law to prevent millionaires from skirting this new obligation.They want, for example, to prevent millionaires from getting the same rebate that all other taxpayers received last year after tax revenues grew by more than wages and salaries.Another proposal would force couples to file their state taxes the same way they file their federal taxes.Andrew Farnitano, a spokesperson for Fair Share for Massachusetts, told Wade the change would close a “loophole” in tax code that could allow wealthy married couples to reduce the amount they pay under the surtax by filing state returns separately.
On the other side, lawmakers are calling for the revenues to be set aside in a dedicated fund — transparent to all — so that the new revenue stream doesn’t get mixed up in the general fund.Were that to happen, it would be nearly impossible for taxpayers to keep track of how much is being raised and how it’s being spent.House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, filed a proposal to set up a new state fund to collect revenues from the surtax, which he says would “honor the will of the voters” by preventing the money from being funneled into the state’s general fund for other budgetary purposes.“This would ensure accountability and transparency in the process to ensure that the money coming in is going to its intended purposes,” Jones told Wade. “The proponents of the millionaires’ tax should support this. They have no reason not to.”Of course Jones is calling their bluff, as they have every reason to obfuscate how the revenue is spent, especially if public schools, for example, are getting more than roads and bridges. Or if certain universities seem to be getting more funding than others.That’s one of many problems with this new tax, and why it never should have been approved. It’s like writing a blank check for the unions, which wholeheartedly supported this measure, while giving wealthy residents — including retirees — just one more reason to leave “Taxachusetts” and move somewhere else, like the states of Florida or New Hampshire that have no income tax.Meanwhile, this tax does nothing to help lower-income earners, or even middle- and upper-income earners who may one day become millionaires themselves. But why should they be motivated to earn more if they’re just going to get taxed more?Wade reported that while there were many proposals in the Legislature to tighten or loosen the impact of this new tax, nobody proposed repealing it. Maybe someone should.