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Proposed Millionaire's Tax Heads Before State's Highest Court

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Photo by Pixabay/Public Domain. Illustration by Emily Judem/ WGBH News.
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180206_medwed_final_for_web_.mp3

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts will hear oral arguments Tuesday morning regarding the “millionaire’s tax,” the proposed state constitutional amendment that would impose a four percent surtax on incomes in excess of $1 million.

The ballot initiative, pushed by a group of liberal organizations that form Raise Up Massachusetts, would change the state's constitutional stipulation that all incomes must fall under a flat tax rate. The initiative, if certified by the SJC, would appear on 2018's ballot and would also delegate revenues from the surtax to fund public education and transportation. 

Opponents claim that terms in the ballot question violate restrictions in the state constitution concerning the scope of ballot questions.

Article 48 in the state's constitution bans ballot questions from taking powers away from the treasury by specifically allocating funds. The scope of ballot questions are also limited — they cannot connect two seemingly unrelated things under a single proposal. Daniel Medwed, WGBH's legal analyst, says opponents of the Fair Share Amendment plan to argue that RaiseUp Massachusetts' question unlawfully pairs education and transportation funding with taxation and also encroaches on the legislature's sole right to determine funding allocation.

Medwed says that he assumes RaiseUp is hoping the political appeal of their question, taxing the rich to fund services for the public, would overshadow the legal problems blocking its certification.

"I imagine the idea here is to tether the surtax with apportionment to education and transportation, two very popular government services in need of funding, that this is a way to make the proposal more politically palatable to the people of Massachsuetts," Medwed said.

The attorney general's office certified the ballot question and the legislature signed off, leading to the current appeal from a collection of trade organizations and business groups. Maura Healey's office now has to provide legal arguments defending that certification, which Medwed says reveals a difference in interpretation between her office and the groups appealing.

"The attorney general's office is arguing that this is not a specific appropriation from the treasury, that it's more of a general appropriation that leaves the details in the hands of the legislature," said Medwed. "This entire battle revolves around different interpretations of Article 48 of the constitution." 

 After hearing oral arguments, the SJC typically waits 130 days before issuing a ruling, but Medwed expects a decision to come sooner.

To listen to the full conversation, click on the audio player above.

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