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Millionaires Tax Backer Speaks Out.mp3

Backers Of "Millionaires Tax" React To SJC Ruling

Photo by Pixabay/Public Domain. Illustration by Emily Judem/ WGBH News.
Millionaires Tax Backer Speaks Out.mp3

The so-called "Millionaires Tax" that backers wanted to put before Massachusetts voters this November is no more, with the state's highest court ruling that it cannot appear on the ballot. The measure would have raised the income tax on the state's highest earners, bringing in an estimated $2 billion per year. Lew Finfer is co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts, the group that's been pushing the tax on millionaires. He spoke with WGBH's All Things Considered host Barbara Howard. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: The Supreme Judicial Court pointed out that some voters might be left in a bind, in "the untenable position of choosing which issue to support." For instance, a voter may be in favor of an increased tax on millionaires, but not favor either or both of what the money would have been used for - education and/or transportation. So were those earmarks faulty wording on the ballot question?

Lew Finfer: You know, we did our legal research and had a very good attorney who spent a lot of time on this, so we were confident this was a sound legal approach.

Barbara Howard: But the state constitution requires such ballot measures to have subjects that are related or "mutually dependent." Why not just ask for a higher tax without earmarking the money?

Lew Finfer: We did a lot of research and we thought it could be dedicated. And Chief Justice Gants, he said 'well, this is all one action, you raise a tax and you spend it.' That's one action, and one activity. We're talking about hundreds and hundreds of thousands of kids who are going to be deprived of serious increased educational opportunities that they could have gotten with this funding, and young adults who could have afforded to go to college who're not going to be able to afford it because this money isn't going to be available. There's 18,000 people on the ESL waiting list who are going to stay on that waiting list. There's so many people that are going to lose opportunities because of this decision by the court. And the big business groups brought this suit, they spent a lot of money on high priced lawyers, and they were successful. It's legal what they did, but these are the same groups, these business groups, that constantly talk about 'we need a well-educated workforce to compete and go forward and we need reliable transportation.' And here they were given a chance to help their own companies with a better educated workforce and more reliable transportation. Instead, they chose to spend money to block it to help their high-priced executives from having to pay a little bit more in taxes.

Barbara Howard: A straightaway tax on millionaires might have gotten by. It sounds like the court's problem with this was that it was tied to this earmark. Is there time to just put up a "Millionaires Tax" without the earmark? Is there even time to get this back up in a straightaway tax?

Lew Finfer: No, because this is a constitutional amendment, because the level of the state income tax is embedded in the constitution. We just went through four years of work on this. We had to get 157,000 signatures, which we got in 2015. So you'd have to start that process all over again next year. And we're going to have to obviously rethink all these things, because we're determined to get new, fairly-raised revenue for the programs we desperately need. But this is effectively over for this year.

Barbara Howard: What effect would today's "Millionaires Tax" ruling have on other ballot questions, like a big one raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, and another question regarding paid leave for working families? Any effect on those?

Lew Finfer: There's no legal effect because they're on a separate track. There is a political impact because, separate from those two and the "Millionaires Tax," the big retailers association may also try to put something on the ballot to cut the sales tax. So that's part of the politics of what may or may not happen over the next few weeks with all these issues. So that will have some impact on that issue as well.

Barbara Howard: But at this point, the "Millionaires Tax" - it's going to be up to the legislature to do something about? It's pretty much dead on the ballot as far as the SJC is concerned?

Lew Finfer: Yes, it seems like it's dead the ballot because of the SJC decision, but the legislature has other options. They've already indicated they know there's a significant need for new revenue to deal with all the educational and healthcare and job training and other other needs that we have out there. So we're going to, I'm sure, find a way to bring forward those issues again to the legislature. And we're hoping that the legislative leadership will look at this hard.

Barbara Howard: OK. Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. Finfer.

Lew Finfer: Thank you for having me.

Barbara Howard: That's Lew Finfer, co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts, the group backing the so-called "Millionaires Tax." Supporters wanted the tax on high earners to go before Massachusetts voters as a ballot measure this November. But the state's Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that it cannot go forward. The plaintiffs that had challenged the measure have released a statement that reads in part "The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the ongoing importance of the Constitution’s safeguards against citizens’ initiatives to amend the Constitution that combine multiple subjects that are unrelated." This is All Things Considered.

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