BOSTON — The Supreme Court has dismissed the latest legal challenge to the blockbuster ballot question asking voters if they support a new surtax on household income above $1 million, ruling Wednesday that the summary the attorney general Maura Healey has prepared for the ballot is fair and suitable to be presented to voters.
The high court decision sets the stage for a summary and statements of what a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote would do that have been prepared by Healey, a surtax supporter who expects to be on the ballot herself as a gubernatorial candidate, to be printed alongside the question when presented to voters in November. The surtax is estimated to raise $1.3 billion a year and the text of the amendment calls for the revenue to go to transportation and education.
Opponents of the surtax proposal have argued that the “yes” and “no” ballot summary and statements that Healey prepared for Secretary of State William Galvin to include in a voter information booklet and on the November poll itself were unfair and misleading largely because they did not explicitly state that the legislature retains ultimate decision-making power over state spending and could theoretically use the money the surtax brings in to supplant the existing public funding for transportation and education.
Writing for the court, Judge David Lowy simply said: “We disagree.
Healey’s abstract bed“This proposed constitutional amendment would impose an additional 4% state income tax on the portion of annual taxable income in excess of $1 million. This income level would be adjusted annually, using the same method used for federal tax brackets, to reflect increases in the cost of living. The 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 transport. The proposed amendment would apply to taxation years beginning on or after January 1, 2023.
“This decision is a victory for everyone who wants Massachusetts to be a place where the very wealthy pay their fair share to make our schools great and our roads and public transportation safe and efficient,” the Fair spokesperson said. Share for Massachusetts, Steve Crawford. “The plain language of the ballot accurately describes what the Fair Share Amendment will do. The very wealthy, who now pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than the rest of us, will pay a little more. The constitution guarantees that the money raised will be spent on education and transportation to build a stronger economy for all.
After successfully excluding the so-called millionaire tax from the ballots in 2018 with a successful legal challenge, Massachusetts High Tech Council President Chris Anderson and a group of state officials and right-wing groups lodged a complaint earlier this year that the surtax summary Healey prepared for voters would mislead them and could lead to the “nightmare scenario of the Constitution being amended not on the will of the people, but because the people were misled “.
The Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment, the group of small businesses, chambers of commerce, some of the state’s most influential business organizations, retirees, and concerned citizens working to defeat the surtax issue , said Wednesday that she “strongly disagrees” with the SJC’s decision because “the ballot summary does not explain to Massachusetts voters that the revenue from this massive tax increase can be redirected by the legislature for anything because money is fungible”.
“Because of a loophole in this constitutional amendment, there is no guarantee that the money from this huge tax increase would actually increase spending on education and transportation,” the spokesperson said. Dan Cence anti-surcharge campaign. “Instead, the politicians who put this on the ballot are giving themselves a blank check to redirect existing education and transportation funds to their own pet projects, without any accountability.”
The Mass. High Tech Council said that while it was disappointed with the SJC’s decision, it considers its litigation a success “in one important way: it revealed, beyond reasonable dispute, that the amendment , if adopted by voters, there would be no need to increase spending on education and transportation.
The lawsuit sought the CJS to order that the ballots tell voters that “the Legislature may choose to cut funding for education and transportation from other sources and replace it with new surtax revenue. , because the proposed amendment does not require otherwise”.
When they heard pleadings on the case last month, judges focused on the phrase “subject to appropriation by the state legislature” in Healey’s summary, with Judge Scott Kafker suggesting less than two minutes into the presentation of plaintiffs’ attorney that the sentence indicates that “it could pass and we wouldn’t have the really appropriate 4%, would we?”
In the ruling he wrote, Lowy said the SJC considered two cases from 1992 involving an initiative petition proposing to generate revenue through an excise duty and channel that revenue into a fund. to be spent for specific purposes subject to appropriation by the Legislative Assembly. One dealt with the creation of a health fund financed by an excise duty on certain tobacco products and the other concerned a petroleum excise duty and hazardous materials, and in both cases the plaintiffs argued that the Attorney General’s summary was misleading by failing to mention that the Legislative Assembly could spend the money differently.
But the SJC ruled in both 1992 cases that the summaries complied with Section 48 of the Constitution because they closely followed the wording of the proposed amendment by “accurately describing that the revenues were subject to appropriation “. Lowy also wrote that his predecessors at the SJC in 1992 “felt that the summaries did not need to respond to plaintiffs’ assertions that the revenue generated could, in theory, be expended by the Legislative Assembly for undesignated purposes. “if the text of the ballot proposal was not expressly contemplate this possibility.
He said the same reasoning was “equally applicable” in the case of the surtax before the 2022 edition of the SJC, even though the surtax is proposed as a constitutional amendment as opposed to the 1992 proposals for new state laws. .
“The proposed amendment does not address how the Legislative Assembly may spend funds other than those raised by the amendment. Therefore, the Attorney General’s summary need not comment on whether, as plaintiffs claim, the monies that have historically been spent on education and transportation could, at some point, be spent elsewhere,” Lowy wrote. “The summary need only describe the amendment itself; we believe it does so fairly.
During oral argument, Lowy questioned whether the phrase “subject to appropriation” was too “inside baseball” and floated the idea that additional summary language explicitly about the power of appropriation end of the legislature could be within limits. He and the SJC more broadly did not pursue this option.
After the court’s decision was released, the spokesperson for Mass. Fiscal Alliance’s Paul Craney said he was disappointed “that the judges are letting political considerations get in the way of providing unbiased information to the people of Massachusetts tasked with making this decision.”
“The language used to describe the question is extremely suggestive,” Craney said.
Governor Charlie Baker, who has criticized the income surtax and whose budget chief called it a “dangerous policy”, appointed the seven high court judges. Healey supports the surtax and is running for governor this year, leading that race in public opinion polls.
The proposal would move the state away from the flat tax rate structure enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution. If the amendment is approved by voters, the first million dollars of household income would still be taxed at the current tax rate of 5% and household income above that first million would be taxed at the effective rate of 9 %. That would add about $1.3 billion in annual revenue to the state, according to a report released this year by Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis.