Massachusetts employers are profoundly disappointed that Attorney General Maura Healey today certified an ill-considered proposed amendment to the state constitution that would impose a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million.
Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) believes the proposal would cripple a state economy that relies heavily on tens of thousands of subchapter S corporations and other entities that pay taxes at individual rates. The association also argued before the attorney general that the proposal violates the state constitution’s prohibition against ballot questions creating specific appropriations.
An Initiative Petition for an Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth to Provide Resources for Education and Transportation through an additional tax on incomes in excess of One Million Dollars represents an appropriation, according to AIM, because it requires the legislature to use revenues from the surtax exclusively for transportation and education. The proposal could appear on the statewide election ballot in 2018.
Healey certified one other constitutional amendment and 20 referendum questions this morning. The referendum proposals, which could appear on the 2016 ballot, include ones calling for the expansion of dysfunctional renewable-energy targets and financial penalties for retail stores or fast-food restaurants that change an employee’s schedule within 14 days of a shift.
The attorney general did not certify several versions of a proposed constitutional amendment specifying that corporations are not people and asserting the right of the courts to limit political contributions.
Proponents of the $1 million earnings surtax will have to collect 64,750 signatures from registered voters to move the process forward. Then one-quarter of the state Legislature must vote to advance the proposal, in two consecutive legislative sessions, before it can go to the voters in November 2018.
The initiative would scrap Massachusetts’ current flat income tax under which everyone pays at a rate of 5.15 percent — and create a two-tiered system, with all income above $1 million taxed at four percentage points more. The result would be an 80 percent tax increase on that income.
Massachusetts voters have repeatedly rejected efforts to impose a graduated income tax. The last effort, in 1994, lost by a two-to-one margin.
“We believe that ballot questions are a clumsy and inefficient way to make public policy,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at the association.
“Employers remain particularly concerned about a constitutional amendment that would limit the ability of employers to create jobs by draining investment capital out of the private sector and into bureaucratic government programs.”
Proponents argue that the tax will target people whose paychecks top $1 million annually. But the change will also effect capital gains, interest, wages, business and other types of taxes on individual company owners. Among the companies affected would be partnerships, limited liability corporations, sole proprietorships and subchapter S corporations.
The amendment would make Massachusetts’ top rate one of the highest in the country, according to figures compiled by the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington.
Promoters of the initiative include some of the most powerful unions in the state: SEIU, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
AIM members interested in learning more about the proposed amendment may contact AIM Government Affairs at 617.262.1180.