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Activists advancing millionaires’ tax

Tax would only affect income over $1m

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A proposal to raise taxes on millionaires in Massachusetts was submitted to Attorney General Maura Healey last week.

The “Fair Share Amendment,” put forth by the coalition Raise Up Massachusetts, would bump up the income tax rate by four percent for those who make more than $1 million per year, thus generating additional revenue for state education and transportation systems.

“There’s a great need to invest more funding to improve our public schools and to make students able to afford to attend state colleges and universities,” said Lewis Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a partner in the coalition. “And with the transportation system, which was brought to a halt this winter, we have a number of dangerous bridges in the state, and an issue with the MBTA and its affordability.”

“That led us to the question of how to generate significantly more funds for the education and transportation needs that are so acute in Boston and other cities,” Finfer said. “This is the only way to raise a significant amount of money.”

The Fair Share Amendment would generate an estimated $1.3 billion in additional revenue per year.

With these extra funds, the state could eliminate tuition and fees for all current in-state students at all campus types ($653 million per year), provide universal early education ($606 million per year), or repair and replace the more than 450 structurally deficient bridges throughout Massachusetts ($800 million per year), according to MCAN.

Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, agrees that this new cash flow could have a big impact on the state. “Most economists feel that the foundations for state economic strength are having a well-educated work force and transportation and other infrastructure that supports business activity,” he says. “Generating over a billion dollars a year to invest in education and transportation could significantly improve the long-term prospects of the state.”

He adds: “$1.3 billion won’t solve all the problems our state faces, but it is enough to allow some fairly significant improvements in areas like making higher education more affordable, expanding access to early education and improving our transportation systems.”

Prosperity lanes

Calvin Feliciano, deputy political director of SEIU 509, another partner in the coalition, says these investments would have a real day-to-day impact on communities of color. “Large pockets of where communities of color are across the state, you can’t move around if you don’t have a car,” he says. “It becomes so much harder to find a job, and even if you found a job, how do you get there? How do you get from there to your kids’ school, or your kids’ school to home? We have to be able to know that if you send your kids to school, they can get there, and they’ll get a good education when they’re there.”

In this way, transportation and education are the “lanes” for families to get out of poverty and move towards prosperity, says Feliciano.

Although Raise Up Massachusetts enjoys political clout as a result of its recent victories ensuring earned sick time for all workers and raising the minimum wage to $11 per hour, it faces a difficult battle in the passage of the Fair Share Amendment.

The state constitution mandates a single tax rate for all residents, which currently stands at 5.15 percent. Any change requires a constitutional amendment. To do so, Raise Up Massachusetts needs to collect 65,000 signatures from registered voters, and the plan must be approved by the legislature twice before it can appear on the ballot in 2018.

Folks fed up

Amendments to the state’s flat tax system have been attempted five times before, and in each case have failed.

But Finfer said this time is different. Past campaigns were too vague, he explained, so people feared they would lead to broad tax increases without understanding where the money would go. The Fair Share Amendment, however, has clear targets for the extra revenue, and a precise cut-off for who has to pay more.

“There are only about 14,000 millionaires in a state of 6.7 million people,” he said. “No one who earns less than a million dollars would get any tax increase — that means if you earn $30,000 or $999,000.”

Feliciano also sees an advantage to pursing a constitutional amendment versus a tax increase through the legislature—this way the people get to decide.

“We’re bringing it to the people, bringing it to the communities,” he said. “The highest income bracket — the people who have been winning for years and doing well in the economy — pay the smallest share of state and local taxes.”

Despite the flat state income tax, after accounting for property and sales tax and federal tax deductions, the top one percent pays a smaller portion of their income than the remaining 99 percent. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a person making $860,000 or more per year will pay 6.4 percent of their income in taxes, while someone who makes less than $22,000 will pay 10.4 percent.

Feliciano said that’s not lost on folks: “When you say that to 99.9 percent of the people in Massachusetts, they think it’s ridiculous and they’re ready to do something about it.”

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