The Legislature will vote again tomorrow on an amendment to the state constitution to impose an additional four percent tax on the income of persons that exceeds a million dollars annually.
This will be the second of two legislative votes the constitution requires for amendments that originate as initiative petitions. The proposed amendment received 135 “yes” votes from the 200 members of the Legislature last year, far more than the 50 necessary to advance. Another 50 or more “yes” votes tomorrow will put keep the amendment on track to appear on the 2018 statewide ballot.
But the closer the amendment gets to a popular vote the more opposition it attracts. For example, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, which sat things out last year, is joining forces with other business groups in a legal challenge aimed at knocking it off the ballot.
And last year’s opponents are ratcheting up their efforts this year. Associated Industries of Massachusetts is running a multi-episode series entitled “The Constitutional Amendment Tax Trap” to puncture what it regards as myths (sample myths: the state has a revenue problem, the state needs to invest more in transportation, high income earners are not paying their fair share).
Likewise, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association is rushing to the aid of the 19,600 residents of the state who would be subject to the additional tax, warning the rest of us against penalizing talent (their word) in this way. They offer an ominous scenario in which some — or all — of the top 900 of these residents (that is, those whose annual earnings exceed $10 million, aka, the top one-one hundredth of one percent) just take their ball and go elsewhere, leaving the state with less revenue than before. In other words, income inequality in Massachusetts has reached the point where it’s being suggested that our tax policy ought to beseech our biggest plutocrats not to leave.
Anyway, stay tuned – this battle isn’t over.
The Koch brothers and their allies think it would be a swell idea if the states got together to have a convention for the purpose of adopting amendments to the Constitution.
And they’re working at getting the state legislatures in 34 states (a two-thirds majority) to ask for one, as Article V of the Constitution provides. Right now, they’re at 28, and several more states are targets in this year’s legislative sessions. The amendments at the top of the wish-list would require a balanced budget and would limit federal power in other unspecified ways. And as misguided as those ideas are, it’s even worse — there’s nothing to stop a convention from entertaining other amendments once it gets underway, so we could also be looking at proposals doing away with same-sex marriage and even the most modest form of gun control, not to mention due process and equal protection. (Before you get too jittery, any amendments would have to be ratified by 38 states, a three-quarters majority.)
You’re probably thinking it can’t happen here in Massachusetts. And you’re probably right that our Legislature will not join the 28 on board so far. But there is a bill pending before the Election Laws Committee to have Massachusetts join the ranks of states asking for a convention. It was filed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and it proposes a convention “limited to proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government [and] limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.”
(Senator Tarr on other occasions is not so unhinged and sometimes his proposals are laudable: for example he has filed legislation to prohibit broadband providers in Massachusetts from using or selling their customers’ internet histories without permission, reinstating an Obama-era rule that President Trump did away with.)
The Election Laws Committee has not scheduled a hearing date yet. It will be interesting to hear testimony in support of the bill, especially explanations about how amendments proposed by a convention of the states could be limited in the way the Senator fondly hopes. Stay tuned, and meanwhile, if you have friends in Maine, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Washington or Idaho, tell them to be on the lookout. Those Legislatures are the ones the Kochs are pursuing.