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Legal Challenge Filed To Millionaires Tax Initiative In Massachusetts


   The stage is being set for a fight in Massachusetts’ highest court over whether a question on raising taxes on the rich can appear on next year’s ballot.

    In a legal brief filed with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, opponents of the ballot initiative to put a 4 percent surcharge on annual income over $1 million and earmark the additional revenue for transportation and education describe the idea as “truly radical.”

   The brief was filed by attorneys representing five people from the state’s business community who are challenging the constitutionality of the ballot question.  The proposal asking voters to amend the state’s constitution is backed by a coalition of labor unions and left-leaning activists. They call it the Fair Share Amendment.

  Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, calls it a bad idea.

"The mission of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is to promote the long term economic well being of the Commonwealth and we feel this ballot initiative has negative long term implications for the way we budget, so we challenged whether or not it is valid," McAnneny said in an interview earlier this year after the lawsuit was initially filed.

  Joining McAnneny as plaintiffs in the suit are Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Richard Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Christopher Carlozzi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, and Daniel O’Connell, president of Massachusetts Competitive Partnership.

" Putting the economic and fiscal concerns aside for a moment, there are three reasons why we think it should not go before voters next year," said McAnneny.

The plaintiffs argue the question should be stricken from the ballot because it violates a prohibition on asking voters to decide multiple unrelated topics in a single question.  They further argue the ballot initiative process cannot be used to direct how money is spent in the state budget or to set tax rates.

" It has huge implications," said McAnneny.

Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office certified the question to appear on the ballot, and Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin, who is the state’s top election official, are the defendants in the case.  The two Democrats have until January 12, 2018 to file their briefs with the court.

Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition behind the ballot measure, has intervened in the case and is also expected to file a brief by January 12.    Spokesman Steve Crawford said the ballot initiative was thoroughly vetted by lawyers before the signature gathering effort started two years ago.

  " There is precedent on our side, history on our side," said Crawford.

  The case is scheduled for oral arguments in front of the justices of Supreme Judicial Court in Boston on February 5, 2018.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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