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Pittsfield city council votes to back Mass. “Fair Share Amendment”

A stone building with a colonnade.
Josh Landes

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council has voted to endorse a November ballot proposal that would levy a 4% tax on annual income above $1 million.

The Fair Share Amendment would amend the state’s constitution to include the new tax on the wealthiest 1% of Massachusetts residents. Local advocates urged the Pittsfield city council to back the measure at its meeting Tuesday night.

“It will provide up to $2 billion annually in aid to the benefit of every village, town, and municipality in the commonwealth, intent on improving the conditions of its schools and its transportation infrastructure, areas that have been underfunded for decades," said Frank Farkas a member of the Berkshire Fair Share Committee. “Just think in concrete terms of what we'd be able to do with that infusion of cash. Think about our ability to restore our crumbling roads filled with potholes, let alone the bigger problem of deteriorating bridges, 10% of which need replacing statewide. Think of what it may do to enhance our school system, which dreams big about providing quality education for all but struggles to make the dream a reality. Think what it may do to bring down the cost of tuition in our community colleges and reduce the debt that students are saddled with, what it may mean for our public transportation system which is stretched to its limits.”

The tax, which would be adjusted yearly to reflect cost of living increases, would not apply to 99% of state residents.

“It accomplishes that remarkable workaround by introducing an element of progressive taxation in our state, a state that, despite its reputation as the cradle of democracy has, ironically, a flat tax benefiting the privileged few," said Farkas. "To boot, Fair Share does all that in perpetuity, unlike the one time funding from the American Rescue Plan and the federal infrastructure bill.”

The FSA advocates found a receptive audience on the dais.

“I support this because we're always looking for new ways to bring in revenue," said At-large city councilor Pete White. “We depend on the state, in many cases, to get that revenue when we're not looking at property taxes or raising local fees. This is a way that we can bring in more money for education, for infrastructure, for transportation without directly taxing, I think, most of our citizens, since it would be only a 4% tax on those earning over a million dollars a year. So it's not a millionaire's tax, it's a Fair Share Amendment.”

There was a voice of dissent.

“When this money is all pooled together, sent to the state, how much of it comes back home to Berkshire County? There's only like, 10, a couple thousand people making this kind of money in Massachusetts, in the commonwealth. Do we get half of it? One fourth of it? Less than 1% of it? So the money goes where? Does it go to Berkshire- Are we going to get what we would be expecting to get? Or is it actually just going to Boston, and making, and solving, and filling their potholes?” asked Ward 2 city councilor Charles Kronick. “Is it good policy, in general, when wanting to raise public monies, to find a demographic that you think ought to pay it? And sort of, where does that kind of lead you? So the question I have for myself- Does it sort of say, well, we got a million dollars in income, well, maybe it should be million dollars in wealth. Or maybe it should be half a million dollars. But we're going to start targeting individual groups of people, when maybe the real, the fundamental problem is not answered. The question remains open: Is the state not able to pay for its bridges? Is it unable to pay for schools? Is it really lacking this money? Or is it that they're asking for more money for these institutions? The schools keep asking, they want another 5% in the budget this year, notwithstanding we just lost how many percentage points in enrollment?”

In the final vote, only Kronick opposed backing the Fair Share Amendment, and Pittsfield’s city council officially stood behind the effort. Statewide, groups like the Massachusetts Teachers Association and politicians like Democratic House Speaker Ron Mariano have backed the FSA.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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