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Group behind Fair Share Amendment effort in Mass. says Healey’s tax plan is “enormous windfall” for the 1%

Berkshire County legislators John Barrett, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Smitty Pignatelli, and Adam Hinds attend the Fair Share Amendment rally at Berkshire Community College.
Josh Landes
In April 2022, Berkshire County legislators John Barrett, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Smitty Pignatelli, and Adam Hinds attended a Fair Share Amendment rally at Berkshire Community College.

In 2022, Massachusetts voters approved the Fair Share Amendment – also known as Question 1 or the millionaire’s tax – that levies a new 4% tax on income over $1 million. 52% of voters backed the measure, which designated all money raised by the new tax to be used toward roads, bridges, public education, and public transportation. After Governor Maura Healey unveiled her $742 million tax plan last week, supporters of the Fair Share Amendment – from activists to legislators – are voicing concerns that it would effectively invalidate the new law.

Berkshire County leaders like State Senator Paul Mark and State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier both oppose Healey’s proposal. Communications consultant Andrew Farnitano of Crawford Strategies is a spokesperson for Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition of labor unions, faith-based organizations, and community groups that worked to pass the Fair Share Amendment. He spoke with WAMC.

FARNITANO: The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition worked over the last eight years to pass the Fair Share Amendment, which won on the November ballot and creates a 4% tax on income over a million dollar, with revenue from that tax constitutionally dedicated to transportation and public education.

WAMC: The coalition is now speaking out against Governor Maura Healey’s new $742 million tax plan. Can you explain why the coalition is speaking out against it, and how it relates to the efforts of the Fair Share Amendment?

So, voters were very clear in November that they wanted higher taxes on the richest 1% in order to spend more money on education and transportation across the state. We have huge needs for investment, from East-West Rail to local roads and bridges to our schools and colleges across the state. These are areas that are holding our state back from its full potential and that need greater state investment. We're very concerned that the governor's proposal to cut state taxes by a billion dollars each year would undermine the Fair Share Amendment’s goals of a fairer tax system and more revenue for investment in critical public goods. Specifically, we're very concerned that the governor's proposals to cut the estate tax and the short-term capital gains tax would amount to enormous windfall to the richest 1% in our state. The proposal that the governor has made on the estate tax would give $182,000 to some of the wealthiest families in the state. We're talking about not just smaller estates of $2 million or $3 million, but the estate of a person with a $20 million, $40 million, $80 million estate would receive a $182,000 tax credit. We don't think that's good tax policy, and we don't think that's the will of the voters who just voted for those wealthy members of our society to pay more.

The Healey administration has framed the reduction of short-term capital gains tax as an effort to drive the state's economic competitiveness. Can you speak to that claim from Healey?

Yeah, so when you look at the real challenges to Massachusetts’ competitiveness, it's the cost of housing, the cost of childcare, the cost of our public colleges, those large costs that middle class families are facing that are pushing people to leave for lower cost states. Our affordability crisis in Massachusetts is not about the tax rate that stock traders and real estate investors pay on their short-term trading. It's about those broader cost drivers in our society that will take government investment to fix. We need to be building more affordable housing, investing in our transportation system to make it work better for people to get around the state, making childcare and higher education more affordable for families. And that will take state revenue, so we shouldn't be giving it away to the ultra-rich.

Now the tax plan has been hailed by groups like the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, which praises it for lowering the cost of doing business in Massachusetts, once again, hailing it as a way to rebuild competitiveness. And specifically, they say that “tax relief is an important piece of the strategy to recruit, retain, develop, and diversify our talent pool and pipeline.” Any thoughts on the Business Roundtable’s angle on the tax plan?

When you talk to lobbying groups that are paid to advocate for lower taxes, they will tell you that tax cuts are the answer. When you have an honest conversation with business owners, they will tell you that taxes play a very small role in their decisions to locate or grow their business. What they care most about is a well-educated workforce, a transportation system that lets their employees get to and from their plant or their office, and the affordable housing that their workers need to live and build a career in Massachusetts. So, we think the state government needs to do more to make Massachusetts affordable for middle class workers. And ultimately, that's going to be the best way to help businesses.

Are there aspects of the Healey budget and tax plan that Raise Up Massachusetts supports?

Certainly. There are there are several that the governor has proposed. That would make our tax system fairer for low income and middle-income families. Her proposals to improve the child tax credit to improve the deduction for renters and her proposal to improve tax credits for low-income seniors are designed to put more money in the hands of working people, and that's very in line with the goals of the Fair Share Amendment. We're primarily concerned about the overall cost of the package and the pieces that are targeted at the very rich.

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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