BOSTON (CN) – By a 5-2 vote Monday, the highest court in Massachusetts killed a ballot question that could have levied a 4 percent tax on millionaire residents.
Justice Frank Gaziano wrote for the majority this morning that the ballot question missed the mark because of stipulations about how the excess tax revenue should be spent.
Though the income-tax rate in Massachusetts today is a flat 5.1 percent, the ballot initiative at issue would have levied an additional 4 percent tax on annual income beyond $1 million. Education and transportation were slated to benefit from the excess revenue, but Gaziano said these provisions technically created three separate questions.
“The two subjects of the earmarked funding themselves are not related beyond the broadest conceptual level of public good,” the 39-page opinion states. “In addition, they are entirely separate from the subject of a stepped rather than a flat-rate income tax, which, by itself, has been the subject of five prior initiative petitions.”
While four associate justices concurred with Gaziano, Chief Justice Ralph Gants agreed with Justice Kimberly Budd in dissent that the ballot initiative could have been salvaged.
“The constitutional text is the written expression of the Constitutional Convention’s intent to ensure that ballot questions containing multiple severable distinct, independent, and unrelated subjects cannot be asked of voters together in one ballot question, but instead must be severed and asked of voters independently,” Budd wrote.
Raise Up Massachusetts, which was the primary supporter of the Millionaire Tax initiative, attributed their defeat Monday to corporate lobbyists.
“It is stunning that these business groups would overturn the will of the more than 157,000 voters who signed petitions to qualify the Fair Share Amendment for the ballot, and of two overwhelming majorities in consecutive Constitutional Conventions,” the organization said in a statement. “This decision does not change the fact that Massachusetts desperately needs major investments in our schools and colleges, our roads and bridges, and our public transportation systems. It does not change the fact that our wealthiest residents can afford to pay a little more to make those investments.”
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation meanwhile celebrated the ruling for backing “the time-honored constitutional principle that limits the initiative process.”
“By rejecting the notion that a small special interest group can usurp legislative power by including unrelated tax and spending provisions in the same ballot initiative, the court has preserved the state’s ability to make deliberative and fiscally sound choices,” the organization said in a statement.