Income surtax in constitution “bypasses compromise,” speaker says

Boston Statehouse

FILE – This Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019 file photo shows part of a 1040 federal tax form printed from the Internal Revenue Service website. On Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s tax rate on a family making $75,000 dollars a year would go from 12% to 25%. A current federal tax rate of 12% applies to families making up to $80,000, or individuals making up to $40,000. That would still apply under Biden, who has vowed publicly not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000. (Associated Press)

BOSTON (SHNS) – House Speaker Ron Mariano has voted against a proposed tax on the wealthy earning over $1 million a year and more recently for the proposed Constitutional amendment, but with supporters hoping for a second and final vote in the Legislature this spring the speaker made clear Thursday he’s been no fan of the process.

“It really bypasses the whole spirit of the Legislature. It bypasses compromise. It bypasses the ability to work for a better product on the issue, and it’s very frustrating for us,” Mariano said during a question-and-answer session with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber CEO Jim Rooney asked Mariano to talk about the trend of advocates using ballot questions to “create legislation” and “without getting into sort of what it’s for, the use of the Constitutional Convention to actually sort of put what we think of as legislative policy into our Constitution that is now hard to reverse once it’s in there.” While Mariano and Rooney danced around the specific question of the millionaire’s tax, which would add a 4 percent surtax on all income earned over $1 million, Mariano made clear he knew what Rooney was hinting at. “I’d love to be able to sit down, and I know what we’re talking about here, and have a discussion of tax policy. But instead we have this or nothing and it’s a difficult choice for legislators,” Mariano said.

Before he was speaker, Mariano initially voted against putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot to add a surtax on millionaires, but supported the measure when it came up for a vote in 2020. The Legislature must vote one more time either this year or next year in order for the question to advance to the 2022 ballot, and supporters have been hoping it would surface this spring.

“As you said, if it passes and it’s baked into the Constitution it’s very very difficult to change it,” Mariano said. “It’s a process that’s used by people who are frustrated because their positions may be too extreme to get enough support to get a bill through the House, so they resort to, I call it an end run around the Legislature.”

Last year, the joint session of the House and Senate voted 147-48 in favor of putting the wealth surtax on the ballot, including a 112-43 vote in the House. A tax expert suggested Wednesday that lawmakers could scrap the idea of a constitutional amendment to impose a surtax on household income over $1 million and instead repeal the constitution’s requirement for a flat tax and impose the graduated income tax rate through traditional legislation.

The current version of the millionaire’s tax was filed by Rep. Jim O’Day in House after a push by a coalition of civic, labor and religious groups known as the Raise Up Coalition to amendment the Constitution was ruled ineligible for the ballot as a citizen-generated petition. 

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