With First Ad, Surtax Fight is Coming to Bay State Living Rooms

Supporters Say Only the “Super-Rich” Will Pay More

AUG. 17, 2022…..More than half a decade after supporters launched their first effort to put a ballot question imposing a higher tax rate on wealthy households before voters, the campaign shifted into a new gear Wednesday morning.

Supporters behind the proposed constitutional amendment adding a 4 percent surtax on annual household income above $1 million launched their first television ad, seeking an early entrance to the airwaves ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

Organizers did not say exactly how much they spent to launch their TV spot, describing the first segment as “part of an eight-figure TV ad campaign that will run through Election Day.”

The 30-second advertisement opens by citing reports from the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center — which supports the ballot question — that found the top 1 percent of households in the Bay State pay a smaller share of their total income, about 6.8 percent, toward state and local taxes than all others, who pay an average share of about 8.9 percent.

“It’s true: they pay less and we pay more. Question 1 changes that so those making over $1 million a year pay their fair share,” the ad’s narrator says. “Ninety-nine percent of us won’t pay a penny more.”

Under a structure enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution, the state currently taxes personal income at a flat 5 percent. The ballot question would continue to tax the first $1 million of any household’s income at that same rate, but every dollar above that level would instead be taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent.

Its text calls for the revenue to be steered toward transportation and education.

Opponents, who have yet to launch their own television campaign, argue that increasing the tax rate on higher earnings will prompt businesses to leave Massachusetts for states with lower tax burdens and will cut into nest eggs when small business owners sell their companies to support retirement.

The campaign fighting against the ballot question includes some of the most influential trade organizations and chambers of commerce, including the Massachusetts High Tech Council. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has also criticized the ballot measure during his time in office.

Public polls so far have shown more support than opposition among the electorate. A Suffolk University/Boston Globe survey of 569 registered voters in July found 56 percent in support, 36 percent opposed, and 7.5 percent undecided with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

“We began running TV ads this week, but our campaign supporters — educators, parents, and neighbors all across the state — have already reached out to more than half a million voters going door-to-door and by phone,” Jeron Mariani, campaign manager for the coalition backing the question, said in a statement. “Through an expansive campaign over the airwaves, online, and on the ground, we’re telling voters about the facts of Question 1: that only the super-rich who earn more than $1 million a year will pay more, and we’ll all benefit from the $2 billion a year that is constitutionally dedicated to our schools, colleges, roads, bridges, and transit infrastructure.”

The ad pitches the proposal as a way to generate “$2 billion a year,” referring to a 2015 estimate by the Department of Revenue that the surtax would generate $1.9 billion annually. In January, the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University projected a smaller haul of $1.3 billion per year from about 21,000 taxpayers, representing less than 1 percent of Massachusetts households who earn about 22 percent of the statewide taxable income.

In 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court tossed an earlier version of the question from the ballot, ruling it improperly combined two spending priorities and a tax change. This year’s ballot question was filed by lawmakers, so it avoids that pitfall. The court this summer upheld the description of the measure produced by Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat who supports the policy and is running for governor.

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