Graduated Income Tax Ballot Question is Misleading to Voters

Earlier today, a group of Massachusetts voters, including Democratic and Republican legislators, business owners, and others, filed a complaint with the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), challenging the Attorney General’s and Secretary of the Commonwealth’s failure to propose fair and accurate language regarding the proposed Graduated Income Tax Amendment slated to appear on the November 2022 Massachusetts ballot. Two Fiscal Alliance Foundation Board Members are plaintiffs in the suit. A full copy of the suit is available here.

Additional plaintiffs include Chris Anderson of the Massachusetts High Tech Council, Rick Green, founder of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, Paul Diego Craney, board member of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute, and Chris Carlozzi of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The lawmakers that are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are State Representative Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), David DeCoste (R-Norwell), Nick Boldyga (R-Southwick) and Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica). This lawsuit is being litigated by Kevin Martin, the lawyer who successful challenged a very similar ballot question in 2018 before the SJC which ultimately led it to being tossed.

The graduated income tax has been before the voters six past times and each time it failed to pass. Proponents of the measure consistently have held out the promise of new public education and transportation funding as a direct result of the tax increase. The proponents push polls show that many voters support the Amendment only because of that promise of new investments in public education and transportation. 

As the lawsuit explains, however, the promise of new public education and transportation spending is an empty one, because the Amendment imposes no real limits on how the state Legislature can spend the new tax revenues.  Simply put, the Amendment allows a shell game.  By moving money around, the Legislature can spend the new tax revenues on whatever it wants.  There is no guaranty whatsoever that the unprecedented tax increase will lead to any new investments in public education or transportation.   

Massachusetts law requires that summaries of ballot measures that appear before voters be fair and not misleading.  Any summary of the Graduated Income Tax Amendment that suggests the new tax revenues only can fund new education and transportation spending would be exactly that - unfair and misleading.

In November 2021, some of the plaintiffs wrote to the Attorney General and Secretary of the Commonwealth to ask that the language on the ballot clarify for voters that the Legislature would retain discretion over how the new tax revenues are spent, using language Attorney General had previously used herself.  The plaintiffs never heard back.

“Voting on proposed constitutional amendments is among a citizen’s most solemn and important duties. Voters should not be misled into voting for an amendment the substance of which they actually oppose,” said small business owner and Fiscal Alliance Foundation Board Member, Mike Kane. “The Graduated Income Tax Amendment presents such a nightmare scenario: many voters support the Amendment because they believe the new revenues must be used only for new education and transportation spending, and when they learn the truth, they oppose it.”

We feel strongly that if the Attorney General does not amend the summary to reflect the Legislature’s discretion, then the Amendment should be excluded from the ballot.

As always, we will keep you posted on the latest developments.