Summary language fails to clarify a critical matter for voters—an overall increase in education and transportation funding is not mandatory since other revenue is entirely fungible
BOSTON – To ensure that Massachusetts voters will have an accurate description of the tax hike amendment to the state Constitution when they cast their ballots in November, PioneerLegal has filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit challenging the Attorney General’s summary language and “yes”/”no” statements that describe the amendment. The suit will be heard by the Commonwealth’s Supreme Judicial Court.
The amendment to the state Constitution would add a 4 percent surtax on all annual income over $1 million, including capital gains (sales of homes and other assets) and most small business income. The proposed summary language put forward by the Attorney General and the Secretary of State reads that the revenue from the tax will be dedicated to fund public education and transportation.
“While revenue from the tax would be deposited in transportation and education accounts,” said Brackett Denniston, chairman of PioneerLegal, “there is nothing to prohibit lawmakers from diverting money previously dedicated to transportation and education to different purposes, as has occurred in other states.”
Authored by Daniel P. Ryan, Caroline A. Kupiec, and Jillian Friedmann of Sullivan & Worcester at the request of PioneerLegal, the brief establishes four key points:
- The Legislature is granted constitutional authority in the budgeting process, which allows it to allocate funding among various budget categories. The brief outlines how the Attorney General’s own brief on an identical proposal in 2018 concedes that surtax revenues are fungible and may not result in any increase in appropriations for education and transportation. In the argument of the case before the Supreme Judicial Court, the Attorney General’s counsel also conceded this point and Chief Justice Gants made the same point (cf. linked video, minute 52:00).
- The Legislature could have required that surtax revenues be additive to current education and transportation spending but explicitly rejected legislative attempts to do so. During their debates on the proposed ballot measure, legislators made their intentions crystal clear by rejecting two amendments (by votes of 154-39 and 156-40) requiring new revenues to be invested in addition to existing expenditures.
- A close analysis of the annual budget for education and transportation, which together exceed $18 billion, as well as their component parts — line-item expenditures, dedicated funds, and special obligation bonds — demonstrate this fungibility, based on the Massachusetts Constitution and well established legislative practice.
- Finally, the brief provides a close analysis of the experience in California, where revenues derived from a similarly “dedicated education” tax largely substituted existing appropriations, which were then diverted to other purposes.
“It is of utmost importance that any ballot initiative that seeks to amend the Massachusetts Constitution is accurately described to voters,” said Denniston. “Absent an accurate summary of the effect of a vote, citizens of the Commonwealth are, in fact, robbed of their voice in the governance of Massachusetts.”
PioneerLegal, LLC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan legal research and litigation entity that defends and promotes educational options, accountable government, and economic opportunity across the Northeast and around the country. Through legal action and public education, PioneerLegal works to preserve and enhance liberties grounded in the constitutions and civil rights laws of the United States and the individual New England states.