Should Massachusetts consider adopting a graduated income tax?
Amanda Smith, Malden Democratic activist and member of Progressive Massachusetts
If you ask most people, fairness is something we value strongly. But our income tax system here in Massachusetts is incredibly unfair, and it fails to generate adequate revenue to fund important public services that make Massachusetts a place where businesses thrive and people want to live.
We have a flat tax system, which our state Constitution mandates. By taxing everyone at the same rate, a flat tax overly burdens low and middle income families while taxing the very wealthy the least. A family making $30,000 or $100,000 is taxed at the same rate as a family making $1 million or $10 million. So the responsibility of funding public services falls disproportionately on those who are the most strapped financially — especially in a high cost of living state like ours — while those who’ve been doing very well for decades avoid paying their fair share.
According to a recent survey by WalletHub, Americans overwhelmingly reject the idea of a flat tax and instead favor progressive taxation, where people pay income taxes in accordance with their ability to pay. In such a system, the wealthiest families pay a higher percentage than low and middle inco
me families. It makes complete sense to me: low and middle income families have less income to contribute, while the wealthiest are more able to pay and arguably have benefited the most from our stable system of government and community infrastructure.
I support proposals by several Massachusetts legislators to adopt a progressive taxation system. The flat tax is an outmoded model for a modern economy, and it’s holding us back.
We’ve neglected our schools and infrastructure for decades and the evidence of that neglect is everywhere: decaying bridges that have to be closed, roads that are falling apart, subway tracks and trains that are becoming dangerous, schools that are crying out for updates and expansion. If we want young people and families to stay here — if we want businesses to invest here — then we must invest in our communities. But that investment should not be made disproportionately on the backs of low and middle income families who are barely hanging on financially in this very difficult economy.
Adopting a progressive taxation system would enable us to make the needed investments in our state, and to do so in the fairest way possible.
Ted Tripp, president of the North Andover Taxpayers Association
When I first heard that state Senator James Eldridge (D, Acton) filed legislation to amend the state Constitution to allow for a graduated income tax, I immediately thought of President Ronald Reagan’s famous quote: “There you go again.” The tax-and-spend crowd on Beacon Hill never seems to get tired of making us poorer as they pursue the Holy Grail of a graduated income tax. Once achieved, this is supposed to solve all of our problems. Just look how well this has worked at the federal level.
Adoption of a graduated income tax has been on the ballot five times (1962, 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1994), and each time the voters have defeated it by approximately 70 percent to 30 percent. In 1994, the opposition was led by Barbara Anderson and Citizens for Limited Taxation with the slogan “It’s a Tax Trap.” The trap is that if the graduated tax passes, first they will come after the rich, then the near rich, then the almost rich, then eventually the middle class where the real money is. We will all end up paying more because the purpose of the change in law is to raise unlimited amounts of money.
In 1994 when the tax was last on the ballot, only 30 of the 351 Massachusetts communities voted for it. None were in Essex or Middlesex Counties.
We already have the fifth highest per capita tax burden of any state in the country. Maybe Senator Eldridge would like to make us number one, but I think he would have a hard time convincing the voters that this is a prudent thing to do.
Perhaps the Beacon Hill politicians should be devoting their energy to finding out why the Reason Foundation says our highway administrative repair costs are seven times the national average, or trying to get MassHealth costs under control so we don’t have a $700+ million budget shortfall. The difference is that these efforts require real work and critical thinking with tough decisions. For some, however, it’s just so much easier to sit back in a nice leather chair in a plush office and file a bill to raise taxes.
I mentioned the Reagan quote early on. Another one comes to mind as I close: Einstein’s definition of “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Globe correspondent Brenda Buote solicited opinions for this exchange. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.