Several Massachusetts lawmakers join bid to redistribute tax relief
The day after progressive Democrats introduced a bill to limit the size of tax refunds set this fall to flow back in the largest amounts to the highest earners, bill sponsors said five legislators have signed on so far, but there's "no indication" that top House or Senate Democrats are on board.
State Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, filed the bill (HD 5394) Wednesday to set a $6,500 limit on the maximum tax credit high-income earners in Massachusetts can receive under the mandatory refund law known as Chapter 62F, which kicks in when tax collections soar.
The Reagan-era 1986 voter-approved law requires the state to return excess tax collections on a proportional basis equal to the amount of income they paid. It has only been triggered twice since its passage, but state Auditor Suzanne Bump indicated there's a chance it could be triggered again next year, Connolly said.
Bill sponsors held a press conference outside the Statehouse Thursday to promote the bill, saying it is "inequitable" for the highest earners to get disproportionately higher amounts back when the lowest-income earners are hurt the hardest by inflation.
"We're here this morning to once again sound the alarm about this gross transfer of wealth to the state's highest income earners," said Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton. "In this moment where so many people are feeling economic hardship and economic strain, it's unconscionable that the average millionaire will see a refund check of approximately $22,000, according to Mass Budget, and the average low income worker will see a refund check of $9."
The amount of each refund under 62F is designed to be scaled based on how much someone paid in state personal income taxes in 2021. Gov. Charlie Baker's budget office estimated the refunds will total about 13% of how much a taxpayer owed to Massachusetts in personal income tax.
Rep. Jamie Belsito, D-Topsfield, another cosponsor of the bill, echoed Eldridge's sentiments.
"When I'm in my own kitchen in my own home with my mother who lives in senior housing, and she's telling me that her friends in her housing complex can't even buy food that they normally could have bought six to 12 months ago because of inflation — we're not going to cut a $25,000 check for top earners in our state and turn around and say to our seniors, who are barely keeping it together, here's a $9 check for you," she said.
Belsito called the 1986 law, which legislators were blindsided by in the last hours of formal sessions in July and derailed a substantial economic development bill that still hasn't regained any traction, "a Reaganomics, trickle-down, Voodoo-economics hangover from 1986."
She, and fellow cosponsors of the bill, said they are determined to get this bill passed to reform 62F by the end of this session, to affect the tax return checks that are set to start going out in November. However, without support from legislative leaders or Baker — who legislators said also gave no indication of supporting the bill — they have a steep hill to climb before they get there.
"It's clear the governor would like to continue with his scheme of issuing advanced tax refunds," Connolly said.
Former state representative and current president of the New England Legal Foundation Daniel Winslow turned out for the press conference and said 62F cannot be changed at this point in the session "without just compensation under the Constitution."
"Going forward, the Legislature can do whatever it wishes to do and answer to the voters, but if they try to change this law and take away the $3 billion, they would have to answer to the Constitution," he said.
Connolly said during the press conference that the bill does not seek to take away any of the $2.9 billion owed back to taxpayers under the law, just redistribute part of the money going to high-earners.
Winslow said the legal foundation is "prepared to go to court" if the 62F is not followed as written.
"If they change the law retroactively, they would have to answer to the courts," he said.