BOSTON — The millionaires’ tax referendum bill is shaping up to be the most expensive issue of the November ballot, with groups on either side of the issue pouring nearly $20 million into campaigns, according to new documents.
The referendum, which is backed by a coalition of labor and community groups, will ask voters on Nov. 8 to amend the state Constitution to establish a new 4% surtax on the portion of an individual’s annual income above $1 million. The money would be earmarked for transportation and education projects.
But the battle to sway public opinion on the referendum is also becoming a multimillion-dollar brawl, with both sides raising and spending huge sums of money.
Fair Share Massachusetts and two other polling committees supporting the proposed surtax reported raising more than $10.7 million since Jan. 1, according to new documents filed with the Office of Campaign and Public Finance.
Unions made the majority of contributions to the Yes on 1 campaign, pumping more than $9 million into the voting committee. The National Education Association contributed $4 million, while the Massachusetts Teachers Association donated $4 million to the campaign.
SEIU Local 1199, which represents healthcare workers, contributed $400,000, while the Boston Carmen’s Union, which represents MBTA workers, contributed $20,000, according to filings. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO has donated $800,000 so far.
But the Yes on 1 campaign also lists around 300 individual contributions from supporters who participated in the campaign with smaller contributions.
“The super-rich CEOs and wealthy investors who fund the opposition to Question 1 are spending millions trying to scare people because they don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes,” said Lillian Lanier, director pitch for the Yes on 1 campaign.
The group says it is trying to enlist the support of a small army of volunteers who have gone door-to-door to sway undecided voters across the state.
“In neighborhoods across the state, we’re having face-to-face conversations so voters understand that Question 1 means a fairer tax system and better schools, roads and bridges,” Lanier said.
Meanwhile, opponents of the proposal have raised more than $9 million in contributions since the start of the year, according to documents filed by the OCPF.
Among the biggest contributors were billionaire David James, CEO and chairman of New Balance, and Bain Capital executive Paul Edgerley and his wife, real estate developer Sandra Edgerley, who each gave $500,000 to the campaign.
Connecticut-based Rand-Whitney Containerboard and Boston-based Suffolk Construction each contributed $1 million, according to documents filed by the OCPF.
Dan Cence, spokesperson for No on Question 1, said the group was on the airwaves this week with new TV ads targeting what he said would be the “biggest tax increase ever” by the government. state and pushing back against the demands of referendum supporters.
“Proponents claim it will only raise taxes on Massachusetts’ top earners, but in reality, Question 1 would nearly double the income tax rate for tens of thousands of small business owners, family farmers, retirees and other Massachusetts residents,” he said. in a report. “Our advertisements reflect this reality.”
Opponents argue the proposed excise tax will hurt businesses, drive out the wealthy and dampen the pandemic-stricken state’s economy.
Critics also say the effort is a backdoor attempt to replace the state’s fixed 5% income tax with a graduated rate, which voters have repeatedly rejected.
They say it would also impact “transparent” businesses – where profits flow through owners’ personal tax returns and business income is taxed at personal rates.
Proponents argue that the state’s highest earners can afford to dig deeper into their pockets to raise much-needed funds for education and transportation.
They say it will raise around $2 billion for education and transport projects, and dispute claims that the money could be used for other purposes.
A similar tax referendum on millionaires was to appear in the November 2018 ballot, until the SJC declared it unconstitutional.
In June, the SJC dismissed a lawsuit by opponents claiming the ballot question was unconstitutional because it could include a misleading summary confusing voters.
A recent MassINC poll showed strong support — around 70% — among Massachusetts voters for approving a tax on the state’s top earners.
The referendum is one of four statewide voting questions awaiting voters in the Nov. 8 election, which include proposals to expand retail beer and wine sales, limit dental expenses by setting spending requirements on private insurance companies and repealing a law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented migrants. immigrants.
Question 2 – which seeks to regulate dental insurance – has become the second costliest referendum to date. Groups opposed to the changes outpaced supporters by a 5-to-1 margin, raising more than $4.9 million to about $1 million raised by supporters, according to OCPF filings.
In Massachusetts, the sky is the limit for contributions to polling matters committees. Unlike contributions to individual candidates, donations to referendum campaigns are unlimited, and corporations are often involved, as are special interests, unions and others.
In 2020, the committees behind ballot issues to update the state’s “right to repair” law and allow preferential voting poured more than $60.7 million into their campaigns, making it one of the costliest election cycles in recent years.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]