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FILE - $100 bills are pictured July 23, 2014. (Pictures of Money / CC BY 2.0 via MGN)

Court blocks 'millionaire tax' question from state ballot

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By BOB SALSBERG, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts' highest court on Monday struck down a proposed "millionaire tax" ballot question, blocking it from going before state voters in November and ending advocates' hopes for generating some $2 billion in additional revenue for education and transportation.

The Supreme Judicial Court, in a 5-2 ruling, said the initiative petition should not have been certified by Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey because it violated the "relatedness" clause of the state constitution that prohibits ballot questions from mingling unrelated subjects — in this case, taxing and spending.

The proposed constitutional amendment — referred to by its proponents as the "Fair Share Amendment," would have imposed a surtax of 4 percent on any portion of an individual's annual income that exceeds $1 million. The measure called for revenues from the tax to be earmarked for transportation and education.

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Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Frank Gaziano said a voter who supported the surtax but opposed earmarking the funds for a specific purpose would be left "in the untenable position of choosing which issue to support and which must be disregarded."

The justices offered hypothetical examples of voters who might support spending on one priority but not the other, such as a subway commuter with no school-age children.

The measure had been poised to reach voters in November after receiving sufficient support from the Legislature in successive two-year sessions. But several business groups, including the Massachusetts High Technology Council and Associated Industries of Massachusetts, sued to block it.

The court's ruling was a devastating blow for Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor unions, community and religious organization that collected more than 150,000 signatures in support of the millionaire tax.

"We are incredibly disappointed that a few wealthy corporate executives and their lobbyists brought this lawsuit that blocked the right of Massachusetts voters to amend our state's constitution," the coalition said in a statement.

A constitutional amendment was required to implement the surtax because of the current requirement of a uniform or "flat" tax rate. Massachusetts is among only nine states with a flat tax, but previous attempts to change the constitution to allow a graduated income tax in Massachusetts were defeated by voters.

Opponents of the surtax said it could hurt the state's economy and business climate by causing wealthy taxpayers and entrepreneurs to flee Massachusetts. Supporters contended there was no evidence of that happening in states that already impose higher tax rates on the wealthy.

Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which joined in the lawsuit, said after the ruling that Monday was "a great day for all Massachusetts taxpayers," because the court had upheld longstanding limitations on ballot questions.

"By invalidating this ballot initiative, the court has signaled that the end does not justify the means, no matter how popular the proposal," she said in a statement.

Several recent polls had suggested broad public support for the measure.

The SJC's chief justice, Ralph Gants, and associate justice Kimberly Budd dissented from the majority opinion.

Budd wrote in a dissenting opinion that the court's analysis of the relatedness provision was "flawed" and keeping the proposal from voters was "incompatible with the separation of powers principles" in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

The SJC ruling could indirectly impact ongoing negotiations over several other proposed ballot questions, including ones calling for a reduction in the state sales tax, a $15 minimum wage and mandatory paid family leave for all workers.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has suggested a "grand bargain" — meaning some sort of compromise — that could keep those other questions off the ballot.

Baker had never taken a formal position on the millionaire tax.

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