Ed secretary: Tax-raising amendment could damage economy, schools
BOSTON — A constitutional amendment raising taxes on millionaires to generate $1.9 billion for education and transportation would hurt the economy and damage the state's ability to support school services, Education Secretary James Peyser said Thursday.
"Definitely not," Peyser told the News Service following an event at the Omni-Parker House Hotel, which featured state education officials and educators. "I think it will weaken our economy and that will damage our ability as a Commonwealth to support the schools and the other services that we desperately need."
Peyser said he recognizes that there are people who think additional revenue is needed to help schools, but disagreed that higher taxes are necessary to improve schools.
"I don't think the issues that we face as a Commonwealth here are really about the fact that we don't have enough revenue. It's about how we're using our revenues wisely and well," he said.
Gov. Charlie Baker, who opposed new or higher taxes while campaigning but refused to sign a no-new-taxes pledge, has twice passed on opportunities to declare his opposition to the tax amendment.
Peyser noted the Baker administration increased aid to the K-12 school system in last year's budget and said those types of investments will continue.
"I think the administration is clearly focused on trying to make sure that we're being as fiscally responsible as possible, trying to make some tough choices, which I think we need to make in order to really get value out of the dollars that we have", he said.
A proposed constitutional amendment (H 3933) would establish a 4 percent surtax on income in excess of $1 million, raising the tax rate for those earnings to about 9 percent, and is designed to dedicate the additional revenue to education and transportation initiatives.
Mary-Ann Stewart, parent representative on the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, supported the amendment last week, when it was heard by the Legislature's Revenue Committee.
"Our schools lack the funding they need to give all students a complete, quality education that includes music, art, and athletics. When they graduate, students are forced to take on enormous debt to receive a degree from our public colleges and universities," Steward said in a statement. "We need to reinvest in quality public education so that all students have access to the well-rounded education and affordable college they need to succeed."
Asked by the News Service his position on the amendment, Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said he doesn't have an opinion and is "not sufficiently up to speed" on the measure, which has grabbed headlines since tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have signed on to the effort.
Chester said he's more worried about the impact of another ballot question that would repeal Common Core education standards, which he said would "essentially pull the rug out" from underneath teachers who have developed their curriculum and cost districts more money.
The constitutional amendment needs 50 votes of support this year and again in the 2017-2018 session to advance to the ballot in 2018.
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