To the editor: Please support the Fair Share Amendment, which would levy a surtax of 4 percent on income above $1 million, with the revenue earmarked for transportation, infrastructure and public education.
It’s on the ballot in Massachusetts this fall, and we’ll hear a lot from its well-funded opponents. Here’s what’s important: The amendment promotes fairness and equal opportunity. For two generations, the Massachusetts economy, like that of the whole country, has produced more millionaires and less opportunity. Governments have often made it worse. The 2017 federal tax law delivered 83 percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent of households.
Massachusetts funds roads and bridges mainly with sales and gas taxes, which are disproportionately costly for low-income people. We fund primary and secondary education largely from local property taxes, producing inequities between richer and poorer districts. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the average share of household income paid in state and local taxes is 6.8 percent for the top 1 percent of households, and 8.9 percent for the rest.
But it’s not just about unequal burdens. We’ve also made it harder to move up. In the 1980s, a young person with a minimum-wage job could pay their way through the University of Massachusetts without incurring debt. But since 1982, in-state tuition and fees have risen seven and a half times while consumer prices have gone up just over two and a half times. Our vocational high schools now have long waiting lists. In “liberal” Massachusetts, we’ve been cutting away the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Will the tax hit small businesses? No. Opponents of the amendment often equate “small business” with the reporting of “pass-through” income (via an S-corporation or partnership). But a U.S. Treasury study found that fewer than half of the filers who claimed pass-through income engaged in traditional business activity. The 2017 tax reform gave a 20 percent deduction on this income, leading more people (or rather, their accountants) to classify earnings this way. In any case, less than 0.6 percent of Massachusetts income tax filers report income over $1 million.
When we work hard and enjoy financial success, we like to tell ourselves that we’ve excelled in a fair race. Can we say this when our tax system is inequitable and public university is unaffordable? The Fair Share Amendment will get us back toward an equal opportunity Massachusetts.
Jim Mahon, Williamstown