At the end of last week Charlie posted a column about our relatively high tax inequity in relation to that of other states.
At the same time progressivemax posted notice of the first general meeting of Massachusetts Democrats for Reform of the Massachusetts Legislature.
What do these two things have to do with each other? Hint: It’s not how our corrupt legislators refuse to tax progressively. Aux contraire.
The regressivity of the Massachusetts income tax is mandated by Article 44 of our constitution as follows (in part):
Such tax may be at different rates upon income derived from different classes of property, but shall be levied at a uniform rate throughout the commonwealth upon incomes derived from the same class of property.
The SJC has even interpreted this to mean that the Commonwealth cannot base its tax on the U.S. income tax (as many states do, vastly simplifying filing for their residents).
The most recent attempt to lift this restriction was rejected by a wide margin in 1994. By the voters.
It takes a popular vote, following approval by two successive constitutional conventions (= House & Senate in joint session) to amend the Constitution.
The plan had already cleared the Leg with support of President Bulger and Speaker Finneran (take note, O power-broker haters), along with a companion referendum question that specified the actual progressive tax rates, so that voters could see what they would get.
It lost by a resounding 26 to 65 percent.
How could that be? Tea-party-style delusional identification with the rich? Maybe a little, but how about this (from Robert Turner in the Boston Globe of
The loudest argument raised against the change by Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation and others is that the details as outlined in proposed companion legislation — including a guarantee of revenue neutrality — are “obviously irrelevant,” as Anderson said, since the Legislature could do anything it wanted and would likely raise rates once the constitutional amendment passed.
In 1994, progressivity was sunk because it would entail amending the constitution to give greater power to the Legislature. Does anyone think such a proposition would fare better today?
So, why don’t voters trust the legislature to do the right thing? If you don’t know the answer I think that progressivemax might be able to fill in the blanks for you.
Bottom line: Voters are not wrong to distrust the legislature. And progressives should recognize that pragmatic accommodation with corrupt or undemocratic practices has a real price.
These practices are a tax on the confidence of the people in their government and consequently on the power of government to do good. The one percent are laughing all the way to the bank.
I’d like to have another go at progressivity. But I’m afraid that fundamental reform of the Legislature will be a precondition for that. Because as things stand now, people are not going to vote to increase the power of the Leg to do anything, even if it is only the power to do good.