Ballot: Mass. residents wish to preserve controversial tax cap legislation intact

A majority of Massachusetts residents want Beacon Hill lawmakers and new Gov. Maura Healey to keep a controversial tax cap law intact, which last year delivered almost $3 billion in excess state revenues back to taxpayers but scrambled more permanent relief, a new Republican-aligned poll found.

Nearly 63% of respondents want to keep Chapter 62F “as is,” according to the poll released Monday from the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, which queried 750 people from Jan. 3-4. The poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

Meanwhile, about 16.5% of respondents want to repeat the law and 21% are unsure.

Paul Craney, spokesman for the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, called Chapter 62F a “taxpayer protection law, which gives people a sense of security in Massachusetts.”

“So they don’t want that altered too much,” Craney said during a virtual press conference Monday morning. “I don’t think they want to alter it, but it’s very clear in this poll they don’t want it repeated.”

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The tax cap law, enacted through a 1986 ballot referendum, outlines a formula for the state auditor to determine whether an allowable state tax revenue threshold, based on annual wage and salary growth, has been exceeded. Last year, state Auditor Suzanne Bump determined $2.94 billion should be returned to taxpayers, marking only the second time that Chapter 62F has been triggered.

Revelations over Chapter 62F last summer forced lawmakers to nix a slate of more permanent tax relief measures, including expanding the child care and dependent care tax credit and overhauling the estate tax. Lawmakers had also planned to distribute one-time $250 stimulus checks to middle- income residents.

The Baker administration ultimately doled out direct deposits and paper checks in the mail that equated to about 14% of an individual’s 2021 personal tax liability. But critics, including the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, warned about the inequities underlying Chapter 62F.

Individuals who not pay income taxes — or whose income tax liability was reduced to $0 due to unpaid child support and other debts — did not receive Chapter 62F refunds. The commonwealth’s wealthiest residents received refunds exceeding $20,000, while the state’s bottom 20% of earners were slated to see a mere handful of dollars.

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State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, who served as the House Ways and Means chairman in the last legislative session, has said lawmakers are aware of equity concerns surrounding Chapter 62F and are interested in exploring ways to modernize the tax cap law, potentially adjusting the formula for how wage and salary growth might trigger refunds.

But the Fiscal Alliance Foundation poll did not ask respondents whether they support modifications to Chapter 62F. Respondents would have difficulty grasping that more complex question, particularly in the absence of concrete legislative proposals, Craney said.

“We’ll have to an eye on that in the future if there’s any movement by the Legislature for some kind of alteration to it,” Craney said, signaling an opportunity for future poll questions about Chapter 62F. “But again, I think the fact that this is now the second poll where all three major political parties are overwhelmingly supporting it the way it is kind of sends the most powerful message about 62F, which is its popularity continues to maintain in these polls. ”

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The poll also found that about 57% of Bay Staters want Healey to pursue “broad tax cuts.” Meanwhile, 28% of respondents want to see “targeted tax relief” and 15% are unsure.

“Democrats are a little more eager to see a targeted tax relief package, whereas Republicans (and) Independents are more broad tax cuts,” Jim Eltringham, of Advantage Inc., said at the press conference.

Healey, who was sworn into office last week, pledged that progressive tax relief would be her day one priority.

The new governor, for example, wants to implement a $600 per child tax credit. And on the campaign trail, Healey pitched relief that echoed now-former Gov. Charlie Baker’s unsuccessful proposal last year designed to benefit the state’s most vulnerable residents while boosting Massachusetts’ competitive edge.

The poll found that Healey had a 50% favorability rating. Healey could improve that figure, Craney said, depending on how she crafts her tax cut proposal, protects Chapter 62F and implements Ballot Question 1, also known as the millionaires tax or Fair Share Amendment, that imposes a 4% surtax on all income exceeding $1 million.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that is an overwhelming endorsement of the new governor right now,” Craney said of Healey’s favorability rating. “Early in a new administration, people are wanting to see what happens — they’re holding their judgment.”

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