Rep. Jay Livingstone was on hand Wednesday, Oct. 12, for a members event sponsored by Beacon Hill Village (BHV) to discuss the four ballot questions that will be posed to Massachusetts voters in the Nov. 8 general election.
Ballot Question #1 proposes an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution that would impose an additional 4-percent state income tax on any portion of annual taxable income in excess of $1 million (i.e. if a citizen filed a W-2 with a declared income of $1.1 million, they’d only pay the 4-percent surcharge on the $100,000, which is in excess of $1 million). Revenues derived from this tax would supplement public education, public colleges and universities, and would also be used for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation infrastructure. The proposed amendment would apply to tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2023.
Rep. Jay Livingstone said citizens had filed a petition to get this question on the ballot. and it has since advanced at two legislative sessions, since it was expected to appear on the ballot four years ago. This proposed change to the Massachusetts constitution would “trump” any state statute, he added, which is why it went through the two legislative sessions.
The tax would also apply to capital gains, but it wouldn’t affect corporate taxes, as would be the case with an S Corporation, said Rep. Livingstone. An LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) or an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership) could be potentially impacted by the proposed change, however, he said.
In Massachusetts, around 24,000 of the state’s nearly 7 million residents have incomes of over $1 million, said Rep. Livingstone, while 70 percent of those have incomes over $5 million, and 90 precent have incomes over $2 million.
The expected windfall for the state from the tax ranges from $1.2 billion to $3 billion each year, said Rep. Livingstone, while all of the revenue would be earmarked for either transportation or education purposes.
“As a legislator, I can tell you those two categories are always in need of more funding,” he said, adding that the revenue estimates range due to the fluctuation of the economy on a year-to-year basis.
One common concern with the proposed tax is how it would impact one-time income gains, like if a citizen sells their home or business, but Rep Livingstone said this issue would be addressed in the “statutory scheme” and added that “statues could determine what gets taxed at all.”
Ballot Question #4, which, Rep. Livingstone said, doesn’t appear in the voter’s guide, since it was added late, would keep in place a state law enacted about six months ago and set to go into effect next year that allows Massachusetts residents who can’t provide a Green Card or other proof of U.S. citizenship to obtain a driver’s license.
Rep. Livingstone said about 20 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws, which have typically resulted in a decline in hit-and-run accidents because it someone can’t get a license, then they subsequently can’t get insurance. “You’re more likely to stick around [after a hit-and-run accident], if you have insurance,” he added.
Ballot Question #2, according to the state’s election website, “would regulate dental insurance rates, including by requiring companies to spend at least 83 percent of premiums on member dental expenses and quality improvements instead of administrative expenses, and by making other changes to dental insurance regulations.”
This question was put on the ballot by dentists, and is opposed by insurers, according to Rep. Livingstone, who added that the research he has seen indicates that its fate “wouldn’t actually make a big impact one way or another with consumers, but it will help give independent dentistries leverage against some of the larger insurance companies.”
Insurance companies argue that if the ballot question passes, it could raise premiums overall, said Rep. Livingstone, while dentists contend that it would mean that more money would be allocated for dental services and also ensure that premiums don’t go up.
Ballot Question #3, according to the state’s election website, “would increase the statewide limits on the combined number of licenses for the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption (including licenses for “all alcoholic beverages” and for ‘wines and malt beverages’) that any one retailer could own or control: from nine to 12 licenses in 2023; to 15 licenses in 2027; and to 18 licenses in 2031.”
The proposed law would also, beginning in 2023, set a maximum number of “all alcoholic beverages” licenses that any one retailer could own or control at seven unless a retailer currently holds more than seven such licenses.
The maximum number of licenses that any retailer could hold per the proposed law “doesn’t affect the local rules” and “doesn’t change any limits within the municipalities,” however, said Rep. Livingstone, who added that a grocery store in Boston that doesn’t currently sell beer, wine, and liquor, would still need to go through the same regulatory approval process as today to obtain a license if the ballot question passes.
Rep. Livingstone said Cumberland Farms tries to get a question like this on the ballot “every time,” and that “small independent liquor stores in Massachusetts are the ones pushing this question.”
The discussion with Rep. Livingstone was sponsored and arranged by Another Cup – one of the “affinity groups” within Beacon Hill Village.