Changing Voter Law Shaping Up As Uphill Battle
When it comes to the 1986 tax relief voter law that paralyzed the House and Senate during critical hours last weekend, is holding back significant economic development spending around the state and could return nearly $3 billion in excess state tax revenue back to taxpayers, Democrats on Beacon Hill have their knives — or sledgehammers — out.
“This made up 1986 Reaganomics ‘tax break’ is derailing tax relief and permanent taxation changes. DYK some members of our state legislature weren’t even alive then? SLEDGEHAMMER by Peter Gabriel was the #1 song 37 yrs ago tonight,” Topsfield Rep. Jamie Belsito tweeted during the marathon session that stretched for nearly 24 hours in large part due to the late-breaking realization about Chapter 62F. “Now let’s sledgehammer this 1986 law.”
All the way to the top of the House leadership chart, public comments about 62F have at times been dismissive of the law and leaders have openly floated the idea that they could either undo or change what voters put into place 36 years ago.
“This is a stunt that was triggered by a law made in 1986 that gives people a one-time opportunity to get money,” House Speaker Ron Mariano said Friday on Bloomberg BayState Business a few hours after he said that, with the possibility that Chapter 62F could require more direct tax relief than the Legislature was prepared to fund, “Everything’s on the table. We could undo the law, we could change it, we could postpone.”
Changing or repealing Chapter 62F before it is officially triggered for fiscal year 2022 would be practically impossible — the objection of any one representative or senator can derail any legislation now that formal sessions have ended and Gov. Charlie Baker has made clear that he’s ready to make the 62F tax relief a reality.
And even altering the law at a late date could also pose some tricky political questions for Beacon Hill Democrats, who face re-election this fall, if they hope to stay in office.
“It was voted by the voters? So that’s a big philosophical question,” Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville said early Monday morning when asked about the possibility of altering or repealing Chapter 62F. “Also, which voters are still alive who voted for that? I haven’t done the math on that.”
Indeed, more than 1.5 million Massachusetts voters weighed in on the 1986 ballot question, 863,130 (almost 55 percent) of them in favor of establishing a revenue cap and a credit system for excess state revenues to be returned to taxpayers.
People who could have voted on the question are at least 54 years old in 2022, and Massachusetts has an estimated 2,113,910 residents who are 55 years old or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.
Any efforts to change Chapter 62F could face headwinds from the Corner Office, no matter who is elected to succeed Baker in January. Legislators have not been shy about looking forward to what they might do with a fellow Democrat in office next year, confident in Maura Healey’s chances of being elected this fall, but the attorney general is not on board with changing Chapter 62F.
“Maura believes taxpayers are entitled to the 62F rebates if the law is triggered and certified by the Auditor,” Healey campaign press secretary Karissa Hand said. Asked if Healey would support any efforts to repeal or amend Chapter 62F as governor, Hand replied, “No, she would not.”
Republican gubernatorial Candidate Chris Doughty said that “the excess money should go back to the hard working taxpayers and the faster the better during these tough inflationary times.”
If he is elected governor, Doughty said that he is “committed to respecting the will of the people.”
“They voted for this measure and it should be honored,” he said.
The campaign of Republican Geoff Diehl did not respond to News Service questions about whether he would support or oppose efforts to repeal or amend Chapter 62F, but his camp told MASSterList that he support the 1986 voter law.
As they ran out of time and their weekend talks were not able to find a way to advance their own tax relief plans in tandem with 62F, Beacon Hill Democrats seemed to accept their fate and acknowledged there is little they could do to prevent the law that voters installed in the 1980s from kicking in.
“We have 62F. That’s the law of the land and it’s gonna happen,” Mariano said as the sun rose Monday.