BOSTON — A Beacon Hill watchdog group wants lawmakers to delay voting on a constitutional amendment to tax the state's wealthiest residents.

In written testimony, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation asks legislative leaders to postpone a second and final vote on the proposed amendment, which seeks a 4% surtax on the portion of an individual's annual income above $1 million.

A "yes" vote would send the question to voters.

Eileen McAnneny, the foundation's president, said with the economy still in flux, and the long-term effect of the pandemic on the workplace unclear, lawmakers should halt the push to tax top earners.

"Once they vote on this, there's no turning back," she said. "We're just asking them not to do it until next year, until we have a better sense of where things are."

The pandemic has upended the workplace, and McAnneny said wealthy people no longer feel tied to a specific geographic location.

She said that's a dynamic that wasn't in play when lawmakers initially approved the "millionaires tax" nearly two years ago.

"People have more options now about where they choose to live and work," she said. "So the impact of this could be more detrimental than we thought."

Backers say the measure has broad support, so there's no reason to delay presenting it to voters.

"We've seen strong support among the public for asking multimillionaires to pay their fair share of state taxes," said Andrew Farnitano, spokesman for Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of unions, faith organizations and community groups.

"We've got some help from the federal government to get through this crisis, but we need a sustainable funding source for transportation and education needs," he said.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Revenue is accepting written testimony on the proposal this week ahead of a vote to advance the measure to the full House and Senate for a final vote, which could come in May or early June.

The vote would not authorize the tax, but it is one of the final hurdles to putting it on the November 2022 ballot.

In 2019, the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, meeting as a constitutional convention, voted 147-48 along party lines to put the question on the 2022 ballot.

The amendment requires a second favorable vote during the current two-year session before it can be put before voters.

McAnneny said delaying the vote by lawmakers still leaves time to put it on the ballot, if that's what they decide to do.

Backers of the tax say it would drum up to $2 billion in much-needed revenue for education and transportation spending.

Opponents, including Republicans and pro-business organizations, argue the measure could put a drag on the state's economy as it recovers from the pandemic.

A similar referendum was set to appear on the November 2018 ballot until the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional.

The latest version takes a different path to the ballot, which supporters say passes legal muster.

Massachusetts is one of several states looking to increase taxes on its wealthiest residents to drum up more money for post-pandemic recovery.

Last year, New Jersey passed its own tax, increasing the income tax rate for those making $1 million or more. In New York, couples who make more than $2 million per year will see their income tax rate increase to 9.65% from 8.82% under a deal between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders.

In Congress, lawmakers are considering a bill filed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Cambridge, that would set a 3% wealth tax for the nation's biggest earners.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.  

Trending Video

Recommended for you