Why ISG Supports the Massachusetts Fair Share Amendment

By Josh B. 

The Massachusetts Fair Share Amendment is a ballot question up for vote in the November 2022 elections. It would introduce a tax on residents of Massachusetts making more than $1 million in annual income, raising the state tax rate from 5% to 9% for every dollar earned after the first million. This would be a tax on the 1%, affecting only the richest tens of thousands among over seven million Massachusetts residents.

The amendment designates this additional tax revenue exclusively for public education, public transit, and roads and bridges. ISG supports the Massachusetts Fair Share Amendment. This revenue could be used for many immediate needs, including making buses and trains fare-free, raising pay, and hiring more workers at public schools, universities, and in public transit (including bus drivers and subway dispatchers). Jobs could be created to fix roads and bridges and to fund new projects to extend commuter rail or light rail to underserved regions. This is the second time the Fair Share Amendment has tried to get on the ballot after the state Supreme Court was used to strike it from the ballot in 2018

ISG often puts forward demands calling for increased taxes on the rich and corporations while reducing taxes for working-class people. Raise Up Massachusetts, the organization spearheading the Fair Share Amendment campaign, is correct to propose a tax increase on the rich that targets specific types of spending in order to direct the increased revenue to areas chronically underfunded by the corporate-backed political parties controlling the state and local governments. The distribution of (or in some cases refusal to distribute) American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds shows they can’t be trusted to put that money where working people need it most. (Read more about ISG’s demands for the COVID relief funds here)

Lessons from Recent Ballot Campaigns 

In recent years, ISG members have actively joined ballot question campaigns to fight for and defend material improvements to working-class people’s lives. For example, in 2018, we campaigned alongside the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s (MNA) Safe Patient Limits campaign (Yes on 1), which would have legally mandated safer staffing levels in hospitals.

Question 1 was bitterly contested: corporate money poured into the No on 1 campaign, outspending Yes on 1 to present ads with misleading and bad-faith counterarguments. The divide over Question 1 was drawn along class lines: the MNA, a union full of rank-and-file nurses, led the Yes on 1 campaign. Meanwhile, No on 1 was funded by the corporate hospital owners. Corporate opposition to capping nurse-to-patient ratios was born from a desire to increase profits by cutting corners on labor costs, not a concern for public health or patient wait times. 

No on 1 campaigned on the premise that hospitals would have to cut funding to other services or raise healthcare costs to afford the extra nurses they’d be mandated to hire. It’s obvious that hospitals could instead reduce administrative bloat, cut ludicrously high executives’ salaries, and also the corporate hospitals could just take less profit. The COVID outbreak vindicated the nurses union’s case for safe staffing two years after the electoral defeat when the influx of patients overwhelmed nurses and made hospitals less safe for patients. Since the defeat of Question 1, nurses in Massachusetts were forced to protest and strike for safe staffing, including at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts.

In Portland, Maine, working people passed a ballot question in November 2020 that established hazard pay as part of raising the minimum wage. Hazard pay would be implemented for all workers any time the city declared a state of emergency. This raised the Portland minimum wage from $13/hr to $19.50, making it the highest in the country. Almost immediately, a corporate coalition including Whole Foods and the local Chamber of Commerce sued to overturn the hazard pay provision. 

When the court case failed to overturn it, the Portland City Council stepped in, first delaying the implementation of hazard pay from Dec 6, 2020 (as voted for on the ballot) to January 1, 2022, then revoking the state of emergency, despite the city being amidst the highly contagious Omicron wave. The bosses used every tactic imaginable—from legal defenses to bureaucratic stalling to pro-corporate City Council politicians—to beat back what would have been a massive victory for the working class of Portland. Big business and politicians are already pulling out the same tactics in Massachusetts. Working-class activists should take this as a lesson that only a mass campaign will win much-needed reforms like hazard pay and taxing the rich. Only a sustained mass campaign will ensure that progressive ballot questions that win will actually go into effect.  

No Reforms Won Without Struggle

As with the Safe Patient Limits ballot question, we’ve already seen vicious pushback against the Fair Share Amendment from local capitalists: multiple local chambers of commerce, real estate developers, and “small” business owners have formed a coalition against the ballot measure. Expensive opposition ads are whipping up false fears the amendment will raise taxes for working people. They warn of “capital flight”, that the wealthy will simply move to another state to avoid the tax hike. Opponents also claim the revenue would be spent on projects unrelated to public education, roads, or transit. This criticism preys on credible working-class fears given recent and continued misallocation of ARPA funds. It also reveals the capitalist fear that if the Fair Share Amendment is passed, it could open the door to further taxation of the rich for more spending on other social needs like public housing and universal healthcare.

These corporate scare tactics are meant to intimidate working-class people into accepting crumbs from the capitalists and the government, even as our wages stagnate, inflation erodes our purchasing power, and public services suffer from neglect, understaffing, and privatization. We’re meant to believe that capitalist market behavior is as natural as the laws of physics, not shaped by a government that answers to millionaires, billionaires, and corporations. Capital flight and other “market responses” which pass the cost of taxing the rich back onto workers are not an inevitable consequence. 

While progressive ballot campaigns can attract working-class people seeking an alternative to voting and waiting for capitalist politicians to maybe, possibly, deliver piecemeal reforms, simply getting issues on the ballot is not enough. A serious campaign must be waged that can win against a well-funded & unscrupulous opposition. Unions like the Mass Teachers Association (MTA), SEIU, and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) can support the Fair Share Amendment by allocating serious resources to the Mass. Fair Share campaign instead of relying on lobbying corporate politicians and hoping for the least bad outcome. 

Through endorsements, protests, and workplace actions that hit the rich at the source of their profits, unions, progressive community groups, and working-class organizations can actively organize large-scale rallies, protests, and marches to demand that the rich pay more in taxes. Without these tactics and methods, it will be difficult for the Fair Share Amendment to win or survive being dragged through the capitalist court system. Mass protests in support of Mass. Fair Share can also strengthen the working class, regardless of the outcome of the ballot question, and make us better organized and prepared to defend and extend our hard-won gains.

Issue-based campaigns and ballot referendums are not happening in a vacuum or are just one-and-done. They are a process to win important reforms in a given moment but also opportunities to start building real political power—including mass movements, union strength, and an independent political party of the working class—by organizing working people around demands they want and need. Every victory of the working class which improves our quality of life in the short term builds our confidence and strength for future struggles. ISG calls on working people to vote YES for the Mass. Fair Share Amendment and for taxing the rich! We will help campaign and encourage working people, activists, and organizations to do the same!