Poll: Likely Voters Say Leave Tax Cap Law Alone

Survey Tests Attitudes As Beacon Hill Eyes More Tax Relief

JAN. 9, 2023…..A clear majority of likely Massachusetts voters want the Legislature and Gov. Maura Healey to leave untouched the 1986 tax law that triggered nearly $3 billion in mandatory rebates last year, and wide-ranging tax cuts appear more popular than a targeted approach, according to new polling results.

The poll results published Monday by the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, whose members have advocated for the nascent Healey administration to embrace broad tax relief, found more than 62 percent of the likely voters surveyed want to keep the tax cap law known as Chapter 62F as it stands. About 16.5 percent of respondents said they would prefer to repeal the law, and 20.8 percent said they are not sure.

Pollster Jim Eltringham of Washington, D.C.-area Advantage Inc. did not gauge interest in other options such as revising but not outright eliminating the mandatory tax relief law, which blindsided Beacon Hill’s top Democrats last summer.

Since the surprise trigger of the 1986 law, some legislative leaders have hinted they may consider overhauling the way the tax cap functions, but they have yet to float any specific options.

Eltringham said the lack of detail makes it too early to get reliable insight from polling voters about the idea of changing the law without eliminating it, since results might flatten together “people wanting to edit it in a range of ways.”

In the meantime, the “concept of the law” that Massachusetts triggered last year for the first time in more than three decades shows substantial popularity, Eltringham said.

“The fact that this is now the second poll where all three major political parties are overwhelmingly supporting keeping it the way it is kind of sends the most powerful message for 62F,” said Paul Craney, a spokesperson for the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, during a virtual press conference about the poll. “It’s a taxpayer protection law, which gives people a sense of security in Massachusetts.”

The poll sponsored by the Fiscal Alliance Foundation was conducted on Jan. 3 and 4, before Healey’s official inauguration on Jan. 5, and surveyed 750 people with a history of voting in elections. According to the topline results, the poll involved 275 registered Democrats, 88 registered Republicans and 387 voters who were registered as independents or with another party.

After a campaign season in which she promised she could “cut taxes,“ voters are waiting to see how Healey will follow through as her gubernatorial term unfolds.

The poll found more interest in broad-based tax relief than in a narrower approach. Asked if they “support targeted tax relief to specific groups or broad tax cuts for everyone,” 56.9 percent of respondents said they prefer broad tax relief and 28.4 percent said they prefer targeted relief. Another 14.7 percent were not sure.

Lawmakers and former Gov. Charlie Baker appeared to share mutual interest in a range of tax relief proposals last session aimed at renters, seniors, caregivers and those who pay the estate tax, but Democrats backed away from the idea once it became clear Massachusetts owed nearly $3 billion in rebates under Chapter 62F.

The poll did not measure sentiment about specific changes to the estate tax or tax laws affecting renters, seniors and caregivers.

Rounding up support for tax relief could be an early challenge for the new governor. In her inaugural remarks Thursday, Healey described “tax reform” as an early area of agreement between her, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano, who in his own interview later that day was noncommittal about reviving any of last year’s ideas for relief.

“I’ve already proposed a child tax credit for every child, for every family. The Legislature also put forward several worthy tax cut proposals during the last legislative session,” Healey said. “This would mean real relief for the people who need it most. Let’s get this done.”

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance has advocated in recent weeks for Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll to turn their attention toward wide-ranging tax relief options now that a new surtax on household income above $1 million is on the books, enacted by voters as Question 1 in November.

That law calls for revenue raised to go toward transportation and education purposes, though final authority over its allocation will rest with lawmakers.

A plurality of voters said they want Beacon Hill to partition that revenue separate from other state dollars. About 46 percent of poll respondents called for the money to go into a special protected fund similar to the state’s “rainy day” savings, nearly 23 percent said the revenue should flow into the general fund, and close to 31 percent said they’re unsure.

Craney, who also works as spokesperson for the Mass. Fiscal Alliance, argued Monday that Healey could give her tenure an early popularity boost by pursuing broad tax relief.

“Any type of targeted relief or kind of targeted tax reform is not really a suitable response to Question 1 at this point,” Craney, who advocated against passage of the surtax ballot question, said. “So that would be my advice to the new governor: if you want to increase your popularity and favorability, people are kind of sitting in silence watching very carefully now. Take on tax cuts, have them broad, tax eliminations, take on Question 1, and advertise that Massachusetts is responding to Question 1.”

Healey enters office with an even 50 percent of voters viewing her strongly or somewhat favorably, according to the Fiscal Alliance Foundation poll. About 27.3 percent of voters view her strongly or somewhat unfavorably, and 22.6 percent say they are still not sure.

Eltringham said Healey’s ratings stand in contrast with perhaps the most well-known national figureheads for either party: only 6 percent of voters are not sure how they feel about President Joe Biden (who earned a favorable view from about 52 percent of Massachusetts voters) and 4.6 percent are not sure of their opinion on former President Donald Trump (who has a favorability rating of nearly 35 percent in the Bay State).

“These are folks who have opinions, but they’re waiting to see what they’re going to see out of the governor before they move on that,” Eltringham said.

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