'They just didn't care': Why more business leaders haven't fought the 'Millionaire Tax' - The Boston Globe

‘They just didn’t care’: Why more business leaders haven’t fought the ‘Millionaire Tax’ – The Boston Globe

Unions — including the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the National Education Association — funded much of the “yes” side, raising about $28 million, double the $14 million their rivals have brought in, the documents show. state political campaign.

The bounty funded a sophisticated grassroots campaign that allowed Question 1 supporters to flood television and social media with ads and knock on the doors of more than a million voters. Opponents only started airing their first TV ad in September, a month after supporters, and they canvassed just 144,000 households.

‘We were supposed to raise around $20-25m,’ said Suffolk construction CEO John Fish, who has donated $1m to the ‘no’ side and personally made 30 phone calls in the last six months to encourage others to donate as well.

“There just wasn’t a rallying cry strong enough to raise these types of resources,” he said, noting that only 1 in 5 of his pitches gave a contribution.

Fish found that business leaders, especially those running public companies, did not want to be associated with the fight against the millionaire tax. This despite fears that the increase in taxes could harm the economic competitiveness of the State.

Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 20, 2022. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“Social pressures have far outstripped the ability to support this ballot on a ‘no’ basis,” he added.

But the opposition’s problems went beyond money.

The unions mobilized thousands of people to solicit the Question 1 cause, which had been in motion for eight years. They were part of a broad coalition of community and faith-based organizations that had previously enacted paid family leave and a minimum wage increase into law.

For supporters, it was a do or die time to pass a tax on the rich this would generate between $1.2 billion and $2 billion per year, with the benefits going to education and transportation. Five times before, voters had rejected ballot measures to change the state’s flat tax rate.

The fans had come this far and they weren’t about to lose now. They crafted a simple message: better schools and fixing the MBTA, and 99% of us won’t pay a penny more.

The measure found the strongest support in progressive cities (Boston, Cambridge and Somerville) and gateway communities (Malden, Lawrence and Worcester), where these groups have strong networks.

A few wealthy people bore the brunt of the financial burden of the “No” team, including New Balance President Jim Davis (who donated $2 million), New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft ($1 million through his company), and power couple Sandra and Paul Edgerley ($1 million each).

But many others just shrugged. Massachusetts companies have gone global, and their CEOs are not as attuned to local politics. Plus, they might find ways to get around the higher tax or relocate to avoid it, especially after the pandemic has proven people can work from anywhere. Prior to the election, some leaders had already launched Plan B and left the state.

As one long-time business leader put it, “They just didn’t care.”

Meanwhile, Question 1 proponents have built a list of high-profile champions, including: Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren; Representatives Jim McGovern, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley and Lori Trahan; and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Governor-elect Maura Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll.

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at a Democratic election night in Boston. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Yet America’s most popular governor, Charlie Baker, was missing. Baker objected to question 1 but has kept a low profile about it, choosing instead to work behind the scenes and help raise funds. The Republican was not seeking a third term and waited until the week before the election to send a bombshell email through his political committee urging his supporters to vote ‘no’ on Question 1.

With the measure of the vote falling by a narrow margin of 52% to 48%, a difference of 95,000 votes, many in the business community can’t help but wonder if the outcome would have been different if Baker had taken a stronger public stance.

“If you had a Charlie Baker really hammering on this issue, I don’t think it would have passed,” said Scott Ferson, a Democratic strategist.

Baker – in response to a question from a Globe reporter – defended his approach to the issue, which was mainly to point out how the state has billions of dollars in surplus and in its rainy day fund.

“I made it pretty clear that I think Massachusetts is in incredibly strong financial shape,” Baker said Thursday. “I don’t think we need it, question 1, and I’m worried about the impact it will have on decisions in a very mobile economy we live in now. . . the voters made the call.

Opponents of Question 1 also failed to come up with a compelling campaign theme, instead launching a litany of complaints against the wall and hoping something would resonate with voters.

Public relations manager George Regan — close to Davis, Fish and Kraft, as well as Baker — said the “No” message needed to focus more clearly on the risk of leaving the state’s brightest workers and most innovative companies. This message – that the foundations of Massachusetts’ knowledge economy were in jeopardy – was diluted as the campaign also warned of the tax’s impact on small business owners, landlords and retirees, as well than on worries that the legislature would only move money, and spending on education and transportation wouldn’t actually grow.

“It was winnable,” Regan said.

Matt Stout of The Globe staff contributed to this article.

Shirley Leung is a business columnist. She can be contacted at shirley.leung@globe.com. Larry Edelman can be contacted at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd.

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