On June 18, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down a statewide ballot question that would have asked voters to amend the state Constitution to replace the flat state income tax with a graduated rate on incomes over $1 million.

The initiative petition was also written to earmark all the additional revenue for education and transportation programs.

The Massachusetts Constitution may be amended either by a constitutional convention made up of elected delegates who propose changes that are then ratified by voters, or through a constitutional amendment proposed by citizens and then submitted to the Legislature for consideration. In the second case, at least one-quarter of state senators and representatives must approve the initiative in two successive legislative joint sessions in order for a question to be placed on the ballot.

When more than one-quarter of the members of both houses voted in favor of the proposed income tax constitutional amendment in May 2016 and again in October 2017, registered voters seeking to exclude the ballot question sued the attorney general and challenged the constitutionality of the proposed question.

The SJC held that the attorney general should not have certified the petition because it contains subjects that are not “related or mutually dependent,” as required by the Constitution. The court looked at whether the similarities of the components of the question embodied one purpose, in order to allow a voter to vote “yes” or “no” without putting the voter in the position of voting on dissimilar subjects rather than on a unified statement of public policy.

This case reaffirms that ballot questions must contain a single common purpose that allows voters to approve or reject them in their entirety.

The income tax proposal would have placed a 4 percent tax surcharge on incomes above $1 million and was expected to raise about $2 billion per year in new revenue.

Written by Lisa Adams, Senior Legislative Analyst