Fighting Inequality at the State Level

We talk a lot about the American economy and the effect that decisions made by the federal government have on the lives and well-being of Americans all across the country. Because of that, it can be easy at times to think of the fight for economic justice as a purely national issue, something that just happens in Washington or in Congress and the White House. But it’s much more than that.

The fight for an economy that works for all Americans, not just the rich and powerful, has to be fought at every level of government, from the halls of Congress to your local city council meeting. The economy isn’t just the numbers we see on TV; it’s the lived experience of every American working to make a better life for themselves and their families. In those experiences, the rules and laws put forth by local and state governments are incredibly impactful.

With the November midterm elections less than two months away, there’s a lot at stake besides control of Congress. Voters in states all across the country are set to decide, whether directly through ballot initiatives or by voting on their state legislatures, what kind of economy they want their states to have. Thankfully, we see a lot of hope for serious progress on progressive taxation and minimum wage increases.

If polls are correct, people in states like Nebraska and Massachusetts are noticing that our current system isn’t working and are ready to do what they can in their communities to bring about needed change. From signing petitions for ballot initiatives to tax the rich or increase wages to standing up to tax cuts that provide no benefit to workers, it’s important we take the time to acknowledge the steps taken toward justice on all levels.

While our weekly Roundup frequently focuses on legislation at the federal level, this week, we would like to highlight news affecting taxes and wages on the state side.

Voter ID, Minimum Wage Petitions Make Nebraska’s November Ballot by Martha Stoddard and Erin Bamer
In Nebraska, a petition to raise the state’s minimum wage is set to be presented directly to voters this November. This initiative seeks to raise the state’s minimum wage from $9/hr to $10.50/hr next year and all the way up to $15 an hour by 2026 with annual cost of living increases each subsequent year. The only downside is that it, unfortunately, would not provide any relief to workers who make the subminimum tipped wage. Supporters of the bill are hopeful that it will pass, as the petition received well over the minimum required signatures, and Nebraska has a history of supporting minimum wage increases: the 2014 proposition to raise the wage above the federal minimum passed with overwhelming support.

Ballot Spending on Millionaires’ Tax Hits $20M by Christian M. Wade
Massachusetts has a major new tax proposal on the ballot in November, and it’s got wealthy residents of the state up in arms. A new millionaires tax, proposed by the group Fair Share Massachusetts, would enact a 4% surtax on all income over $1 million, which would then be used to fund new spending projects for education and infrastructure. As of this week, the polls show that a whopping 70% of Massachusetts residents favor the new tax, a strong sign for the initiative’s eventual success. It’s far from locked up, however, as the opposition campaign, predominantly funded by corporate executives and large Massachusetts businesses, is starting to spend millions of dollars to sway the public against this new tax. Just two donors alone contributed a whopping $1 million to the opposition campaign, a classic example of the rich spending millions to save billions.

Study Finds Proposed ‘Millionaires Tax’ Could Help Reduce Inequality, if Revenue is Wisely Spent by Yasmin Amer
Recent analysis from the Center for State Policy in Massachusetts finds that the MA millionaire tax initiative could help significantly reduce wealth inequality in the state. In addition to bringing in $1.3 billion in revenue from the state’s wealthiest 0.6%, the proposal would change the wildly regressive flat-rate state tax policy. Currently, the state’s tax code has all residents – from those making $20,000 a year to $20,000,000 a year – paying the exact same rate. There’s a reason we don’t have a flat tax on the federal level – it’s bad policy. The rich have a much greater ability to pay, and they should be required to give more to support the country (or state) that helped them amass their fortune in the first place. Proponents of this tax hope it will lead to better education and infrastructure funding, which will provide better outcomes for the everyday Massachusetts resident AND help rein in wealth consolidation among the richest in the state.

Tax Cut Debate Moves to Missouri House After Senate Approves Billby Kurt Erickson
There may be movement in the right direction in many states, but we can’t forget that right-wing billionaires hold significant sway with many state legislatures, and in many places around the country, they’re hard at work making our economy less fair, and the tax code more tilted in favor of the rich. In Missouri, for instance, the state legislature is gunning to cut the state’s top income tax rate by 0.35%, with provisions that could make additional cuts of up to 0.8%. Republicans claim that these cuts will prevent a state-wide economic downturn, but we’ve seen what happens in states that cut taxes for their wealthiest residents – just remember the failed Kansas experiment. This cut comes at a time when the state’s social safety net needs more funding, not less.

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