Mass. farmers raise concerns about millionaire tax

Polling suggests the millionaire tax is popular with voters because it targets the uber-wealthy — after all, someone earning so much money should be able to afford paying an extra 4 percent on any income over $1 million.

The challenge for opponents of the November ballot question is to convince voters that the tax doesn’t just hit the wealthy, that it can sometimes target people struggling to get by. 

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance attempted to do just that this week by bringing together eight of the state’s farmers, people who work the land cultivating cranberries, growing fresh vegetables, milking cows, raising animals, and tapping trees for maple syrup. 

The farmers said they aren’t millionaires, but they could be hit with the tax if they are forced to sell off a chunk of their land to make ends meet or to finance their retirement. The capital gain on the sale of the land could exceed a million dollars and subject them to the surtax, they said.

Leon Ripley of Maple Corner Farm in the Berkshires makes a living on his 600 acres by producing and selling maple syrup, operating a cross country ski center, and growing blueberries. He says the rising cost of fertilizer and fuel is squeezing his business this year. 

“We will never make a million dollars,” he said. “If we cannot succeed in all ventures, we are probably going to have to sell some of the property eventually and [the tax] would affect us. An additional [4] percent would be an enormous burden if we sell the property.”

Leo Cakounes, who grows cranberries in Harwich, feels the same way. “Quite frankly, I paid more in taxes in the last couple years than I’ve made in the last 20 years. I can’t stress enough how people have to look out of the box when they’re looking at proposals such as this. It’s not just those millionaires that are making X amount of dollars a year. It has a trickle-down effect when large companies and large businesses no longer want to do business in this state. It’s going to affect me, who quite honestly has never seen a million dollars of income in family farm products in my 20 years in the cranberry business. This is going to affect me, I guarantee it.” 

Supporters of the millionaire tax say these types of situations would be rare — once-in-a-lifetime events. They also point out that the tax would only be paid on the capital gain from a sale, not the sale price itself, making it less likely the threshold would be hit. 

But Wayne Whittier of Whittier Farms in Sutton said the mere existence of such a tax creates uncertainty for farmers and other small business owners. “We have some great relationships with other small businesses and they’re also concerned. What if I need to sell my business or pass it through to my offspring to continue, what are the tax implications down the line?” he asked. “I really hope it doesn’t pass.”

BRUCE MOHL

 

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