We’re right around the corner from the year 2030, the title of comedian Albert Brooks’ 2011 novel depicting a dystopian future America where the generation gap has metastasized into open warfare. The discovery of a cure for cancer and other medical advances have people living longer and draining resources away from the young, leaving them staggering under financial pressures.
“They were the first ones riding the pendulum back, and they hated it,” wrote Brooks.
Fantasy, meet reality, Beacon Hill style.
At last week’s Revenue Committee hearing on Gov. Maura Healey’s tax-cut package, liberals zeroed in on her proposal for raising the lowest-in-the-nation estate-tax threshold, a policy the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants claims is one of the major drivers of the growing taxpayer exodus from the state. “I just don’t believe that Massachusetts should be the only state in the country in this situation,” said Healey. “I’m not looking to create more reasons for people to leave here, even if it’s back to my home state of New Hampshire” (which has no estate tax).
Some on the committee called b.s. on that one, including Millennial Sen. Lydia Edwards (D-East Boston), who said “I’ve heard the narrative a couple of times about us being an outlier on this. I’m OK with being an outlier.”
In a follow-up interview with MASSterList, Edwards said she sees the “handkerchief wringing” over residential flight as “entirely generationally based,” that only Boomers and Gen Xers are worried about estate taxes. “My generation isn’t thinking that far in the future,” she said, worried far more about affordable housing, decent transportation, and other basic survival issues. The emphasis on the estate tax by Healey and others means “you’re not talking to half the population,” said Edwards.
But is that really true? Perhaps there are some in their early forties or even their thirties who, unlike Edwards (as she noted in our interview), have children and are wondering how much of their future wealth will be passed on to heirs. In last October’s final pre-election Suffolk University poll of opinion on the Millionaire’s Tax ballot question, Edwards’ peers aged 36 to 45 were its biggest backers at 77%. But support dropped to 63% among 18-to-35 year olds. And Generation Xers were even less interested in the new tax than those greed-crazed Boomers, 48 percent for and 48 percent against.
Our Gen X governor said she’d mull over Edwards’ counter-proposals (which, consistent with the senator’s typically thoughtful approach, do not call for abandoning estate-tax reform, but rather for slowly phasing in a threshold hike, albeit to a level well below what pro-business lobbyists are calling for). Reasonable compromise seems within reach.
It had better be. This place can’t afford much more generational conflict than it already has.
Almost a third of the state is 50 or older, and the trend is for more of the same. While younger folks occasionally show up and flex at the polls, their elders are still the most reliable voters. Ask local officials which “half of the population,” as Edwards puts it, calls the shots on local override and debt-exclusion votes.
If Millennials and Gen Zers are pissed about the mess they’re inheriting, it’s with cause. But Healey’s argument is (cliché alert) we’re all in this together.
The aging locals of today are old enough to recall the damage done by the runaway Taxachusetts vibe of the 1970s and ‘80s. Maybe their half of the population needs to be listened to just as hard as the younger demos.