Pro-Spending Democrat Seeking Joe Kennedy III’s Seat Opted Not To Pay Optional Higher Taxes

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If elected to Congress, Jesse Mermell would like to implement plans that increase spending.

But when she had the opportunity to pay more in taxes at the state level over the past several years, the Brookline resident and Democrat who is running to represent Massachusetts’s Fourth Congressional District chose not to, according to her tax returns.

Mermell is running to replace U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton), who is primarying U.S. Senator Ed Markey in state’s U.S. Senate race. 

Mermell released five years of her tax returns on June 18, covering 2014 to 2018. The returns revealed that she made more than six figures each year and paid the standard state income tax rate — which was 5.2 percent in 2014, 5.15 percent in 2015, 5.1 percent in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

But she could have paid more. Since state legislators approved it in 2002, Massachusetts taxpayers have had the option of checking a box and paying a higher income tax rate than required — 5.85 percent. The extra money gives legislators more to work with.

Mermell’s campaign team put out a press release recently praising her for her transparency concerning personal income tax returns.

“With Donald Trump lying, cheating, and deceiving his way through a failed presidency, Democratic candidates at all levels have an obligation to lead by example and run open, transparent campaigns that are accountable to the voters,” Mermell said in the press release dated June 18. “That’s why today I’m releasing five years of tax returns and challenging my opponents to at least three debates across the district. As candidates, we have a shared responsibility to provide the people of the Fourth District with all of the information they need and deserve to make their decisions, and I hope that my opponents will join me in fulfilling that responsibility.”

The release also said if elected, Mermell would introduce legislation mandating that all federal candidates release their tax returns.

Mermell’s tax returns show that she had the opportunity to contribute another $4,746 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during those five years, but passed up the opportunity.

Here’s how.

On her 2014 return, Mermell paid $5,416 in state income tax instead of the $6,093 higher option allowed on the Massachusetts income tax form. A year later in 2015, she paid $6,231 instead of $7,078. In 2016, it was $6,772 instead of $7,768. In 2017, she paid $7,304 rather than $8,378. And in 2018, it was $7,834 — not the $8,986 she could have paid voluntarily. 

Mermell favors several government programs that would necessitate spending increases — and presumably tax increases to help pay for them.

A few such programs on Mermell’s platform include Medicare-for-all, free public college, some form of student loan debt forgiveness, and increased federal funding for Massachusetts transit programs. Her platform notes that a wealth tax would pay for her free public college plan.

While her proposals are for the federal government, they could also be passed at the state level, if the funding existed to pay for them.

It’s uncommon for anyone in the Commonwealth to pay the higher optional 5.85 percent tax rate. According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, 1,663 people did in 2015 (out of 3,783,209 returns), 1,619 did in 2016 (out of 3,642,896 returns), and 1,275 did in 2017 (out of 3,175,892 returns).

That works out to about .04 percent in each of those years, or about 4 out of every 10,000.

One of those is U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Cambridge), who chose the higher 5.85 percent option in Massachusetts for the 2017 and 2018 tax years when she was running for re-election to the Senate and preparing for a presidential race — though not before then.

It’s unclear whether other candidates in theFourth Congressional District race paid the higher optional income tax rate; Mermell is one of nine Democrats expected to be on the September 1 ballot, according to Ballotpedia, but the only candidate who has released tax returns so far. 

Before running for Congress, Mermell served as a senior advisor to former governor Deval Patrick, as a selectman in Brookline, and as the vice president for external affairs at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

Mermell’s campaign could not be reached for comment for this story.