Money, Money, Money, Money

How much is a legislator worth? And, how much are you willing to pay to put that person in office?

Just a couple of the questions you'll have to answer when you go to the polls in November.

In fact, all four questions on the ballot this fall deal with money. Your money.

Question One sets compensation of your State Representatives and Senators. It's a constitutional amendment that would prohibit state legislators from changing the base pay we receive now.

Instead of legislators setting their own salaries in the future, adjustments would be made, increased or decreased, at the same rate as changes in the median household incomes in Massachusetts. Adjustments would be based on a two year period, and the first change could happen January 1, 2001 and then every two years.

Question Two deals with how candidates pay for their election campaigns. This petition would create a new funding system for candidates in primary and general elections. Basically the taxpayers would pay into a "Clean Elections Fund" and money would be distributed to all qualified candidates.

Although it may level the playing field--giving all candidates who can raise a minimum amount of money the additional funds to run--it takes away the freedom to choose whose campaign you'd like to contribute to. All candidates, who agree to a spending cap and agree to limit contributions to $100 from any one person would be eligible for state funds.

Frankly, the cost may be more than any of us are willing to assume. Representative races cost $25,000 to $175,000, depending on the district; Senate races, even more. Estimates show Question Two, if it passes, could cost the taxpayers $45-million. Dollars that could be spent on state services.

Question Three is basically a non issue, because the Legislature already approved an identical tax cut on interest and dividend income.

It's still on the ballot, because the legislature didn't approve the change until after the deadline for getting it on the ballot, so backers wanted to be sure we all got a chance to vote.

The only difference between the legislature's version and the ballot version is the date--the cut would be effective next year under the already approved version, but not until 2000 under the ballot version.

Basically, Question Three is already a done deal, and your tax rate for dividend and interest income will go from 12 percent to 5.95 percent, the same as regular income in the Bay State.

Question Four. Electric Utility Industry Restructuring. The goal is competition. This petition would support the deregulation of the electricity industry, as approved by the legislature earlier this year.

Frankly, I don't know what will happen if the voters don't approve restructuring. As an acquaintance in the utility industry said, "You can't put a scrambled egg back together again."

As of last March, customers may choose to buy power from generating companies competing with each other; the power is delivered by an existing utility. All consumers are guaranteed a rate cut at least 10 percent less than what they paid last year.

But, this issue doesn't affect Westfield residents, at least immediately. Municipal light companies, so-called "munis" like the Westfield Gas and Electric, were exempted under the law.

Need more information on the issues? Watch your mailbox. Because Secretary of State Bill Galvin has mailed every taxpayer a flyer describing the ballot issues in more detail.

I just hope we can all figure out if a yes vote means approval, or a no vote means approval. Don't they always seem to word them backwards?

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