Taking a Look at the Fall Ballot

Voters this fall will not only get to vote for President and Vice President, and, locally, State Representative and State Senator, as well as the Congressional delegation, they'll also be making some decisions on several state-wide issues.

There are eight ballot issues that will require your attention. And that's more issues that at almost any other time in the state's history.

There are, for example, three initiative petition proposals to cut taxes, for a total of $2-billion.

Biggest is a proposed rollback in the state's income tax. Spearheaded by the Governor, supporters say they're only keeping the promise because, in the late 1980s when the tax was increased, politicians promised to roll it back. They also say that if the tax isn't cut in this booming economy, it never will be.

Opponents say that the state, facing extra costs for things like the Big Dig, can't afford a tax cut right now. That we should be paying as we go, instead of burdening the next generation.

If it passes, it will save the average Massachusetts family $600 per year, for a total of just over $1-billion, or less than 5 percent of the entire state budget. The drop, from 5.85 percent to 5 percent, would become effective by 2003.

The Governor is the biggest backer of the petition. Citizens for Limited Taxation are proponents as well. But it is being opposed by the Mass Teachers Association, fearing less state aid for education, and the Tax Equity Alliance, among others.

Proponents say the state is swimming in money; opponents say we can't afford any tax cuts if we plan to keep spending at current rates.

Other initiative petitions include tax credits for Mass Pike tolls and auto excise taxes, spearheaded by the Free the Pike Coalition. Detractors say the proposal would cost the state $700-million in tax revenues.

Still others would ban greyhound racing and mandate that forfeited drug money be used for drug treatment programs.

And yet another gives deductions for charitable donations. It's estimated the state would lose $175 million in taxes, but that our citizens would donate an additional $220-million to charities.

At this time, there is still another ballot issue--to mandate so-called universal health care. Some of the backers wanted to take the matter off the ballot when the legislature approved HMO reform legislation. But others want to press forward. The secretary of state says, once filed, the petition can't be withdrawn. Stay tuned for details.

How do initiative petitions get on the ballot? Supporters first, in the fall, gather and file 57,100 signatures in support of their idea. Then, if the legislature fails to act legislation in response to the petitions, groups collect another 9,517 signatures to get on the ballot.

The legislature, during Constitutional Conventions, can also put issues on the ballot. This year, we've added two constitutional amendments to the ballot. We've done this, by approving them in two consecutive years in joint House and Senate sessions.

The first would bar prisoners from voting. The second is a technical tune up to the way electoral districts are determined.

Why so many ballot initiatives? Well, citizens are rising up to privately finance ballot issues that legislators haven't agreed to.

As Governor Cellucci said, referring to his proposed income tax cut, "We're going over the heads of the Legislature and straight to the people."

What do I think? Well, it's not for me to decide. It's up to you to decide. Just be sure to go to the polls and make your own decisions.

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