A tale of two ballot questions

By Denebola
Published: November 2008

By Chris Erspamer

While most national and global attention was focused on America’s presidential race on election day, millions of Massachusetts residents voted to keep the state income tax and decriminalize marijuana.

Voters defeated Question 1, a proposal to eliminate the 5.3 percent income tax on wages and interests by a vote of 70 percent to 30 percent. If the ballot question had passed, the Massachusetts government would have had to cut millions from its budget, including local aid given to cities like Newton to pay for education.

Question 1 was officially sponsored by the Committee for Small Government, which is led by Libertarian politicians Carla Howell and Michael Cloud.

Its main opponents included the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation and the Coalition For Our Communities, an organization made up primarily of labor unions and formed this year for the purpose of fighting the repeal of the income tax.

Howell claimed the ballot would have saved the average taxpayer up to $3,700 and would have greatly curbed the excessively high amount of government waste.  She blamed high taxation as the primary cause for the state’s current economic woes, and claimed that the income tax repeal would have stimulated businesses and gotten the economy back on track. “Almost all new jobs come from small businesses funded by individuals and families, she said. “Allowing such people to save money would have been critical in bringing about job growth.

The Committee for Small Government had sponsored a similar ballot in 2002, received 45 percent.

This time, however, opponents of the measure were much better organized and the initiative overwhelmingly defeated, with about 70 percent of the people voting against it.

Andy Bagley, a senior official of the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, attributes this shift in public opinion to the substantial amount of time and money that his group and other organizations spent in defeating the measure this year compared to six years ago, when it was not taken seriously.

“Given the results in 2002, we realized that we had to be much more effective in alerting citizens to the disastrous consequences that would be provoked by such a drastic measure, Bagley said. According to Bagley, the proposal would have deprived the state government of 40 percent of its money and forced it to get rid of 70 percent of its services.  In addition, Bagley claimed that the tax repeal would have served to benefit only the wealthy, whereas the poor and the middle class would have faced a sharp rise in sales and property taxes and be greatly harmed.

Voters also decriminalized possession of marijuana by approving Question 2. This law ended the state’s criminal penalties for marijuana possession including permanent criminal reports and possible jail time and replaced them with a $100 fine. Despite the opposition of Governor Deval Patrick and most other politicians, voters approved by a large margin of 65 percent. The measure’s chief proponents were the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy and the Boston Worker’s Alliance.

Supporters of proposition 2 argued that the current law was too costly and unsuccessful, and had targeted too many people. According to Aaron Tanaka, a member and official of the Boston Worker’s Alliance, about half of all Massachusetts residents have used soft drugs before. Despite the positive response to Question 2 passing, the ballot results still await confirmation from the Attorney General, and cannot become law until 30 days after it has been reviewed.

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