State ballot questions at a glance

October 22, 2010
By

Rebeca Oliveira

Local, non-binding question will guide state Reps.

In addition to voting for state-wide and local candidates on Nov. 2, voters will be asked to weigh in on four ballots questions, two of which relate to how Massachusetts gets its tax-based income.

Question 1

This question would remove the sales tax on alcoholic beverages and alcohol where those beverages are already subject to a separate excise tax. Proponents of the suggested law call it an “unfair double tax,” in the Information for Voters pamphlet, published by the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Those against repealing the sales tax say that it is “unfair to give alcohol a special tax exemption, when every other product that is not a necessity of life is taxed,” according to the NoOn1Ma.com web site.

The sales tax in Massachusetts is 6.25 percent. The excise tax on alcoholic beverages, according to the state Department of Revenue’s website, varies from $.03/gallon to $4.05/gallon, depending on the kind of beverage. The only goods in Massachusetts currently not subject to sales tax are vital necessities like food, clothing and prescriptions. Before last year, however, Massachusetts had no sales tax on alcohol.

According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget) web site, applying the general sales tax to alcoholic beverages starting in 2009 resulted in an additional $93 million in tax revenue in the 2010 fiscal year and will produce $112 million in the 2011 fiscal year. MassBudget is a non-partisan non-profit research firm that provides independent research and analysis of state budget and tax policies, as well as economic issues.

Supporters of the proposed law say in the voters’ pamphlet that the sales tax hurts small business owners who sell alcoholic beverages, particularly near New Hampshire. The NoOn1Ma.com web site states that “Massachusetts revenue department officials reported increased alcohol sales in the five months after the tax was applied, and New Hampshire officials say they did not see any evidence of increased alcohol sales to Massachusetts residents.”

Voting yes on this question would remove the sales tax, voting no would make no change in the current law. The proposed law would take effect on January 1, 2011.

Question 2

The law proposed by question 2 would repeal an existing affordable housing law, Chapter 40B, that allows qualified organizations to build housing that includes low- or moderate-income units using a more forgiving permitting process, in order to encourage a 10 percent rate of affordable housing in all Massachusetts communities. Chapter 40B enables municipal zoning boards to approve affordable housing under flexible zoning rules if at least 20-25 percent of the homes proposed in a given development have long-term affordability restrictions.

Since Chapter 40B was enacted in 1969, Massachusetts has fallen to 49th in the country in terms of home affordability, with median cost of renting rising statewide by 20.5 percent between 2001 and 2006, while median renter incomes declined by 1.5 percent, according to the Coalition for the Repeal of 40B web site.

However, outside of the major cities, 40B has been responsible for 80 percent of the affordable housing created in Massachusetts over the past decade, according to the Campaign to Protect the Affordable Housing Law web site. Both sides agree that affordable housing is necessary, but those in favor of repealing 40B say it is a “corrupt” law that should be replaced. Supporters of the law say voters should not “abolish the primary tool to create affordable housing in Massachusetts without providing any alternatives,” according to the voter pamphlet.

A yes vote on question 2 would repeal 40B. A no vote would keep the law as is. The repeal would take effect on January 1, 2011, and would not affect any developments already in progress.

Question 3

Question 3 proposes that the sales tax be reduced from the current 6.25 percent to 3 percent. The sales tax was last raised in September 2009, from 5 percent to the current rate.
With the proposed tax cut, each Massachusetts resident would not spend, on average, $688 annually, according to the Alliance to Roll Back Taxes’ statement in the voter pamphlet. The proposed tax cut would cut 5 percent from the state’s budget, which would translate into $2.5 billion less for the state budget, the pamphlet states. According to the MassBudget web site, the state is already reducing spending in every area of the budget except healthcare for the 2011 fiscal year.

Sales taxes are a fairly steady source of income to the state, especially during recessions. The MassBudget web site notes that recessions in fiscal years 2002 and 2009 produced sharp declines in overall tax collections, but that the corresponding declines in sales tax revenue were much less dramatic.

A yes vote on question 3 would reduce the state sales and use tax to 3 percent. A no vote would keep the tax rate at 6.25 percent.

Question 4

Unlike the other questions that will be on the ballot, question 4 is non-binding, which means it will not put a new law on the books. Instead, voters are being asked their opinion of “legislation that would establish health care as a human right regardless of age, state of health or employment status, by creating a single payer health insurance system like Medicare that is comprehensive, cost effective and publicly provided to all residents of Massachusetts,” and whether their state reps. should support such legislation.

Single payer health care systems cover everyone under a single, publicly financed insurance plan that provides comprehensive health care. This system would not be socialized healthcare, instead it would be socialized health insurance: The government would pay for care that is delivered in the private sector, similar to how Medicare works.

Benjamin Day, director of Mass-Care and JP resident, a single-payer health care advocacy group in Massachusetts, told the Gazette in a phone interview that 14 districts, including those represented by Reps. Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sanchéz, have the question on their ballots.

Voting yes would tell the Representatives to support legislation that would enact single payer health insurance in the state of Massachusetts. Voting no would tell them to not support such legislation. The Massachusetts Health Care Trust bill is currently awaiting action in both chambers of the state legislature. Neither Malia nor Sanchéz are one currently a co-sponsor of the bill.
On Wednesday, the Boston City Council voted unanimously to urging Bostonians to vote no on questions 1, 2 and 3. The three resolutions were offered by At-large Councilors Felix Arroyo and John Connolly.
The local Ward 10, 11 and 19 Democratic committees will host speakers for and against each of the three binding ballot questions on Oct. 26 at the Agassiz School.