Ballot Questions for 2010 Massachusetts State Election: Arguments For and Against

There are three questions on the Massachusetts 2010 Election ballot.  They are:

Question 1: Repeal the sales tax on alcoholic beverages

Question 2: Repeal chapter 40b

Question 3: Cut the sales tax from 6.25% to 3%

If any of these questions passed the legislature would be required to pass these questions into law. For each question we list the exact text of the ballot initiative, an issue summary, and the arguments of those for and against the question, as well as the issue groups supporting or opposing each question.

Like most ballot initiatives, the sides for and against will try to make their organizations look like grass roots popular movements. But they are often funded by powerful industry lobbies that have an interest in the outcome. We will detail those connections as well.

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Question 1: Repeal the sales tax on alcoholic beverages

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The exact ballot question is:

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 4, 2010?
SUMMARY
click to read the summary

A YES VOTE would remove the state sales tax on alcoholic beverages and alcohol where their sale or importation into the state is subject to an excise tax under state law.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the state sales tax on alcoholic beverages and alcohol.

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The Argument for Voting YES

This ballot question repeals the 6.25% sales tax on beer, wine, and liquor imposed last year. Massachusetts’ consumers have always paid a substantial excise tax on alcohol purchases. However, before last year, Massachusetts had no sales tax on the purchase of alcohol. The new sales tax should be repealed because it is an unfair “double tax;” a sales tax on top of an excise tax. The new sales tax has hurt small business owners who sell beer, wine, and liquor, particularly near New Hampshire, which has no sales tax on alcohol. Business has declined substantially for many of those stores. A ‘yes’ vote eliminates an unfair “double tax” on consumers and helps Massachusetts small businesses.

Authored by:
Frank Anzalotti
Committee To Repeal the Alcohol Sales Tax
www.YesTo1.com

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The Argument for Voting NO

Alcohol is not a necessity and does not deserve a special tax exemption. The only goods in Massachusetts exempt from the sales tax are necessities like food, clothing, and prescriptions. If anything should be taxed, products like cigarettes and alcohol should be.

Revenues from the alcohol tax provide dedicated funding for healthcare services for more than 100,000 residents with behavioral health problems. Massachusetts has some of the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse in the country – the last thing we need is to take money away from prevention and treatment services to make alcohol more accessible. The alcohol tax helps saves lives by reducing teen drinking and funding treatment services to help people beat addictions and get their lives back on track.

Nearly every state has a sales tax on alcohol in addition to excise taxes. Massachusetts faces a serious budget deficit; don’t give alcohol a special exemption.

Authored by:
Vic DiGravio, Treasurer
Committee Against Repeal of the Alcohol Tax
www.NoOn1MA.com

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Background and Analysis

The new sales tax on alcohol is “payback” to the liquor distributors in a way.

In 2006 there was an effort to allow supermarkets and other food stores to be able to sell beer and wine. It was called the “Massachusetts Food and Wine Stores Initiative”. A state sponsored study said it would have saved consumers an estimated $26 to $36 million dollars each year.

Both Supermarket interests and liquor store interests funded groups both for and against the initiative. The initiative was defeated. The tax hike on liquor stores was political payback.

Now liquor distributors are trying to defeat the tax hike. In 2010 alone, the Committee to Repeal the Alcohol Sales Tax, the main sponsor of Question 1, has received nearly $400,000 in contributions from state liquor distributors and individuals, according to public records.

Opponents of Question 1 contend that there should be no “special exemption” on sales tax on alcohol. This is misleading. Even before the state sales tax, alcohol already had a substantial excise tax. This sales tax is a second tax on beer and wine.

Massachusetts current high taxes on alcohol hurts the small businesses that sell alcohol near the Massachusetts border – especially on our border with New Hampshire. One only has to drive up there to see the massive beer and wine superstore that the New Hampshire state government has set up to take sales away from Massachusetts.

Some of the arguments against Question 1 harken back to a paternal attitude toward the sale of alcohol, where the state does not trust its citizens to make their own choices about consuming beer and wine, and seeks to make decisions for them by making it financially onerous to buy.

Like all sales taxes, the liquor tax is a regressive tax that hits working families the hardest. While the state income tax is graduated such that higher earners pay a greater proportion of their income in taxes, sales taxes make workers with lower incomes pay a higher proportion of their income in sales tax.

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Prediction

Massachusetts’ Puritan heritage is alive and well, and makes “sin taxes” a natural winner here. Supporters of Question 1 are not well organized. Question 1 is likely to be defeated by a wide margin.

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Question 2: Repeal chapter 40b

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The exact ballot question is:

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 4, 2010?

SUMMARY
click to read the summary

A YES VOTE would repeal the state law allowing the issuance of a single comprehensive permit to build housing that includes low- or moderate-income units.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the state law allowing issuance of such a comprehensive permit.

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The Argument for Voting YES

Voting “Yes” on this Question will ensure that quality affordable housing is built and remains for our parents, children, teachers and public employees. Massachusetts needs more affordable housing. A “Yes” vote will repeal the current “Chapter 40B” statute, a law that promotes subsidized, high-density housing on any parcel of land without regard to local regulations, the neighborhood or the environment. By stripping away local control, it has destroyed communities in rural, suburban and urban neighborhoods alike, while lining the pockets of out of state speculators. The current statute does not build affordable housing. Rather, it maintains a corrupt law that the Massachusetts Inspector General has called a “pig fest” and “represents one of the biggest abuses in state history”. A “Yes” vote will stop this outrageous misuse of tax payer money and allow cities and towns to build affordable housing for those who need it most.

Authored by:
John Belskis
Coalition for the Repeal of 40B
www.repeal40B.com

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The Argument for Voting NO

This referendum would abolish the primary tool to create affordable housing in Massachusetts without providing any alternatives. Housing in Massachusetts is very expensive. We need to protect the Affordable Housing Law so that seniors and working families can afford to buy homes here. The Affordable Housing Law has created 58,000 homes across the state and is responsible for approximately 80% of new affordable housing over the past decade, outside the larger cities. Repealing this law will mean the loss of badly needed construction jobs. Thousands of homes that have already been approved for development will not be built if this law is repealed. Homes and jobs will be lost, and there will be less affordable housing for seniors and working families. A coalition of hundreds of civic, municipal, business, environmental and religious leaders, including the League of Women Voters and AARP, urge you to vote No.

Authored by:
Tripp Jones, Chair
Campaign to Protect the Affordable Housing Law
www.protectaffordablehousing.org

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Background and Analysis

Cities and towns have over the years developed zoning laws to allow them to make good decisions about real estate development in their towns. It allows towns to make sure that new construction is sited appropriately.

Real estate developers always have an interest in developing the largest buildings they can on land that they own. This is what makes their projects profitable.

When a new development is planned, towns must consider if it is the right size for the lot, what effect it will have on the local neighborhood, and if the infrastructure can support the new development – such as the size of the nearby roads, access to water, access to schools, the impact of additional traffic.

Many times, large developments cause towns to face increased costs to upgrade infrastructure.

Section 40b is a special exemption given to real estate developers to sidestep zoning laws and build anything they want so long as a certain percentage of the new development is “affordable housing”

When a zoning board turns down a development, real estate developers will threaten to build an affordable housing development instead which cannot be stopped. It is a tool developers use to crush local opposition to the development of everything from industrial buildings, to office buildings and shopping malls. Most “affordable housing” proposals under 40b are never built – they are simply used to hammer down opposition to some other development.

Towns end up paying the associated infrastructure costs, and raising property taxes. The quality of life of local residents is affected.

The cost of housing in Massachusetts is high, and most citizens believe that programs to encourage affordable housing are necessary. But on this score chapter 40b has been a failure. 63% of the affordable housing units in Massachusetts were built using programs other than 40b. The median cost of housing built in 40b developments is $400,000. After 30 years, Massachusetts still doesn’t have enough affordable housing.

There are better alternatives to encourage affordable housing than chapter 40b, such as “inclusionary zoning”, or proposed laws like chapter 40R.  These proposals would increase affordable housing while preserving our zoning laws.

The group supporting repeal of 40b is entirely a grass roots citizen funded effort. The supporters of 40b include genuine grass roots and citizen groups but do receive very significant support from real estate developers.

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Prediction

Real estate developers have done a good job of cloaking their support of 40b as grass roots activism, and by branding support of 40b as support of “affordable housing”, they are likely to get support from voters. It will be difficult for underfunded 40b opponents to get their message out.

Repeal of 40b is likely to lose by a narrow margin. (but we urge you to vote YES on 2)

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Question 3: Cut the sales tax from 6.25% to 3%

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The exact ballot question is:

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 4, 2010?

SUMMARY
click to read the summary

A YES VOTE would reduce the state sales and use tax rates to 3%.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the state sales and use tax rates.

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The Argument for Voting YES

Last year, the State Legislature and Governor Deval Patrick raised the sales tax to 6.25%.

Thousands of people lost their jobs.

Your YES vote rolls back the sales tax to 3% and:

  • creates 32,929 productive, sustainable jobs
  • gives back an average of $688 – every year – to each taxpayer
  • saves Northern Massachusetts Retail Businesses and jobs by keeping shoppers here – instead of driving them to New Hampshire’s 0% sales tax
  • attracts shoppers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont and New York.

It safely trims fat: 5% from $52 billion in total state government spending. It does NOT reduce spending for cities and towns, police, firefighters, schools, roads — NOR any essential service. Not a dime.

Vote YES to reduce:

  • Government Waste
  • Bureaucracy
  • Sweetheart Deals for rich corporations
  • Union-inflated plush pensions that give government employees full retirement pay as early as age 54.

Vote YES for fiscal responsibility and desperately-needed JOBS.

Authored by:
Carla Howell
Alliance to Roll Back Taxes
www.RollBackTaxes.com

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The Argument for Voting NO

The sales tax helps pay for things we all value and rely on. We all want good schools, police and fire protection, safe roads and bridges, clean water and quality health care. Cutting the sales tax by more than half will prevent us from achieving these goals we share.

Our communities rely on local aid to pay for schools, public safety, and emergency services. Local aid has already been cut by 25 percent in the last two years, forcing communities to reduce services. This proposal would result in further cutbacks.

This proposal would take away $2.5 billion in state revenue. This is about half the total amount the state sends to our communities each year to help pay for public education.

The recession has forced communities to reduce services. We cannot keep cutting without doing lasting harm to our schools, health care and the services that strengthen our communities.

Authored by:
Joanne Blum
MA Coalition for Our Communities
www.votenoquestion3.com

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Background and Analysis

The sales tax is a regressive tax that hurts working families. The state income tax is 5.25%, and only gets to that level for families with high incomes. But the 6.25% sales tax applies to everyone. Families who are too poor to pay any income tax see the majority of this income taxed at 6.25% in sales tax, while wealthy families, who don’t use all of their income for purchases in state, pay a much smaller proportion of their income in sales tax.

It is true that some essentials like food and clothing are exempt from sales tax, but most of what people need to buy is not.

High sales taxes also damage our economy. Ours is a long and skinny state where most places are within easy driving distance of neighboring states where sales tax is lower than in Massachusetts. This costs our state millions in sales tax that goes to other states, and in retail jobs that flee across the border.

The state uses tax money to provide critical services upon which we all depend. But the costs of those services should be apportioned fairly by taxing those who can more easily afford it- through our graduated income tax. The sales tax does the opposite taxing the poor more than the rich.

If our state really needs to collect more in taxes than they currently are, they should have the political courage to increase the income tax, rather than pushing the costs onto the poor through a high sales tax.

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Prediction

Voters are tired of constant tax increases. The sales tax is affecting business in border towns across the state, and hitting families who can least afford it. If those families turn out to vote, Question 3 will pass by a narrow margin.

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19 Comments

  • October 7, 2010 - 11:12 am | Permalink

    Best description of the questions I’ve seen yet.. Thanks, will post a link to this soon on Dracut Forum.

    • Daga
      November 1, 2010 - 7:23 pm | Permalink

      I’m voting no-no-yes. I agree that we need to get it from the illegals somewhere! I’m voting no on section 40B as “affordable housing” is a pharse and has only created continued dependance on the states and the goverment! It has to stop! I am voting yes to lower our sales tax as I do believe our money is wasted and goes straight to the pockets of the big unions whom controll all the “sweet deals”! I feel as though I can’t trust anyone any more! We need to begin here at home and keep fighting our way up!

  • A concerned citizen...
    October 13, 2010 - 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Good summaries. Thank you. I would only add that arguing that sales taxes (any type) are only a regressive tax that hurts working families is only partially true. A sales tax unlike an income tax, taxes everyone including illegal aliens, visitors/tourists and those who skirt/hide their actual income and associated taxes, i.e. criminals, drug dealers, etc. A sales tax does hurt the lower income families; however, the state receives many more tax contributors and revenue. Just something to consider…

    • Responder
      November 1, 2010 - 2:06 pm | Permalink

      I like the idea of a sales tax to offset lower income taxes. I think we should tax clothes too, but with a tax free state that close by, the impact must be less than one might expect.

      I say No, Yes, No – and then fight to lower income taxes for individuals. If we lower sales taxes, property taxes will just go up. The MA government will collect taxes somewhere, somehow so I’d rather it be on a consumption basis. We all need to fight to lower our state income taxes once these revenue raisers pass.

  • jj
    October 22, 2010 - 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Titling opinions as “background and analysis” is misleading. This section on question 2 is an obvious argument for repealing 40B. I agree with some of the arguments, but they are opinion meant to sway the reader in a certain direction.

  • jj
    October 22, 2010 - 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Titling opinions as “background and analysis” is misleading. This section on question 2 is an obvious argument for repealing 40B. I agree with some of the arguments, but they are opinion meant to sway the reader in a certain direction.

    • October 22, 2010 - 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Background is for the facts behind some of these issues – who funds these groups, what may have happened in years past etc.

      Analysis – is opinion. Anyone can look at a set of facts and make an analysis where they try to figure out what it all means. Different people will come to different conclusions. I’m happy to post differing opinions.

      You can write your opinion to the comments here, or write an article about any or all of the ballot questions. I’ll post any thoughtful analysis/opinion about these issues.

  • Bmpski
    October 25, 2010 - 3:43 pm | Permalink

    40B is a “pig fest” and “represents one of the biggest abuses in state history”, as stated by the Massachusetts Inspector General!

    Our dream house has turned into a nightmare as a result of a so called “Friendly” 40B. The town boards and elected officials have put their own self interest ahead of a small contingent of abutters by creating a 3 story, 37 unit complex, as to get closer to the required 10% affordable housing stock. 40B will enable the unit to be built on a small parcel of land less than 100 feet from abutting residential properties. Since the town has no public water or sewage the massive septic system for this complex will compromise surrounding properties private well water. 40B is a corrupt law and directly impacts the safety and wellbeing of Massachusetts tax payers.

    If you listen carefully to what John Belskis has to say, you will understand that Chapter 40B is a complete failure! On average 40B has added 1,162 units per year over 37 years or .05% per year. These numbers are an embarrassment to anyone interested in developing affordable housing for the residents in Massachusetts. The conclusion that one reaches from these statistics is that 40B has not been an effective tool to develop affordable housing in Massachusetts and that we need a new approach.

    Please Vote Yes on Question 2 and repeal this corrupt law!

  • Hooyah34
    October 25, 2010 - 6:05 pm | Permalink

    The people of this state are so Gullible..Even if you keep all the Taxes, Those Monkeys up on Beacon hill, (whom I would trust with a Dixie cup full of quarters at the local arcade) Will not spend it the way it’s supposed to be spent, It’s just another money roll sitting next to the toilet if you get what Im saying………Why do people still insist on giving these people more money….Local aids and services will still be cut and Devals Friends and Family State Run Govn’t will continue to be grossly overpaid and continue to get raises…..

  • Kimby9730
    October 30, 2010 - 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Great analysis – unfortunately most of the voters depend on those sickening political ads to inform them. People saying the repeal of the Alcohol Tax will hurt health services, I have to ask, the tax hasn’t been there that long, exactly what has it been paying? How many people have actually been “rehabilitated” by this tax. I really believe that if we vote YES to repeal all these taxes it will force Beacon Hill to wake up and find other streams of revenues…this state needs help!!!

    • Responder
      November 1, 2010 - 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Are you kidding with this argument? What do you think those streams will be? You will be paying for it somewhere. Income and property taxes – which mostly hurts the people who worked hard to make enough money to be able to own their house. The illegals will still be living off the fat of the land, not paying income or property taxes and getting free healthcare. We need to collect from them somewhere. At least this way they are paying something into the system that treats them so kindly…

  • lookingup
    November 1, 2010 - 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I was looking for a good description of the pros & cons of each issue. Instead, I find extraordinarily biased statements. If you’re a “Yes on all 3″ website, then don’t disguise yourself as being neutral.

    • November 1, 2010 - 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Feel free to poset your own list of PROs and CONs. This is an open platform for voters to educate each other.

    • November 2, 2010 - 1:51 am | Permalink

      I found this site very helpful and I am voting “no” on 2 of the questions! I do not think this was intended as a “yes on all 3″ website. Hopefully we see progress in this state regardless of who is right and who is wrong. Things need to get better and we can all agree on that!

    • November 2, 2010 - 1:51 am | Permalink

      I found this site very helpful and I am voting “no” on 2 of the questions! I do not think this was intended as a “yes on all 3″ website. Hopefully we see progress in this state regardless of who is right and who is wrong. Things need to get better and we can all agree on that!

    • Cadillac Duval
      November 2, 2010 - 3:58 am | Permalink

      Maybe it just seems that way because there is no good argument to vote no on any of these questions. A yes vote helps all working and lower class people. What does a note vote help? Hacks or live off our tax dollars.

  • mel
    November 2, 2010 - 12:35 am | Permalink

    DUMP DEVALL

  • Hubbardston_townie
    November 2, 2010 - 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you have posted the arguments for no and yes on the questions so I can read them and think about it before I go to the polls.
    However the “background and analysis” is hardly objective the writer has a clear bias on each question of yes-yes-yes. So I would agree with lookingup.

    I tend to vote on these questions on the basis of “how will this affect me and my town”. Well, I live in Hubbardston, a small town 10 miles from the NH border.

    I will vote YES on #1. I don’t want the liquor having an excise tax, actually. To have another tax on it is indeed “double taxation”, which is unfair, which I would resist on anything. Also – I drink a lot of beer! With the high grain prices, beer prices are going up anyhow, then to have sales tax makes it more unaffordable. We also have a local brewery – in Westminster (next to Hubbardston)Wachusett Ale, which is pretty good. Sales tax on beer will only hurt them. No, I don’t work there, I am being true to my Germanic background – “Support your local brewery!”
    And it is true that folks from these parts will go to NH to avoid sales tax and buy their booze there. I have been guilty of that myself. And I am not a across the board supporter of liquor distributors, either. For instance, I voted for the bottle recycling bill when the liquor industry fought against it tooth and nail. And talk about saving the less wealthy some money – here in Hubbardston there are a lot a beer drinkers. Hubbardston is not a wealthy town, mostly working “class” families with kids, living from paycheck to paycheck. They would appreciate less expensive beer.

    I will vote YES on #2. We in Hubbardston didn’t have proper zoning laws when I moved here 24 years ago. It wasn’t out of state developers goin hogwild, it was local developers. They even railroaded the slectmen in a recall election so they could build their shoddy houses without opposition. They built them in swamps, bulldozed wetlands, packed in condos. Their house basements were flooding before people moved in! True pigs. Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes by touting “affordable housing”. All they want to do is to build crap, foist it off to the nearest sucker, and run with the money. I’ve seen it happen here. Thankfully, a grass roots movement in town reinstated the original selectmen, finally got some decent zoning laws passed, and stopped the pigs from destroying the town. Section 40b is a powerful tool in their arsenal to avoid town zoning and conservation laws. Let’s get rid of it and vote yes on #2.

    I am voting NO on #3. Who wouldn’t want lower taxes? Why stop there? Let’s vote for no taxes? Then the rich can have their private security, private schools, and private roads inside their coumpounds while the rest of us battle it out for survival, like “Escape from New York”. Cmon. people, accept some responsibility for maintaining services for our common good. Police, Fire, Road maintinence, schools cost money. I have no problem paying taxes because that supports the communities I live within. And what happens when local aid to towns is reduced? Then the town starts raising property taxes. Town meetings where they close the library, eliminate teachers, lay off police. Personally, I wish state sales tax was 5.00%. Easy to calculate. Who can figure out 6.25% without a calculator, except math geniuses? If there was a reasonable question whether to roll back sales tax from 6.25% to 5.00%, I would say yes. But this question 3 is just too hurtful to Hubbardston, therefore, a NO vote.

    • Anonymous
      November 2, 2010 - 10:55 pm | Permalink

      Spot on analysis of the issues… Another thing that gets lost in the cutting of the sales tax, is much of the funding for public transportation in MA, comes directly from the sales tax… Without it, the commuter rail, T, etc., would all have to cut services, which means more traffic and reducing the private sector jobs that so many commute into the Boston and the surrounding area for.

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