Thursday, October 30, 2008

Casting About: Your MA State Ballot

So, in case you hadn't hear all the buzz, next Tuesday we head to the polls and cast a vote in what many are calling, "arguably the most important election in a generation."

Of course, each successive election is arguably the most important as it fundamentally changes the face of our nation and course of our state. Just like walking into a stranger's Halloween party, wearing a questionable costume--it never hurts to know a little bit more ahead of what you're getting yourself into this election, as there are some key ballot questions on the Massachusetts statewide this year. Ballot measures may be placed before voters by citizen petition, and while we elect our representatives to enact laws--many of the questions this year would never have seen light had they come through Beacon Hill.

Studies indicate that most people tend to vote on gut instinct when they step behind the curtain and struggle to decipher obscure legislative wording or complicated forms--so it all comes down to first reactions--taxes bad, dogs good, and pot, well that is anyone's guess. Not that there is anything wrong with instinct, as it akin to ideology; but to help you vote informed, here is a rundown on the 3 significant ballot measures you'll be seeing November 4th--and if fair and balanced wasn't already copyrighted, I'd like to think this is.

Ballot Question 1: Abolish State Income Tax

A YES VOTE would reduce the state personal income tax rate to 2.65 percent for the tax year beginning in 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years after 2010.

A NO VOTE would make no change in state income tax laws.

This proposed law would halve the personal income tax rate and then eliminate it all together. At stake is $12.5 billion in annual revenues, or about 40 percent of the $28 billion state budget. Proponents claim the measure would provide an average savings of $3,700 to each taxpayer, reduce government wasteful spending, and boost the economy. Opponents say it would reduce the capabilities of government to provide services, harm the economy, and result in increases in other forms of taxes.

The Commonwealth could of course tighten its belt, and skip seeing the next Bond movie, though it would require cuts in spending and raising sales to make up some revenue. According to a "best-case" assessment by the non-partisan Beacon Hill Institute, budget cuts for state and local governments may only be of a magnitude of - 12%, job creation would occur, and the resulting average increase in household income (after increases in sales taxes) might be closer to $1,500 per taxpayer. The study assumed a healthy economy and identified spending reductions including funding for fire protection, housing and community development, public welfare, and sewer services.

Another study prepared by the Massachusetts's Taxpayers Foundation and funded by local business associations, calculated the average return by income brackets. While the average savings would likely be $3,700, taxpayers earning under $50k would save $1,300 returned, those earning under $75k would receive $2,500, and those earning over $100k would see a minimum of $12,500.

The study argues that the effect of the measure would be to switch taxation from a progressive income based system, to a regressive sales tax system. The majority of business associations, faith-based organizations, community organizations, institutions, and other service providing or receiving groups in Mass oppose this ballot question, on grounds that it would decimate the ability of government to provide basic services and enable social and financial mobility. This question isn't about your wallet, it is about your instinct for the role of public goods in society.

A poll released Thursday by Suffolk University found 59% of voters oppose the elimination of the state income tax, while 26% support it, and 16% were undecided. In 2002, a similar ballot measure went before voters and failed with 48.2% voting no, and 39.9% voting yes.

Ballot Question 2: Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

A YES VOTE would replace criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties.

A NO VOTE would make no change in state criminal laws concerning possession of marijuana.

This proposed law would change existing criminal penalties to civil penalties, for possession of relatively small quantities of marijuana. New enforcement would include issuing citations, would exclude information from the state's criminal record information system, and would impose civil penalties of $100 and require drug awareness programs.All other marijuana-related illegal activity, such as Intent to Distribute or Driving Under the Influence charges will remain criminal.

Advocates for the measure regard it as sensible drug policy and point to benefits of cost reductions for law enforcement and the judicial system. Additionally, proponents cite permanent criminal records for possession as an unfair barrier to future employment.

Decriminalization for possession is opposed by law enforcement, as opponents suggest that civil penalties condone substance abuse and criminal activity--citing correlations that nearly 40% of criminal arrestees test positive for marijuana. Under current law, criminal penalties for possession include up to six months in jail,a $500 fine, and a permanent criminal record is filed. Opponents also suggest ounce is potentially more than 100 individually rolled joints, though in states and provinces where decriminalization has occurred that is a standard quantity for civil infractions.

So, even if Clinton did in fact inhale, international evidence suggest marijuana use doesn't lead to the kind of activity seen on those entertaining US public service anti-drug commercials. And of course alcohol use is legal and arguably more dangerous, so ask yourself what is right or wrong, and how much is too much?

A Suffolk University poll released October 23rd indicated found 51 percent in support of civil penalties, while 32 percent oppose, and 16 percent were undecided.

Ballot Question 3: Ban Greyhound Racing

A YES VOTE would prohibit dog racing where any form of betting n the speed or ability of dogs occurs, effective 2010.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the laws governing dog racing.

Dog racing has taken place in Massachusetts for over 70 years, though now only takes place in one track in Revere and one in Raynham. For whatever reasons, people seem to enjoy horses more, maybe it is the mint juleps and big hats. From 2000 to 2007, these tracks paid over $40 million to the Commonwealth in taxes and fees related to racing activities. The volume of gambling on greyhounds has declined significantly since the 1990s and the value of betting over the last five years is down at least 37% at Raynham and 65% at Revere. Racing is legal and active in 15 states, while 34 states have explicit bans against dog racing. In Massachusetts, a similiar measure was defeated in 2000, with 48.6% voting against a ban.

Advocates of the measure consider dog racing to be inhumane and point to statistics showing that in Massachusetts more than 700 racing greyhounds have been injured since 2002, including dogs who suffered broken legs, paralysis and several fatalities.

Opponents argue that similar to horse racing, the greyhounds are not owned by tracks and both parties must follow heavily regulated animal welfare provisions. Greyhounds have become a rallying point for many organizations recently, and while PETA spokes models aren't posing naked with dogs yet, this is as much about the people who are more likely to gamble and who are affected by legalized gambling, as it is about the welfare of animals.

A Suffolk University poll released October 23rd indicated that 44% of those polled were in favor of a ban, while 43% were opposed; another 13% were undecided.

Last thoughts. Bearing in mind that none of this year's questions are binding constitutional amendments; they are legally-binding initiatives that amend current state statues and cannot readily be altered by the Legislature. It all comes down to voting your instinct, though with any luck now you may just have a little more to go on. It isn't too late to become involved, visit the campaigns' websites to learn, contribute, and vote!

Related Posts: Food Drive on Voting Day; Presidential Election and Free Speech; 2008 Vote: Whys and Hows of the Electoral College; Are you making your decision based on looks?; Passive Electioneering; Presidential Election, Registering to Vote, and the Ballot Questions; Absentee Voting; Google wants you to vote


Magic said...

OK, we've already had our initial look at one of the extremists behind Question 3, Ms. Christine Dorchak who's preternatural relationship with her dog led her to become active in animal rights. That's a new one: "My dog made me do it!"

But Christine is not alone. The Humane Society of the United States is bankrolling the initiative.

They sound like a good organization-- they must be part of the Human Society-- you know, the people who look out for animals and provide shelters for strays right? NOPE! They do not operate one single shelter! You would be surprised just what most people do not know about the HSUS but SHOULD!

The HSUS has deep pockets. Read about their other ballot question initiative in California aimed at pricing eggs out of Californians reach.

I love animals. I think people that really abuse them should be punished.

Casey said...

Magic- The Humane society doesn't operate any shelters? Really?

So if you're against the people behind the initiative, are you for or against the ending greyhound racing?