For those of us who
like direct democracy, there will be opportunities for participation
this fall when several initiative petitions go to the streets
looking for your signatures.
As I wrote in
mid-August, 33 petitions were filed with the attorney general’s
office by various groups and individuals: Article 48 of the
Massachusetts Constitution sets the rules for petitions and the
attorney general must certify that those rules have been followed
when drafting the proposed new law or constitutional amendment.
To make sure they get
certified, the activists sometimes file more than one version of
their proposal: so of the 33 petitions, only 20 different issues
were covered. One constitutional amendment, to declare that
“corporations are not people, money is not speech” was refused as
“inconsistent with certain constitutional rights” that aren’t
subject to initiative petitions. That leaves three proposed
amendments for signature collection: one to create a single-payer
system for health insurance, one to have Massachusetts join a
Commonwealth of Democratic nations (a global federation union); and
one to order that our National Guard not be sent beyond the borders
of Massachusetts except to help with natural disasters in other
states, not wars in other countries.
The first was the
threat that inspired RomneyCare as an alternative to government-run
healthcare. The second is too ridiculous to sign. The third is
interesting: I remember being surprised when I learned that the
National Guard was fighting overseas, as I’d always thought its
mission was internal to the country. I’d have to know how the
guardsmen themselves feel about this petition before I signed it.
Filing a petition is
easy: collecting thousands of signatures, then running a ballot
campaign, incredibly hard. Constitutional amendments have a more
difficult path: they must get the signatures, then a vote of 25
percent of the General Court in two consecutive legislative
sessions, then be supported by voters in November 2016.
Petitioners for a
statute need “only” collect 80,000 signatures (100,000 if proponents
expect a challenge of their signatures by opponents) this fall,
then, if the Legislature doesn’t enact their petition next May, they
must collect roughly another 20,000 signatures to take them to the
November 2014 ballot. Because of the difficulty of all this, don’t
expect to see all 12 proposed new laws when you go to vote.
There are petitions
relative to earned sick time, to keep daylight savings time
year-round, and a “new hire incentive” that I don’t understand; the
latter is filed by the same person who filed a reduction in the
sales tax to 5 percent, so I hope he chooses to do only that one.
Getting signatures on two petitions in the same drive is much harder
than you’d think. The Nurses’ Association also has two: one on
“excessive hospital operating margins” and another on “patient
safety” (setting by law the nursing staffing numbers).
Other unions are
getting behind the increase in the state minimum wage; they can
usually field petitioners. MassPIRG has experience petitioning, so
might get its update of the bottle bill to the ballot.
The two petitions I’m
planning to sign would repeal two sections of Gov. Deval Patrick’s
new tax increase for “transportation funding.” The first doesn’t
address this year’s hike in the gas tax, but repeals the section
that says the gas tax can increase every year after 2014 by the
consumer price index, without a further vote of our legislators.
This campaign is called “Tank the Gas Tax.”
The second petition is
called the “Act to repeal the 2013 sales tax on computer and
software technology services,” and is filed by those businesses that
were told they had one week after Gov. Patrick’s tax hike package
passed to start collecting this tax, even though no one in
government knows exactly which services are taxed and which
companies the law applies to, but whoever they are they must collect
it before they even get a chance to bill the customer, and there’s a
penalty if they don’t do it whoever they are and whatever it does.
The Department of Revenue has been trying to write regulations to
clarify all this.
Since legislators had
no idea what they were voting on, or that it will harm one of the
most vital sectors of our economy with its ability to create jobs,
this new sales tax should be repealed immediately; legislative
Republicans filed a bill on Monday to accomplish this before more
businesses consider moving their jobs elsewhere.
However, I must admit
that having the repeal petition on the 2014 ballot with the
legislative doofuses (doofi?) who passed it would be great fun,
giving their opponents the opportunity to tell voters about the
legislators’ ignorance of the bills they pass and of how the economy
works. Maybe by next November voters will be looking for management
ability in a Governor Baker, and legislators who think about
consequences before they overtax job creators.
By the way: Repealing
the new tech tax only to replace it with another increase in the
state income tax rate would be another bad idea. Taxpayers’ slogan
should be “Repeal, Resist, Reform” as they seek out this initiative
petition to sign.