Saturday, November 27, 1999
Ballot questions near key deadline
By Martin Finucane
BOSTON (AP) With the deadline looming for submission of signatures on petitions to
the secretary of state, it looks like there may be a host of referendum questions heading
for the 2000 ballot.
Voters could be asked to decide at the polls whether the state should have
universal health care, tax cuts, restrictions on pesticide use at schools, or a ban on dog
racing just to name a few.
The ballot could stretch "from here to Chelsea," said Secretary of State
But there are powerful forces both proposing and opposing questions and there will
likely be stumbling blocks in the way before the questions are placed on the ballot.
City and town clerks have been checking over the petition signatures and activists
are supposed to bring in bundles of the certified petitions to the secretary of state by
Activists need 57,100 certified signatures to clear the first hurdle in the race
to the ballot.
Then, if the Legislature doesn't act on their proposal by the first Wednesday in
May, they need to collect another 9,517 petition signatures by July 5 before getting it on
The course of getting a proposal on the ballot often doesn't run smoothly,
Opponents can appeal to the State Ballot Law Commission or go to state court,
questioning the validity of a proposed law or the validity of the petitions containing the
"I would anticipate objections on several of these, based on the fact that
the opposition is extremely well-financed," said Galvin.
Galvin, whose office has until the end of the year to examine the petitions, has
early indications of how well the signature gatherers have done.
The biggest harvest of signatures, he said, appears to have been collected by the
campaign to roll back the income tax from 5.95 percent to 5 percent, which has been run by
anti-tax activists with the help of the state Republican party.
In second place was a proposal to ban dog racing, followed by a group of proposals
that are in "reasonably good shape":
A proposal that would expand drug treatment, use forfeited assets to pay for the
expansion, and change the law on seizing assets related to drug crimes;
A proposal to give a tax break to people who pay tolls or auto excise tax;
A proposal to open up cable TV networks to Internet service providers;
A proposal to increase the tax deductions for charitable giving; and
A proposal to eliminate the use of most chemical pesticides in schools, day care
centers and child care programs in the state.
A proposal that would provide universal health care for Massachusetts residents is
"close" to the required number ofsignatures, Galvin said, and looks as if it
will make it.
A proposal easing the current restrictions on state aid to religious or other
private schools also looks to have collected the required signatures, he said.
But the validity of the proposal, which would require a constitutional amendment
and wouldn't be placed on the ballot until 2002 even if all went well, is still being
decided in federal court.
The losers include a proposal allowing the Sunday sales of alcohol, proposals that
would decriminalize marijuana, and a proposal to strengthen family and parental rights.
Some of the ballot battles are expected to be intense. Tax-cutters and unions are
expected to go head-to-head over the tax cut proposals; cable TV companies and Internet
providers are expected to clash over the cable TV-access question.
Chemical companies may jump in the fray to oppose the school pesticide ban.
State Ballot Law Commission challenges may be followed by legal cases. And if the
technical challenges fail, the opposing sides will likely take to the airwaves to convince
voters of the righteousness of their causes.
Massachusetts voters will cast ballots for a president, a senator and state
lawmakers next November, true. But some of the hottest races may be over issues, rather
Martin Finucane is a reporter in the AP's Statehouse bureau.
State House News Service
ADVANCES-WEEK OF NOV. 29, 1999
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON ... The end of a year many lawmakers would like to forget is
fast approaching, and the main political questions of next year will be framed in major
measure by ballot questions due in Secretary William Galvin's office Wednesday. Many
ballot initiatives address matters that legislators have rejected or ignored for years.
Two repeat campaigns launched two years ago but tossed out by the courts before
they could reach voters. They are drives to lower the income tax rate from 5.95 to 5
percent and give a fiscal break to Massachusetts Turnpike users.
It appears seven or eight of the 13 possible referenda will make it to the next
stage in the process. That means that by Wednesday's 5 pm deadline, they will have left
with Secretary of State William Galvin's office enough signatures (57,100) to be filed for
action when the new legislative year begins in January.
If the House and Senate fail to pass laws addressing ballot-bound issues by the
first Wednesday in May, sponsors next year have until the end of June to collect another
9,517 signatures to guarantee a spot on the Nov. 7 ballot.
In 1998, sponsors of a question to end turnpike tolls were stymied when the courts
ruled their plan was unfair to agency bondholders. It was a tough pill to swallow after a
long, arduous signature-gathering process. This year they have a new scheme -- a tax
credit to turnpike travelers and auto excise taxpayers.
Citizens and Limited Taxation and Government
faced a different challenge. Enough signatures were collected but teachers unions and
progressive tax policy advocates challenged the validity of signatures and got the
question disqualified. This year's signature gatherers face a new hurdle -- a recent SJC
ruling requires gatherers to meticulously accumulate scribble-freepetition forms.
THE COUNT ... "These are the cleanest petitions I've ever seen," said
Jack McCarthy, chief of staff to Secretary of State William Galvin. Over the past two
weeks, local registrars of voters have checked voter names and addresses and stamped
sheets, noting how many certified signatures each contained.
Sponsors were urged to file early this year since the recent court decision has
complicated the process. ...[T]he Supreme Judicial Court said the Secretary of State must
disallow all signatures on any sheet containing a blemish, or any other marks not
contained on the original document. For that reason, Galvin's office reports, many sheets
are arriving with only one signature on them, adding more paper to the workload of local
and state officials. And some sheets have already been disqualified, said McCarthy, most
because parts were illegally highlighted, marked or doodled upon in a way that is
considered objectionable in the wake of the SJC decision.