With three weeks remaining before the election, the two
sides battling over a $1.2 billion tax cut take their fight to the TV airwaves this week, with aggressive ads aiming at
winning over middle-class voters.
The 30-second spots unveiled yesterday echo the presidential
campaign clash over tax cuts, with supporters arguing that the reduction will help the economy and foes deriding the measure,
saying it would give "the richest taxpayers" most of the benefits.
The union-backed opponents of the measure are spending
$718,000 on commercials between now and the Nov. 7 election in an attempt to convince the public that the money for the tax
cut would be better spent on improving education or health care, as well as paying down state
"Yes, it's an uphill fight," conceded Jim St. George of the
Campaign for Massachusetts' Future. "That's not to say it's an impossible battle. But the biggest challenge we face is just
getting voters' attention."
Meanwhile, the Tax Rollback Committee, the lead group
supporting the initiative, is not taking anything for granted, despite recent polls indicating that the measure would pass by
a 3-to-1 ratio.
"Anyone who wants to sit on a lead in politics won't win,"
said John Brockelman, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party and spokesman for the Rollback Committee.
The backers will spend about $500,000 in the Boston and
Springfield television markets over the next week and again in the final days before the vote. However, Brockelman said the
group may spend more.
The ballot question, proposed and championed by Governor
Paul Cellucci, would reduce the income tax rate from 5.85 percent to 5 percent over three years.
Perhaps it's no surprise that the Stevens and Schriefer
Group, which does political ads for Governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign, also created the commercial for the
Rollback Committee. The argument Bush employs in support of his federal tax cut is the same
one that Cellucci is using in Massachusetts: Don't trust the government with your money; let
taxpayers decide how to spend the cash themselves.
The Rollback Committee's commercial focuses on the fact that
the state Legislature raised the income tax rate in 1989 with the promise that it would be a temporary increase to help pull
the state through the recession.
"Eleven years ago, the Legislature raised the income tax
rate promising to cut it as soon as the deficit was erased," the ad states, alternately showing a family in the produce
aisle of a grocery store and lawmakers milling about the floor of the House. "Today we have $4 billion in cash
reserves. It's time they keep their promise. A 'Yes' vote on 4 will provide a
tax cut for working families without cutting a single program, making Massachusetts more competitive and impose
fiscal discipline on a Legislature eager to spend. Vote 'Yes' on 4. Roll back the rate. Make
them keep their promise."
The opponents' ad shows an unenrolled voter, Nancy Villone
of Medfield, looking over the www.factson4.com Web site as she says: "I've been thinking about voting for Question 4, the
Cellucci-Swift tax plan. But then I looked it up on the Web, and I found out we'd lose the
chance to reduce class sizes and help our kids learn to read. Or even improve health care.
"And I saw that our state's debt is the fourth highest in
the nation, $33 billion. Shouldn't we pay some of that off? And the richest taxpayers get most of the break. When I checked it
out, I decided. I'm voting no on Question 4."
However, supporters of the rollback were quick to point out
not just what they perceive to be faulty arguments from the ad, but misspellings. The state and the governor's last name are
missing letters on the Web site, as taped for the commercial. (Both errors,
"Celluci" and "Massachusets," have since been corrected on the Web site.
"The ads are paid for by money from the Massachusetts
Teachers Associations," said A Promise to Keep, another group in favor of the rollback, in a
Under Question 4, the tax rate would drop to 5.6 percent
next year, 5.3 percent in 2002, and 5 percent thereafter.
A "no" vote would make no change in the rate. But last year,
the Legislature agreed to reduce it to 5.75 percent by 2001.