and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
November #1

Citizen petitions no longer inspire voters
or strike fear on Beacon Hill
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, November 2, 2006

Once upon a time, no matter whom they elected governor or state legislator, voters knew they could address major issues themselves if necessary through the initiative petition process.

Today, with the Legislature ignoring, rejecting or repealing ballot questions, the initiative petition process is Massachusetts is almost dead. This is mostly the voters' fault: When a politician insists he knows better than they do, they elect him anyhow.

Many petitioning groups don't bother anymore, knowing that all their effort can be for naught even if they get 70 percent of the popular vote, as the charitable tax deduction did in 2000 before legislators "froze" it in 2002.

There are only three questions on the statewide ballot next [this] week. All three are statutes that can be repealed by the Legislature after they pass. Nevertheless, voters should try their best to make an informed decision.

The Secretary of States' red voter information booklet gives us the text of the laws, committee reports, and pro/con arguments.

I do know I'm voting no on Question 3, to unionize family child-care providers. That's all we need, another bunch of public-sector union members, whining if they have to "work without a contract," like the rest of us do; and using collective bargaining to give themselves fat, early pensions and paid sick leave that is accumulated over the years and reimbursed at the final year's pay level.

As part of the 88 percent non-union labor force, I don't relate to this collective bargaining thing. If I had a child needing care, I'd much rather hire someone who negotiates as a skilled individual for his or her own pay and benefits.

Question 2 allows candidates for public office to be nominated by more than one political party. I try, but can't quite grasp why this would be a good thing. Who is stopping any group from endorsing any candidate, now?

I can relate to the argument that anything is worth a try since nothing is working here in Massachusetts anyhow. But I'm going with the lazy, quick opinion, related to my feelings on Question 3: Since public employee unions like the Massachusetts Teachers Association want it, I'm agin' it. They're looking for more power, and that will inevitably cost us taxpayers money or lost services.

Many of these unions lobbied for the Legislature to repeal the voter-passed initiative petition on the income tax rollback; they don't deserve to win a ballot question.

Moving right along to the tough one, Question 1. I read how some voters are confusing this with "Christy's Proposition 1" which relates to property taxes. But this is not it, though gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos' proposal would require a constitutional amendment that would have to clear the legislative hurdles that have blocked term limits, the "defense of marriage" petition, and the health-care constitutional amendment.

The health-care question should be on the ballot next week, but despite the 71,000 certified signatures gathered by petitioners, the Legislature refused to give it the required roll-call vote in the constitutional convention last summer.

That same constitutional convention promised to take up the "marriage amendment" on Nov 9 [Thursday]. If all those legislators who killed the health-care initiative were thrown out of office next week for violating the constitution, it might make the surviving politicians do their duty; but the voters will instead re-elect them with the message, "Kick me again." So the signers of the "marriage amendment" may also have their right to a fair vote violated next week.

Instead of important but controversial issues on the ballot, we get only items like Question 1 - corporate giants fighting with each other over things their lobbyists can't get done on Beacon Hill because both sides have powerful legislative friends.

I don't buy wine so I don't care if I can buy it in grocery stores. My libertarian first thought is that the government shouldn't be telling any private business what it can or can't sell.

Wine in moderation is good for you. I think of the shopping mother who has to get the kids in and out of car seats each time she runs into a store; she should be able to find dinner wine somewhere near the pasta. On the other hand, my local convenience store has a little, separate liquor store, which is convenient enough.

Will it be easier for kids to get wine to drink? The State Police Association finds the risk unacceptable and urges a no vote; as does Ron Bersani, grandfather of Melanie, killed by a wine-drinking drunk driver. On the other hand, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, of which I'm a member, is not taking a position.

Will beer and liquor follow wine into small stores whose young clerks can't say no to underage customers?

I think opponents of Question 1 are exaggerating the dangers, and I don't like the patronizing lawn sign: "Don't be fooled, vote No on 1." Fooled? The big liquor stores just don't want the competition. Competition is good - at least until there's only one giant store that sells everything, and no little stores left.

I still have a few days to decide. If I can't, this may be the first time I don't vote on a ballot question. Wish we still had the kind that meant something to me.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence [RI] Journal and other newspapers.