and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
September #2

Income-tax repeal and other initiatives
coming your way soon
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 13, 2007

Regardless of some people's stated desire to "move on," I for one support the national motto, "Remember 9/11," and will never forget watching the destruction of the World Trade Center. In fact, it's a good idea to start remembering the Alamo again; no, Mexico can't have Texas back.

Meanwhile, we can enjoy some citizen empowerment at the state level with our initiative petition process. Several petitions have been certified by the attorney general's office as properly drafted and will be available for signing through the fall.

Proponents must collect 66,593 signatures of registered voters by the end of November. If they are successful, the proposed statutes (laws) go forward to a required vote of the Legislature next spring; and, if then rejected, need more signatures to get on the 2008 ballot. Constitutional amendments face a three-year process, needing at least 50 legislators voting "yea" during two constitutional conventions, before they are eligible for the 2010 ballot.

Sure, the Legislature sometimes repeals or "freezes" initiative petitions that voters pass on statewide ballots. And it sometimes ignores initiative petitions for constitutional amendments.

But, Massachusetts activist-citizens being what they are, these two concerns are addressed this year by petition filers.

One petition would repeal the income tax.

In 2000, voters cut the income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5 percent. In 2002, the Legislature froze the rate "temporarily" at 5.3 percent, where it remains.

A question on the ballot later that year, which proposed repealing the tax altogether, got 45 percent of the vote. Libertarian -- "Small government is beautiful" -- Carla Howell is collecting signatures this year to put a repeal on the ballot again. Having worked hard on the original income tax rollback, since frozen by the Legislature, I'm definitely planning to sign and vote for that.

Voters who signed the "defense of marriage" petition for a constitutional amendment, only to have it rejected by the Legislature over several years, and voters who signed the "health care for all" petition only to have it completely ignored, may want to come from the right and the left to support a new proposed constitutional amendment to remove the Legislature from the initiative amendment process.

Of course, proponents have to get legislative approval to allow their petition on the ballot -- an uphill battle. But it's a debate that will be well worth having and hearing at the required constitutional convention.

Other petitions that will probably be circulating in a neighborhood near you:

  • A constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 16.

    Good grief! I personally believe that half the people MY age shouldn't be encouraged to vote. But this exercise in civic activity will get teenagers involved with a ballot question. If they go through the extraordinary effort of a petition drive, they may grow up to appreciate other initiative petitions they encounter on the ballot. I'm not worried that voters, given the chance in 2010, would actually decide to let their kids vote.

  • That petition itself makes more sense than the next one, "a constitutional amendment extending the people's right of self-government." Sounds good until you learn that this "right" entails joining "a "Commonwealth of democratic nations, open to all free nations ... invested with powers ... limited to international affairs ... to insure international tranquility and safeguard human rights."

    Wonderful, we can all pay more taxes to support yet another level of government, one that can compete with the United Nations as the most ineffective official entity. I don't plan to sign this one.

  • A law relative to comprehensive permits and regional planning.

    This one has some legs: it effectively repeals 40B legislation that lets developers override local zoning laws. Another debate worth having, involving affordable housing, the environment, and local autonomy.

  • A law to protect greyhounds.

    To me it's not a proper petition year without an animal rights issue on the ballot. This simply abolishes greyhound racing. But the debate may include the casino gambling issue. Some people want to add slots to the racetracks; yet others have suggested having only slots at the existing tracks, saving jobs yet ending greyhound involvement. You might find this petition at your local pet stores.

  • A law establishing a sensible marijuana policy for the commonwealth.

    This one decriminalizes the possession of a very small amount of marijuana for personal use for adults only. It would end the current outrageous law that doesn't allow marijuana to help sick people endure cancer treatments -- even though they can get morphine if the treatments don't work! I think smoking pot for recreation is foolish, but I'd sign this one for the cancer patients.

  • A law repealing the auto excise and reducing the allowed annual increase in the property tax from 2 percent to 1 percent.

    Governor Patrick ran on a pledge to cut property taxes. If he hasn't kept that promise by the 2008 election, the voters might just want to do it themselves.

    Repeal the income tax or cut the property tax? Now there's a debate I'd like to hear, and a question I'd like to answer after appropriate deliberation.

  • Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.