and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column

Petitions, both serious and silly, seek spot on 2010 ballot
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Autumn, the season of crispy air and apples, red and golden leaves, back-to-school, football, ragweed allergies, initiative petitions ...

Wait! I seem to have outgrown my ragweed allergy. I also seem to have outgrown the compulsion to stand on street corners with an initiative petition.

Petition drives were fun at the time, but intense. Since a petition needs roughly 100,000 signatures and the petition drive lasts only six weeks, one felt one should be out there every free minute.

My knees didn't care back then if I stood for three hours at the post office, and I didn't get tired sitting at a fair or mall table all day. I knew that if we made it to the ballot, and won, the Legislature would honor the will of the voters.

The last time I stood at the post office was in 1999, holding a petition to roll back the "temporary" Dukakis income-tax hike of 1989. This ballot question passed 59 percent to 41 percent in 2000 and was partly implemented until the Legislature "froze" the rate at 5.3 percent in 2002.

But I got older, and the tolerance of voters for legislative misbehavior got old, too. It didn't seem fair to ask volunteers to work getting signatures through the fall just to have their winning efforts dismissed by politicians who were then handily re-elected.

In the next few years, few groups petitioned, which was perhaps just as well since the media stopped doing in-depth coverage of ballot issues and voters stopped paying close enough attention to make wise decisions on either issues or candidates. The initiative petition process, so hard-won by activists in 1918, seemed to be dying.

And then, in the spring of this year, all over America, voters stretched, yawned and woke up. They began paying attention to issues at the federal level, and in August several groups filed initiative petitions again in Massachusetts.

If voters are ready to defeat some misbehavin' incumbents at the same time they pass a ballot law, the process may yet be saved.

On the streets as I write this are 10 initiative petitions, seven to create a law, three to amend the state Constitution. The latter, if they get enough signatures, must run a complicated legislative gauntlet before getting to the ballot in 2014.

One of them makes "health care for all" a constitutional guarantee and raises taxes on business; I'm not signing that one.

The petition titled "Enhanced Representation" would change the structure of the Legislature; can't hurt to sign it as long as voters don't think it would take the place of "enhanced defeat of incumbents" next year.

"People's Rights to Self-Government" would create a "Commonwealth of Democratic Nations," as if Massachusetts voters alone could accomplish that. Too silly to sign.

If enough signatures are collected, the following petitions for statutes (laws) could be on the 2010 ballot.

1.)  Reduce the sales tax.

Carla Howell couldn't convince voters to support income tax repeal last year, but this year's petition follows an outrageous sales-tax hike from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. If the petition passes, and some legislators who voted for tax hikes are defeated, the Legislature may let it stand especially if it's obvious by then that the high sales tax is seriously hurting small businesses near the New Hampshire border.

Howell would lower the sales tax to 3 percent. The best argument for going that far is that we were promised when the sales tax was originally hiked in 1974 that the increase was temporary.

2.)  Repeal the sales tax on alcohol.

This one has its own legislative poster child Rep. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport who, after voting for this new tax on already taxed Massachusetts alcohol, was caught in New Hampshire buying booze. Sign it in his honor.

3.)  Eliminate tolls in Massachusetts.

Another with the "broken promise" theme, as we were told when the Massachusetts Turnpike was built that the tolls would disappear once the original bonds were paid off. Yes, the government lied about "temporary" here, too! When will we stop letting it get away with this?  [website]

4.)  Charter schools.

A petition by citizens who want to give more parents a chance to choose a better school if the teachers union-ruled government schools aren't working for them. This time, "for the children" and "choice" can be celebrated by all voters as real values.

5.)  Comprehensive permits and planning.

A chance to have a long-overdue public discussion on Chapter 40B zoning laws.

6.)  Limit carbon dioxide emissions.


7.)  Instant run-off voting.

An intriguing concept, and worth signing as long as voters don't think it takes the place of running off incumbents at the same time.

Old and petition-weary as I am, I do have petitions for sales-tax reduction and toll repeal myself. Their proponents are trying a new technique, asking people to download the petition from their computers and send the campaign at least 10 signatures. I can do that much.

Hope to sign a charter school petition and the "shame Rodrigues" petition, too.

Next year, it will be good to have some issues as well as legislative challengers on the ballot, as long as voters keep focused on defeating enough bad incumbents to scare the rest.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears 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.