Petitions some good, some bad headed for the ballot in 2012
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hallelujah! Having addressed public employee health insurance reform earlier this year, the Massachusetts Legislature is now addressing public employee pension reform.

If done responsibly over union objections, this will be good news for taxpayers, especially future taxpayers who are stuck with the unfunded liabilities; it is also good, long-term, for public employees who otherwise could lose more retirement benefits if the commonwealth goes bankrupt.

It seems as if Beacon Hill is starting to face fiscal reality and the reality that hit home when voters replaced several legislators at the 2010 election, thereby earning the respect of those remaining. Why, I hear that the Legislature might actually start to roll back the income-tax rate, which voters mandated be phased down to its traditional 5 percent in the 2000 election and legislators froze at 5.3 percent in 2002.

It would be only a .05-percent cut, but nevertheless, it shows a certain beginner respect for voters that could give heart to activists who have filed initiative petitions this fall.

These activists will be getting the petition forms from the Secretary of State this week, so you may see them on a street-corner, at a shopping center, post office or town dump soon.

I myself sign for issues with which I agree, or that I just want to see on the 2012 statewide ballot for public debate and decision.

I won't be signing the constitutional amendment for universal health insurance, an earlier version of which was supplanted by RomneyCare.

For all its costs and problems, the new health insurance law passed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney and the Legislature stopped the socialized medicine initiative in 2006. So I can't think why we need this petition now, with most of us covered.

I also won't be signing the petition repealing the individual mandate in RomneyCare, until proponents also oppose the federal mandate to treat everyone whether they have insurance or not, at the expense of those of us who do.

I understand people don't want to be told they must buy health insurance, but are they willing to wear a med bracelet saying, "Don't treat me"?

Better to put effort into cost control repealing the broad areas of mandated coverage and allowing more industry competition for more affordable basic policies.

But on the subject of health, I like the petition to allow the humanitarian medical use of marijuana in Massachusetts. Why a sick person can't get relief from various symptoms by using marijuana, when he can be given other, stronger drugs like morphine, has always been a mystery to me.

I also never understood how the state could overrule me on my right to die when I want. I had hoped someday to do a petition myself, asserting the right to choose "death with dignity" at the end of life. Now that I'm an age when the issue might arise, I'm glad someone is doing it, with a proposed law drafted to avoid abuses by having it apply only to people who are already in the final stages of dying.

So let's have a ballot discussion on "whose life is it, anyhow?"

Speaking of choice, there's a petition for excellence in education, that seems focused on defining good teachers. Why not just encourage more charter schools, where parent/consumers choose those that have what they perceive to be good teachers, because their kids are learning?

One petition that puzzles me is the one limiting the amount by which water and sewer rates may be raised only 2 percent a year. It's drafted with language similar to Proposition 2, with an override provision.

I remember battles in the past over water and sewer rates, but after these costs were removed from the property tax in most communities, and replaced by user fees, I haven't heard many complaints. I tried to find out who is sponsoring it, but the contact answering machine is in Georgia and no one has returned my call. Something is fishy here; stay tuned.

MassPIRG has a petition to expand the bottle bill to include juice and other containers. I love recycling, but never liked the government forcing grocery stores to bear the recycling burden, or the state getting the money from unreturned cans and bottles. Better to encourage more local curbside recycling.

Speaking of grocery stores, once again there's a petition to allow them to sell wine. I just bought a nice Yellowtail chardonnay at Crosby's Market to take to a dinner party, so what's the problem?

All initiative petitions must follow certain rules in order to be certified by the attorney general. One that was rejected this year would require voters to show identification when they vote the AG's office saw a problem with the fact that an official Massachusetts ID costs money, and that would interfere with our constitutional requirement for "free elections."

Fine, so long as the AG's office is prepared to prosecute anyone caught voting in November 2012 who isn't a Massachusetts citizen, or caught voting more than once.

There are more petitions this year than I can cover here. It's good to participate in Massachusetts' version of direct democracy, but be sure to read the official summary at the top of the petition sheet before you sign.

Petitions filed with the state Attorney General's office
and their status

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.

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