Ballot questions are your shot at pure democracy
by Barbara Anderson

The Eagle-Tribune
Thursday, October 16, 2014


Four ballot questions, four "yes" or "no" decisions for us voters, creating or repealing a law. Only 25 states have this provision for citizen involvement; let's celebrate our constitutional right to pure democracy.

Question 1:  Eliminating Gas Tax Indexing

Infrastructure being, along with public safety, the most essential government service, it makes sense to use the gas tax to pay for maintaining roads and bridges. So I wouldn't have minded this year's gas tax increase from 21 to 24 cents per gallon, if only the total Massachusetts tax burden wasn't the fifth-highest per capita in the country, yet we're told the roads and bridges haven't been maintained; and, if only I didn't remember the $120 million Dukakis gas tax hike of 1990 of which AAA complained only $7.4 million was spent on road work.

What really bothers me about the new gas tax law is that it will index the tax every year to inflation, automatically, without a vote of the Legislature. Quaintly, I believe that our elected representatives should be on record when taxes are raised, and, I remember the Carter years, when inflation was 13 percent.

Here's my biggest concern though. If the Legislature gets away with indexing the gas tax automatically to inflation every year, what's to prevent it from indexing the income and property taxes to inflation, raising them every year without a legislative vote? Fortunately a group called Tank Automatic Gas Tax Hikes put the indexing law on the ballot. In order to repeal the automatic hiking provision, we must vote "yes" on Question 1.

Question 2:  Expanding the Beverage Container Deposit Law

This is a tough one for me. I return the cans and bottles that fall under the present container deposit law, get my nickels back, so no, the deposit isn't a tax. But I don't understand why, if I don't take them back, my grocer has to give my deposits to the state government. And I really don't understand why any consumer voluntarily hands Beacon Hill his nickels by putting returnable bottles into his trash, where as a property taxpayer he is paying to have it hauled away to the landfills.

If Question 2 passes, the state government gets even more money, which goes into a "clean environment fund" from which legislators can appropriate for whatever (see gas tax, above). And the deposit gets automatically adjusted for inflation every five years without a legislative vote (see cowardly legislators, automatic taxes, above).

I don't like the opponents' ad which misleadingly implies that curbside recycling is an easy alternative option, therefore can be used instead of deposits. I put out my bins every week but regardless of how easy it is, too many people don't do it. Worse, some lowlifes even litter.

However, I don't see how personal irresponsibility on the part of beverage consumers becomes my grocer's responsibility, as he's forced to accept the returns and store them until the bottling companies come for them.

I'm grateful to the grocery stores which provide me with food and drink; I don't understand why it's their job to find space for crushing machines or pay employees to process bags of not always washed glass, plastic and metal items. The stores at which I shop, large and small, don't have enough room already for all the advertised goods their customers demand, and many businesses have had to limit employees because of the costs of Obamacare. Grocers do get a small handling fee from the bottling companies, but apparently it's not enough to cover expenses, including accounting paperwork, or they wouldn't be fighting this expansion.

And again, the fear of creeping government: First carbonated beverages; now with Question 2, non-carbonated beverages; next everything that comes in a can, jar and bottle? Stored where while awaiting pick-up from our overwhelmed grocery store?

I have to vote No on 2. But consumers, please: be responsible, recycle, help protect the environment.

Question 3:  Expanding Prohibitions on Gaming

Libertarian Barbara, if she lived in a libertarian world, would say that if someone wants to own a casino he should be able to do so, in as many places as he thinks economically viable. Government would tax his business like any other, no complicated deals. Free individuals could gamble to their hearts' content.

If the casino fails, taxpayers would not bail it out; ditto for the gamblers. If the latter, leaving the casino, get caught driving drunk, they'd lose their license for many years; if they hurt someone, for life.

But we don't live in a libertarian personal responsibility world, or one with tough anti-drunk driving judges. While casino-generated crime doesn't seem to be a problem in northern Nevada, where my family lives, Massachusetts would not be like Nevada of the last two decades; it would be like New Jersey in the 1950s. Corruption would rule. Jobs would go to the politically connected. We taxpayers would be paying the social costs. I'm voting Yes on 3 to repeal the casino law.

Question 4:  Earned Sick Time for Employees

First problem: the earned sick time law is applied only to businesses that have 11 or more employees. As they have with Obamacare, businesses will avoid hiring more than 10. So much for addressing unemployment.

My small business has never had more than four employees, but has always had a sick leave policy, which is: if you or a family member is sick with anything contagious, don't even think about coming to work; your normal paycheck will be in the mail. We've also given paid leave to employees dealing with non-contagious illness or injuries: but we all know we can't stay out unnecessarily because the organization can't afford to hire a substitute, so might go out of business, then there goes our job. Common sense is required here, not government and union mandates. I'm voting No on 4.

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.

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Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665