Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Thursday, April 15, 1999

CLT's ballot law attorney Steve Epstein today filed our amicus brief with the state Supreme Judicial Court to help defend the initiative petition process in the case of Walsh vs. Galvin.

Along with the attorney for the Coalition for Parental Choice in Education, we argue that whole sheets of petition signatures should not be thrown out simply because someone merely doodles in the margin or writes the name of the town at the top of the sheet!

The near-impossible hurdles now placed in the path of a successful petition drive must be removed, the intent of the initiative-referendum amendment in our state constitution restored. Our support for and defense of the school choice initiative is another step in our long ongoing battle for that goal, as noted in the report below.

Chip Ford --

The Lowell Sun
Monday, April 12, 1999

Getting tax cut on the ballot
harder than getting it passed

Sun Statehouse Bureau

BOSTON -- Gov. Paul Cellucci spent eight years making laws in the state Legislature, but now he's threatening to take his plan to cut the income tax to the people via the state ballot since legislative leaders have pooh-poohed the idea.

And if Cellucci begins gathering the 57,100 signatures needed to get the tax cut on the November 1999 ballot, he will find himself in the middle of a process that has become far less populist than originally intended, and just as complex as a battle inside the Legislature.

The Republican governor has been stymied by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate in his efforts to further shrink the income tax from 5.95 to 5 percent.

Cellucci's threat may force the hands of House Speaker Thomas Finneran and Senate President Thomas Birmingham, whose members are generally allergic to ballot questions.

"When you take ballot questions, you're taking everything and boiling it down to a bumper sticker," said state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams and chairman of the Government Regulations Committee. "I don't think most (legislators) like ballot questions."

But Bosley also thinks the Legislature is unlikely to respond to Cellucci's threat by giving him the tax cut he wants.

That means a potentially long, complicated ballot road.

The state legislators who amended the state's constitution in 1918 to allow citizens to directly enact laws probably did not imagine how complex, costly and litigious ballot campaigns would become more than 80 years later.

Barbara Anderson, executive director for Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, has seen her recent initiatives challenged and tied up in court as opponents dispute everything from language to the validity of signatures.

And that all happens before the questions make it to the voters.

Both Anderson's efforts and those of liberal groups have met with court challenges from opponents. Occasionally, Anderson has teamed up with political enemies to protect their ability to get questions on the ballot.

James Braude, who helped spearhead the failed attempt to repeal the state's electricity deregulation law, said, "The litigiousness of corporate types has caused this to become a much more difficult process for ordinary people to become involved in."

Utility companies challenged the Campaign for Fair Electric rates on the validity of their signatures and the fact that some of their signature sheets bore the campaign's return address.

The state's Supreme Judicial Court has become increasingly strict about keeping signature papers free of markings.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin, whose office certifies signatures on petitions, has been forced to take a hard line on the signature sheets because of SJC rulings.

Galvin said he disagreed with the stringency of some of the court's rulings but would have to abide by them unless it revisits the issue.

"This whole process has become very high-stakes and very refined," Galvin said. "It's almost become a niche law practice."

One attorney who has built part of his practice on ballot initiatives is Thomas Kiley, former assistant attorney general under former Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti.

Kiley, who has written more than a dozen initiatives for Massachusetts ballots, said there's a good reason to make the process complex.

"If you're going to impose rules of conduct on the ways others act, there ought to be some safeguards," he said. "It's a hard process, but it ought to be a hard process."

Kiley and others familiar with initiatives say that the problem with many recent initiatives is that they are so complex that they are better handled by the Legislature.

"The process is best suited to the simplest proposals," he said. "The more complex the statute, the more the need for the give and take that occurs in the legislative process."

Initiative critics can point at numerous examples.

At least a dozen bills have been filed to alter the anti-trapping provisions of a wildlife protection initiative that passed in 1996. The law to repeal electricity deregulation would have unraveled 18 months worth of work in the Legislature.

The Legislature has at least one weapon against initiatives it does not want to keep, however. Voters cannot force lawmakers to fund initiatives that require an appropriation.

That may kill the so-called Clean Elections initiative, which would have provided public campaign financing to candidates who agree to strict spending limits.

The question passed with 58 percent of the vote. But even the measure's proponents admit it needs work, and so far neither the governor nor the Legislature have shown any interest in funding it.

"No one's talking about it," said Rep. Thomas A. Golden, D-Lowell.

One thing is clear: Success on the ballot has become increasingly expensive.

The organization that supported keeping the state's electricity deregulation law spent $8.17 million to get its message out; Braude's Campaign for Fair Electric Rates spent only $285,945.

All told, groups spent $10 million pushing for the approval or defeat of three of the four questions on last November's ballot.

"Business people with loads of money have come to the conclusion that it is much cheaper to buy a law than to buy legislators," Braude asserted.

How much money Cellucci would have to raise to get his tax cut passed remains to be seen. In the months since his campaign, however, his fund-raising machine has continued at an earnest clip.

Anderson, whose group will work to support the tax cut, said, "If we're out there getting signatures and the Cellucci team is out there, we'll get enough to withstand a challenge, and the Legislature should be aware of that."

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