State House News Service
(Week of Dec. 6, 1999)
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON ... Those trying to derail efforts to place eight questions on
next year's statewide ballot will be armed with magnifying glasses this week as they
inspect tens of thousands of voter signatures in search of flaws. They will be looking for
enough questionable names or tainted forms to challenge the forward progress of any
proposal they oppose.
It won't be easy since local officials have already certified more than enough
qualifying signatures for all the proposals filed last Wednesday with the office of
Secretary of State William Galvin. Campaign advocates needed 57,100 voter names to remain
on track with each of the eight petitions, along with a proposed constitutional amendment
allowing for public aid to private schools. The latter proposal could not appear on the
ballot until at least 2002.
Among those measures headed for voter consideration next year are two that would
offer significant tax relief and which are unlikely to win legislative approval by early
May. All of the petitions will be before the House and Senate in January. Sponsors of
those that fail there must go out next spring and collect another 9,517 signatures to
reserve a spot on the ballot.
Backers would prefer going the legislative route since ballot campaigns can be
even more difficult and costly than the signature gathering efforts that launched them.
For instance, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group hopes lawmakers will pass a
stalled bill protecting youngsters in public schools and day care centers from pesticides.
Final passage of the proposal would mean MassPIRG could abandon its ballot campaign, and
the 72,509 people who signed their petition would have accomplished their goal.
Last week, Galvin announced just how many certified signatures each group had
filed. There were 116,039 on petitions to trim the income tax to 5 percent; 70,756 to
offer tax credits to motorists using the Massachusetts Turnpike and other roads; 69,688
for a universal health care law; 67,071 to promote competition in the cable industry;
88,935 to ban greyhound racing; 76,523 to use forfeited illegal drug assets for treatment
programs; and 68,015 to offer tax breaks for charitable giving.
Along with the 80,000 filed for the constitutional amendment on private schools,
Galvin's office will spend the next 10 days or so reviewing more than 800,000 signatures
on petition forms that fill 60 boxes. Some groups collected more than twice the amount
needed in order to prevent successful challenges in the wake of a court ruling that has
created nothing but headaches for signature gatherers.
SJC RULING/GALVIN ... The SJC's "bright line" ruling of last summer
sparked consternation among ballot activists and caused headaches for Secretary of State
"It's made the process more cumbersome without a doubt, more cumbersome for
the gatherers, more cumbersome for us," Galvin said.
Early in the season, Galvin re-designed the petition forms to help activists cope
with the court ruling. But the strict prohibition on extraneous marks on the petitions --
including pen doodles and coffee stains - led many campaign workers to only allow one
signature per page, and some to hire professional signature gatherers.
A record number of signatures flooded into Galvin's office on roughly 750,000
sheets of paper, forcing Galvin to pull employees from other departments to help the
Elections Division staff sort and process the "boxes and boxes and boxes" of
Galvin said it's going to take longer than usual to tally the sheets this year, at
least another couple of weeks. That pushes close to the Dec. 31 deadline for filing
challenges of individual signatures with the state Ballot Law Commission. Meanwhile those
scrutinizing the petitions will take up residence in Galvin's office trying to find some
way to legally challenge ones they oppose.
ACTIVISTS ... The people on the streets who found themselves subject to the SJC
ruling lambasted it with near unanimity.
"The single most undemocratic act that we have ever witnessed in
Massachusetts politics," declared ubiquitous ballot campaigner Harold Hubschman, who
this year worked on petitions to grant tax credits for tolls and auto excise taxes, to
give Internet providers access to cable lines, and to offer a charitable giving tax break.
"There's no doubt it was a terrible decision -- a strained interpretation of
the law," said MassPIRG environmental attorney Paul Burns, who spearheaded a campaign
to crack down on pesticide use in schools. He added, "We instilled a sense of
paranoia in anybody who gathered signatures on this petition. You really had to watch
(signers) like a hawk."
Chip Ford of Citizens for Limited Taxation
said the high court ruling flies in the face of the state Constitution, rendering
"obsolete" the 57,100-signature threshold. "You've got to go out and
collect twice what the Constitution requires in order to fulfill a Constitutional
requirement," Ford said. "They're going to have to revisit this."
But Boston attorney Thomas Kiley, who organized a petition drive to reform the
state's drug laws, said the "end of the world" mentality is nonsense. Kiley was
also one of the lawyers in the original court case that was upheld in the SJC's decision.
"We had to, of course, instruct our people not to put such things on the
petitions," he said.
TAX CUTS ... Two years ago, the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts and the
Massachusetts Teachers Association challenged the Citizens for Limited Taxation petition
to roll back the income tax and disqualified enough signatures to keep the question off
the ballot. But the same groups this year are not expected to challenge the same question
because, they say, there are too many signatures and there is too little time.
But TEAM's James St. George worries about what it means down the road if voters
should approve both the income tax cut and the proposition to grant further cuts to toll
road users and auto excise payers.
If their value is added to other tax cuts just approved by lawmakers and Gov.
Cellucci, state coffers will be $2.7 billion lighter in 2003, St. George predicts. That
fear comes at a time when revenue growth is slowing.
Tax cuts critics in the coming months will warn of the likely
"devastation" of public education, health and safety programs should the massive
tax cuts be enacted. Supporters, led by Cellucci, will contend tax cuts have fueled the
existing economic boom and are integral to its continuation. ...
The Commonwealth of
Department of Revenue
December 2, 1999
November 1999 Revenues Total $1.04 Billion
Revenue Commissioner Frederick A. Laskey today announced that revenue collections
for the month of November totaled $1.04 billion, up $67.2 million or 6.9 percent from last
November. Year-to-date revenue collections totaled $5.59 billion, up $159 million or 2.9
percent above last year. Collections for FY2000 are $171 million above the midpoint of the
revenue estimate range.
"November revenues, driven by strong sales tax collections, reflect a healthy
economy. Overall revenue collections remain strong as we move into the holiday
season," said Laskey.
Income tax collections for November totaled $604.1 million, an increase of $1.0
million or 0.2 percent when compared to November 1998. Withholding tax collections totaled
$630.2 million, up $24.5 million or 4.0 percent. Sales and use tax collections totaled
$291.9 million, up $41.4 million or 16.5 percent. Corporate collections totaled $24.9
million, up $21.4 million compared to last November.
Year-to-date income tax collections totaled $3.16 billion, up $100.6 million or
3.3 percent. Withholding collections totaled $2.85 billion, up $165.1 million or 6.2
percent. Total sales and use tax collections totaled $1.46 billion, up $121.6 million or
9.1 percent. Corporate collections totaled $229.2 million, down $20.9 million or 8.4