A Ballot Committee of Citizens for Limited Taxation


The Boston Globe
Saturday, November 4, 2000


Plenty of reasons to vote on Tuesday
By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Columnist

The presidential campaign was over here before it began. The US Senate race is a rumor, and 10 incumbent congressmen face light opposition or none at all. Two-thirds of state legislative races are uncontested.

So nothing's going on in Tuesday's Massachusetts election, right? Wrong. Plenty is at stake. There are eight initiative petitions on the ballot, some of which, if passed, could have a profound impact.

There are also some interesting political crosscurrents running beneath the the surface. Here are some to watch.

Cellucci vs. organized labor (Round 2). The guv is the prime force behind Question 4, the tax rollback petition. It would cut the income tax rate from 5.85 percent to 5 percent over three years, at a cost of more than $1 billion annually. Cellucci has made a strong case that Massachusetts, its economy generating surpluses approaching $1 billion a year and with stabilization funds flush with reserve cash, can safely afford this and make the state more competitive economically.

But a coalition led by public-employee labor unions is vigorously campaigning to defeat Question 4. Opponents will outspend the tax-cut forces by at least 2-1, arguing that the state has unfilled spending needs. This campaign breaks along traditional partisan lines, with about 100 Democratic legislators joining the efforts of labor, a bedrock party constituency.

In fact, the anti-Question 4 forces have not-too-subtly tried to make the question a referendum on Cellucci and his lieutenant governor, Jane Swift. Both are down in the polls, deservedly so, and in the union-financed campaign ads, a color commercial cuts to grainy black-and-photos of the pair and calls Question 4 "the Cellucci-Swift" tax cut. The opponents have also twinned 4 with Question 6, a clever but damaging proposition to lop another $700 million or so from state revenues to pay toll and excise tax rebates. That's forced Cellucci to oppose Question 6.

This is a Texas deathmatch, with almost as much at stake as in 1998 when the state AFL-CIO tried mightily but failed to oust Cellucci from the corner office in his fight with Democrat Scott Harshbarger, then the attorney general.

How important is Question 4 to labor? Through Oct. 15, the Campaign for Massachusetts' Future reported raising $1.7 million. Of that, $1.5 million, or 90 percent, came from labor unions. More than half that amount came from teachers unions. Moreover, the National Education Association, of which the Massachusetts Teachers Association is a member, has pledged an additional $350,000 out of a $5-a-member assessment to fight state ballot questions around the country.

How important is it to Cellucci? He has staked his prestige, indeed his governorship, on this, his signature issue....

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