The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 3, 2000

News

Eight ballot questions give voters input. . .

The following information has been excerpted from the "Information for Voters" guide published by Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin and mailed to residences in October. Due to the length of the questions, the sample ballot is not reprinted.

Question 1: Earlier redistricting

This proposed amendment to the Constitution was approved by the two houses in June 1998 (yeas 186-nays 3); and again in June 2000 (yeas 188-nays 0).

A yes vote would amend the Constitution to require that the periodic redrawing of district boundaries for state legislators and governor's councilors use the new census data two years earlier than under the current system.

A no vote would make no change in the current four-year process for redrawing such district boundaries.

Summary: This proposed constitutional amendment would require that new district boundaries for state representatives, state senators, and governor's councilors, which are redrawn every ten years based on the most recent federal census, take effect for the state election held two years after the federal census, rather than the election four years after the census as under the current system.

In favor: If the amendment passes, the Census 2000 figures will be used for the 2002 election. If this amendment is not adopted, the state will use redistricting data which will be up to 14 years out of date and a court challenge would be likely to conclude that the current constitution violates the equal protection clause of the Federal Constitution.

Against: Legislators would be allowed to keep their existing districts for an additional two years without change.

Question 2: Voting by incarcerated felons

This proposed constitutional amendment was approved by both houses in July 1998 (yeas 155-nays 34) and again in June 2000 (yeas 144-nays 45)

A yes vote would amend the constitution to limit the voting rights of incarcerated felons.

A no vote would make no change in the voting rights of incarcerated felons.

Summary: This proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit persons who are incarcerated in a correctional facility due to a felony conviction from voting in elections for governor, lieutenant governor, state senator, state representative, governor's councilor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, attorney general or United States senator or representative in Congress.

In favor: Massachusetts is one of only three states in the nation where felons serving time may vote while in jail. Voting yes on this important question will make the Commonwealth the 48th state to prohibit the practice of allowing convicted criminals to vote from jail. This change discriminates against no one except jailed criminals.

Against: Very few prisoners vote, and no one has claimed that prisoner voting has harmed our democracy or negatively influenced any election. If the state Constitution impairs democracy, then we should change it. If not, citizens should not tamper with this important document. Stripping convicted felons of their right to vote serves no public safety function.

Question 3: Dog racing

This law was proposed by initiative petition.

A yes vote would prohibit dog races where betting or wagering occurs.

A no vote would make no change in the laws governing dog racing.

Summary: This proposed law would prohibit in Massachusetts any dog racing where any form of betting or wagering on the speed or ability of dogs occurs. The proposed law would take effect in June 2001.

In favor: A yes vote will stop the killing of thousands of greyhounds each year and stop the use of tax dollars to subsidize a declining industry. An increasing amount of taxes go to subsidize dog racing in Massachusetts, even though state revenues from dog racing have dropped almost 70 percent in the last decade and jobs have declined steadily. A yes vote will also stop the inhumane treatment of racing greyhounds who are locked in crates up to 22 hours every day and are subjected to inhumane conditions. Dog racing is illegal in 34 states.

Against: The proposed law would force the state's two greyhound racetracks to close by June 2001. The measure would destroy a 65-year-old industry, leave thousands unemployed and deprive the Commonwealth of pari-mutual taxes which have exceeded $400 million over the last 20 years. No violations of animal welfare regulations have been documented. Racing is highly regulated by the State Racing Commission and animal welfare regulations are enforced by state and local police as well as state-approved veterinarians and the MSPCA. This proposed law would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to the elimination of other animal industries.

Question 4: Income tax rate reduction

This law was proposed by initiative petition.

A yes vote would reduce the state personal income tax rate in steps over three years to 5 percent.

A no vote would make no change in the state income tax laws.

Summary: This proposed law would repeal the law setting the state personal income tax rate on Part B taxable income (such as wages and salaries), which was 5.95 percent as of September 1999, and would set the rate at 5.6 percent for tax year 2001, 5.3 percent for tax year 2002, and 5 percent for tax year 2003 and after.

In favor: Eleven years ago Massachusetts had a fiscal crisis. The legislature increased taxes, promising this would be temporary and the income tax rate would quickly return to 5 percent. Since then, state spending has doubled. Huge surpluses help fund the "Big Dig" and new programs. This rollback is a pay raise. Taxpayers can invest in their family's future or favorite charity. Lower taxes protect our state economy. The rate is rolled back gradually.

Against: A no vote will keep the state focused on top priorities -- better schools, improved access to health care, and strong economy. Question 4 would make it harder to reduce class size, expand early childhood education, fix crumbling schools or increase access to health care. The budget surplus should be spent on important priorities like education and health care rather than on a big tax cut for the wealthy. Question 4 benefits wealthier people far more than middle-income families, but it does nothing to promote investments or create jobs.

Question 5: Health insurance and care

This law was proposed by initiative petition.

A yes vote would require health insurance carriers to guarantee certain rights to their patients and providers, and it would prohibit the conversion of nonprofit hospitals, HMOs and health insurers into for-profit entities until a system is created to provide comprehensive health care coverage for all Massachusetts residents.

A no vote would make no change in the laws governing health insurance and health care.

Summary: This proposed law would set up a state health care council to recommend legislation for a health care system that ensures comprehensive health care for all Massachusetts residents. Until such a system had been set up, the proposed laws would prohibit the conversion of nonprofit hospitals, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and health insurance firms to for-profit status.

The council would recommend laws to set up a health care system that provides benefits such as: barrier-free access to health care services; patients' freedom to choose their health care providers, get second opinions, and appeal denials of care; health care professionals' freedom to act solely in the best interest of their patients; and affordable coverage, with cost increases no greater than national averages.

Starting in January 2001, the proposed law would require health insurance carriers to guarantee certain rights to their insured patients and to health care professionals. These rights would include: patients' right to choose all of their health care providers, subject to the approval of a freely chosen primary care provider who has no financial incentive to deny care, and subject to payment of a reasonable extra fee to see a provider outside the carrier's network; patients' rights to medically necessary referrals to specialists; carriers could not terminate health care providers' contracts without cause; in any year, at least 90 percent of a carrier's revenue in Massachusetts must be spent on Massachusetts health care, and a carrier that spent more than 10 percent for non-health care purposes would have to refund the excess to its insured patients.

· In favor This initiative would accomplish three goals: it would guarantee that by July 2002 no Massachusetts resident could be denied medical care because of lack of adequate insurance; it would put in place an improved Patients' Bill of Rights to protect patients from HMO excesses and make sure that needed medical services cannot be withheld; and it would prevent for-profit companies from taking over the state's nonprofit health care institutions. It would also require that health care expenditures in the Commonwealth be controlled and rise no faster than the rest of the U.S.

· Against This measure is strongly opposed by a coalition of health care experts, academics, employers, taxpayer groups, civic leaders and health care providers. It would undo the patients' rights and health care reform law that was approved in July 2000. That's why many original supporters of Question 5 now oppose it. Independent studies show that the measure would: eliminate existing protections designed to ensure the quality of health care; create two new government bureaucracies with no limit on their spending; significantly increase health insurance rates for consumers and employers; and potentially cost Massachusetts taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

Question 6: Tax credit for tolls, excise taxes

This law was proposed by initiative petition.

A yes vote would allow a state personal income tax or corporate excise tax credit for Massachusetts tolls and motor vehicle excise taxes.

A no vote would make no change in the state tax laws.

Summary This proposed law would allow a state personal income tax credit equal to the amount of tolls the taxpayer paid during the taxable year on all Massachusetts roads, highways, tunnels, and bridges, including the Massachusetts Turnpike and its Boston Extension, the Tobin Bridge, and the Sumner, Callahan, and Ted Williams Tunnels. Also, a corporation would be allowed a credit against its corporate excise taxes in an amount equal to all such tolls paid during the taxable year.

The proposed law would also allow taxpayers a tax credit equal to the amount of excise taxes paid on registered motor vehicles during the taxable year. A corporation would be allowed a credit in an amount equal to all registered motor vehicle excise taxes the corporation paid.

In favor: The Massachusetts Turnpike, Tobin Bridge and harbor tunnels were paid off long ago. (The Pike has been paid for six times over.) Tolls are extremely inefficient and lead to powerful, wasteful bureaucracies. The Turnpike Authority spends as much to operate one road as the highway department does to operate the entire state highway system. This initiative does not affect local funding, Pike maintenance or Big Dig financing. With $4 billion of cash on hand, strong revenue growth and record surpluses, the impact on state finances will be negligible.

Against: Question 6 doesn't eliminate tolls in Massachusetts. Instead, it creates a cumbersome, bureaucratic procedure that will make filing taxes more complicated than ever and increase the delays and frustrations of driving in Massachusetts. Drivers will have to follow a complicated and clumsy system to prove the value of the tolls they paid -- and have income that is high enough -- to get the rebate. Question 6 would make it harder to reduce class size, expand early childhood education, fix crumbling schools, or increase access to health care. Don't make the tax code more complicated than it already is.

Question 7: Charitable contributions tax deduction

This law was proposed by initiative petition.

A yes vote would create a state income tax deduction for charitable contributions.

A no vote would make no change in the state income tax laws.

Summary This proposed law would allow taxpayers who give to charity a state personal income tax deduction for those charitable contributions. A taxpayer could take a deduction from any part B income, including wages and salaries, of an amount equal to his or her charitable contributions for the year. The proposed law would apply to any contribution that met the definition used under federal income tax law.

In favor: Why vote yes? This law encourages people to give to charity. Massachusetts is one of eight states that does not allow a charitable deduction from taxable income. Massachusetts was recently ranked 48th out of 50 states in the 'generosity index' of the Catalogue for Philanthropy. Charitable giving increases with tax incentives. This law is expected to generate an additional $220 million per year in charitable gifts.

Against: This proposal is written to make it possible for some individuals to avoid their fair share of taxes even if they make a contribution to an out-of-state institution that brings no benefit to Massachusetts or its citizens. There is a vague definition of what is a "charity." A recent Wall Street Journal article (May 5, 2000) documented how the so-called "charitable donation" made to specially created donor-advised mutual funds were being abused by allowing rich individuals to set up their own foundations, take big tax deductions and ultimately use "gifts" to pay fees or personal expenses of the donor.

Question 8: Drug-Crime fines and forfeitures

A yes vote would change state laws governing drug dependency treatment and fines paid as well as property forfeited in connection with drug crimes.

A no vote would make no change in the laws governing drug-dependency treatment and fines and forfeitures based on drug crimes.

Summary This proposed law would create a state drug treatment trust fund, solely for the treatment of drug-dependent persons. The fund would include fines paid under the state's criminal drug laws; money forfeited because of its use in connection with drug crimes; and proceeds from selling property forfeited because of its use in connection with drug crimes.

The proposed law would expand eligibility for the program under which a person charged with a drug crime may request a court finding that he is drug-dependent and would benefit from court-monitored treatment. If the court so finds, and the person then successfully completes a treatment program, the criminal charges are dismissed.

The proposed law would change the state law governing forfeiture of money and property used in connection with drug crimes. Land and buildings could not be forfeited if used in a manner that was merely incidental to a drug crime. All forfeited property, instead of being so divided and used, would be sold and the proceeds put in the fund.

In favor: Question 8 provides court-supervised treatment instead of prison for a first or second, low-level drug offense. It pays for treatment with fines and property confiscated from drug dealers. Currently, however, your property can be confiscated without your being convicted of a crime. For example, if your son or daughter is arrested while driving your car, it can be taken and sold -- and the police keep the money. Question 8 protects innocent owners, requires authorities to prove a crime was committed, and directs the money into drug treatment.

Against: All 11 Massachusetts district attorneys join the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police in opposition to Question 8. They believe Question 8 benefits only drug dealers because it allows those who profit from selling drugs to repeatedly avoid prosecution by electing "treatment," even if they are not actually drug-dependent. Also, it permits dealers to keep more of their drug-related assets and cripples the ability of the police to investigate narcotics dealing. Question 8 effectively nullifies existing laws which provide strict penalties for drug dealers who carry guns and gives judges unlimited discretion to dismiss charges against repeat drug dealers following treatment, leaving them with no criminal record.


2000 The Carlisle Mosquito