Flood of Policy Petitions Could Mean Long Day in the Voting Booth

Posted by John Regan on Aug 9, 2013 11:48:00 AM

If political ads give you a headache, better schedule a long vacation around November 4, 2014.

Ballot QuestionsThat’s when as many as 18 – yes 18 - statewide ballot questions may be competing for your attention and your vote.  Get ready for a cacophony of radio and television spots on everything from whale safe fishing to nurse staffing ratios to repeal of the recently enacted sales tax on computer software and services.

Advocates of nearly every political stripe filed 33 petitions with the Attorney General’s office Wednesday to place issues before voters on the 2014 election ballot. Boil away the multiple versions of the same petition (supporters often submit three or four versions and decide later which one to pursue) and several constitutional amendments, and you’re left with 18 issues that could make for a long day in the voting booth.

The real number will actually be less than 18 as petitions traverse the long and circuitous road to the ballot. The attorney general is likely to disallow several because they do not conform to the state constitution. Others will be unable to garner the required 68,911 voter signatures by late November. And others are likely to disappear as supporters and opponents reach compromise agreements.

Even so, experts predict an unusually heavy menu of petitions will make it to Election Day. And an unusually high percentage of the issues voters will decide are of interest to Massachusetts employers.

At the top of the list is a petition seeking to repeal the newly approved tax on computer and software technology services. The tax, part of a $500 million tax increase passed by the Legislature in June to address transportation needs, has ignited a backlash among those who believe that the tax may impede growth in the innovation sector.

Another section of the transportation tax package that indexes the gasoline tax to the rate of inflation would also be repealed under a separate ballot petition.

Other potential questions would:

  • Create a law that would require employers of 11 or more people to provide 40 hours of earned, paid sick time to workers.
  • Expand the state’s 5-cent bottle redemption deposit to water, juice, sports drinks and other non-carbonated beverages.
  • Raise the Massachusetts minimum wage to $10.50.
  • Lower the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.
  • Establish a tax credit for employers who hire new workers.
  • Establish staffing ratios for nurses at medical facilities.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts frequently represents the interests of employers on ballot questions. Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer, said the AIM Board of Directors will decide in the coming months which questions the association will support or oppose.

“AIM generally believes that the initiative petition process is an awkward and inefficient way to make public policy. Nevertheless, the process exists and it remains our responsibility to seek the best outcome for employers,” Lord said.

The Massachusetts Constitution requires that proposed initiatives be in the proper form for submission to voters, not be substantially the same as any measure on the ballot in either of the two preceding statewide elections, contain only subjects that are related to each other or mutually dependent, and not involve a narrow set of subjects that are specifically excluded from the ballot initiative process by the Massachusetts Constitution.

For example, a petition cannot be approved if it relates to religion, religious practices or religious institutions; the powers, creation or abolition of the courts; the appointment, compensation or tenure of judges; a specific appropriation of funds from the state treasury; or if it infringes on other protected constitutional rights, such as trial by jury, freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Topics: Issues, Employment Law, Taxes, Election

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