Monday, November 3, 2008

No, No, No

When you go to the polls tomorrow, I urge you to reject all three ballot questions.

Question 1
Repealing the income tax would be a disaster for the commonwealth, for cities and towns, and ultimately for the taxpayers it purports to benefit. Most municipalities cannot afford to take significant reductions in local aid and would be forced to raise property taxes, leading to constant fights over prop 2.5 overrides and higher property taxes or drastic cuts in services.

While some taxpayers in the highest income brackets would likely take home more money in an income tax vs. property tax tradeoff, seniors and others on fixed incomes who also own their homes would suffer disproportionally. The argument by the referendum’s proponents that its passage would lead to no reduction in services or higher property taxes and that it will lead to hundreds of thousands of new jobs is ludicrous on its face and should be rejected.

Question 2
In my mind, all of the discussion about whether or not a yes vote would save the state money, or contribute to a rise in teen marijuana use, or make the job of police easier or harder is ancillary fluff. The question should be decided on this basis: is the current penalty for marijuana possession too harsh? If so, is the new proposal the right way to remedy the issue?

The answer is no.

If people arrested for possession of marijuana were routinely incarcerated and or fined excessively then perhaps the law would need to be changed. But that is not the case. First-time offenders have their cases continued without a finding and stricken from their records if they remain clean for a probationary period. That seems fair.

In its place would be a $100 ticket. To put that in perspective, if I were stopped for driving 40 mph down Main Street in Sterling, I’d pay more in fines than if I were stopped walking down Main Street with enough marijuana to make eight or nine cigarettes. The possession of an illegal drug is more consequential than that.

The one area where I agree with the Question 2 proponents is in the area of CORI reform. But I do not think CORI reform should be approached in an ad hoc manner, with this new law affecting this class of offenders, and another new law affecting another class, and so on. The legislature should approach CORI reform systematically and comprehensively. It should not be undertaken one issue at a time through a series of ballot referendums.

Question 2 is not an appropriate response to the issues of marijuana use and CORI reform. It should be defeated.

Question 3
Perhaps at another time in our history I would be inclined to vote in favor of Question 3. Were this 1998, when the economy was at its peak and jobs were easy to come by, voting to close down an industry that employs between 700 and 1,100 workers (depending on who you believe) would have little effect. But this is not that time. Voting to put hundreds of people out of work is a difficult thing to do under any circumstance, but in this economy it is irresponsible.

The industry is dying on its own. I imagine that within 10 years, dog racing in Massachusetts will be only a memory. While it would be wrong to close the tracks by referendum, it is also wrong for the legislature to prop up this dying industry by artificial means, whether that be special tax breaks, earmarks, or slot machines.

The question’s backers argue almost exclusively on the emotional grounds that greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane. By some definition, perhaps it is. But by the definition of the state—which heavily regulates the tracks and kennels and sets strict standards for the treatment of the greyhounds—it is not. After the last attempt to close the tracks failed at the ballot box, animal interest groups worked with the tracks and the legislature to toughen those standards and to ensure proper treatment of the greyhounds. Those stricter standards seem to be working.

Question 3 asks for an emotional response at a time when the economy requires us to make dispassionate judgments. It should be defeated.

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