It’s that time of year again, when everyone from newspaper editors to neighbors to your cranky uncle is telling you how to vote on November’s ballot. Herewith, your humble editors’ submission with respect to the four statewide ballot questions. Spoiler: the correct answers are No on 1, and Yes on the rest. They are all pretty easy calls, in our view.
NO on 1. Question 1, if passed, would repeal the indexing provision that the legislature recently added to the gas tax. The indexing provision adjusts the gas tax (currently 24 cents per gallon) “every year by the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index over the preceding year.” In other words, it automatically adjusts the gas tax for inflation.
An outrage, some cry! Taxation without representation! The legislature should have to vote every time a tax is raised! There are many problems with this argument, not the least of which is that the sales tax for everything else is a percentage, and therefore automatically adjusts for inflation – if prices go up, so does the sales tax in dollar amount. Frankly, a percentage sales tax is probably a better way to manage the gas tax as well, but since the tax is per gallon, failing to index results in the gas tax actually losing value over time.
And an inadequate gas tax is a real problem, since the gas tax funds road and bridge projects around the state. Needless to say, these projects are necessary. MA’s infrastructure is not getting any younger; much maintenance has been deferred way longer than it should have been; and catastrophes like this one only seem likely to happen more often if something isn’t done.
The legislature isn’t very good at enacting sensible tax policy. This gas tax bill was a rare exception (it probably didn’t go far enough, but it was a big improvement over what was in place before). We see no good argument for undoing it.
YES on 2. Question 2, if passed, would update the bottle bill (which requires a five-cent deposit on certain beverage containers, refunded when the bottle is returned) to include water, juice, sports drink, and other now-popular drinks. The statistics around the bottle bill are overwhelming: 80% of containers with a deposit, but only 23% of containers without, are recycled. Lots of anecdotal observations support this: it’s actually pretty rare to see a Coke can or beer bottle on the street, but plastic water and juice bottles are ubiquitous.
So, the bottle bill works, and things that work should be encouraged and expanded to keep up with the times. Furthermore, the folks urging you to vote “no” have been … massaging the facts, shall we say, with respect to current recycling rates in Massachusetts. This is bad behavior that should be punished; if it isn’t, they and others will assume (correctly) that they can get away it, and will behave similarly in the future.
YES on 3. Question 3, if passed, would pretty much repeal the state’s casino law by making slot machines and table games illegal again in Massachusetts. We’ve talked about this issue a great deal on BMG in recent months, so there’s no need to rehash those arguments in detail here. In brief, we think casinos are a lousy economic development strategy (recent events in Atlantic City and elsewhere suggest that they are not the golden goose their boosters would have you believe), we think they prey on people who really don’t need another toilet down which to flush their money, and we think the shenanigans at the Mass. Gaming Commission have amply demonstrated that they tend to operate in a shady fashion. We recognize that Springfield, in particular, could use an infusion of economic activity of just about any kind. We are happy to see recent news reports that just such a thing appears to be happening, and we hope this is the start of a trend. Building a plant to assemble desperately-needed subway cars is real economic development. Gambling isn’t.
YES on 4. Question 4, if passed, would require employers with 11 or more employees to allow their employees to “earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per calendar year, while employees working for smaller employers could earn and use up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per calendar year.” This one is really so easy. Of course employees should be able to take a modest number of sick days per year (five seems perfectly reasonable) without putting their jobs in jeopardy or (at larger employers) taking a financial hit for it. If you’re sick and you stay home and rest, (a) you will get better and therefore return to productivity much faster, and (b) you won’t get your colleagues or the people next to you on the T sick. It is both sensible economic policy and sensible public health policy.