Voters in Massachusetts are presented with three state wide questions at the ballot box this election. Two are tax related questions and one would repeal Chapter 40B, a state law that allows people to bypass local zoning laws when they meet certain requirements building low income housing units.
Question One discusses the new sales tax on alcohol passed in May of 2010. This is another in an ongoing package of sin taxes the state passes to raise revenues. One thing that disturbed me as I listened to people discuss this issue was the belief that, prior to this additional sales tax, alcohol was tax exempt. In fact, alcohol has a state excise tax already embedded in the cost paid by consumers. The consumer does not see an additional cost added to their receipt when they pay for their liquor because the tax is paid prior to their purchase and included in the price. I often disagree with Senator Eldridge on many issues, but in discussing his support for Progressive Income tax increases on his campaign website, Senator Eldridge states his dislike of regressive sales taxes which he feels target the poor unfairly. While there is nothing to indicate his support or resistance to Question One, I do think he makes a valid point. The failure to balance the state budget cannot always be fixed with sin taxes. Voters should encourage their state representatives to look closely at state spending to find ways to keep the budget under control.
Question Two asks voters to repeal Chapter 40B, a 1969 law that allows developers and other parties to bypass local zoning regulations to build housing when they make 20-25% of their project low income long term units that are deemed affordable. The original intent of this bill earned it the nickname the snob zoning law. It was designed to prevent zoning laws being used to keep low income developments out of communities. Until the community reaches the state goal of 10% of affordable housing units, the community is subject to Chapter 40B developments.
Communities are asking for zoning control back from the state. Developers have used this law not for the intent, which was to increase low income long term housing, but to abuse the local zoning codes and provide the minimal number of units required that meet the state standards. What was intended to stop zoning abuses against low income developers has actually increased zoning abuses by those who use Chapter 40B as a way of getting to build projects that would otherwise not have passed traditional zoning boards. The revenue lost on building a few low income units is worth the cost of not having to handle traditional zoning requests. This is an issue of returning local control back to cities and towns. Voters have a choice in this election to keep control at the state level, or to return control back to their local zoning boards.
Question Three, moves the sales tax from the recently increased 6.25% to 3%. I have had several conversations with people on this question. Many of us believe that voting yes is a means to creating negotiations on the sales tax. This will likely not result in a 3% sales tax, but it has the potential to return us to the original 5% that was in place prior to Governor Patrick signing the tax increase. I believe voters need to send a strong message to our state leaders that they need to stop raising taxes and learn to live on a budget. Eldridge and I disagree on raising the income tax. I do not think raising taxes in a bad economy is ever a wise choice. The state needs to accept that current revenue has to equal current spending. We cannot keep adding taxes when we overspend. However, as I mentioned on Question One, Eldridge opposes raising sales taxes so he should be on board with returning the sales tax to 5% even if we cannot get the 3% people are aiming for in this ballot initiative. Sometimes compromises are necessary.
Voters should examine the ballot questions carefully before the November vote. There is plenty of information available to read and decide.
“Ballot Questions for 2010 Massachusetts State Election ballot Announced” Massachusetts Election 2010
“Chapter 40B Frequently Asked Questions” Town of Easton
“Revenue” Jamie Eldridge