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Minimum Wage Hike, Sales Tax Cut Could Be On 2018 Massachusetts Ballot

A "vote here" sign in English and Spanish on sidewalk
Paul Tuthill

Voters in Massachusetts in 2018 may decide on a major tax cut, raising the minimum wage, and putting a surtax on the state’s highest earners along with several other issues that have been cleared legally as potential ballot questions.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has certified 21 proposed questions for the 2018 ballot.  The determination by Healey that the initiatives are constitutionally acceptable means activists can move on in the multi-step process toward creating law.

One question that qualified would require presidential candidates to make their tax returns public in order to appear on the presidential ballot in Massachusetts.  Voters might also decide to put restrictions on euthanizing stray dogs and cats at animal shelters.

Healey’s office said the certified initiative petitions covered 18 topics because some sponsors submitted multiple questions. The Massachusetts Retailers Association filed four measures to reduce the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Jon Hurst, the president of the trade group, said the aim is to help small businesses.

" They are under fire with a lot of new competition. The vast majority of online sellers today are tax free," said Hurst.

 Another question that could appear on the 2018 ballot would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022.  Sponsors of that initiative are backing another question that would require employers to provide qualified workers with paid family and medical leave.

Petition backers must now collect 64,750 signatures from registered voters by Dec. 6. If the legislature fails to enact the proposals by May, an additional 10,792 registered voters’ signatures must be gathered by July 2018 to put the question on the November 2018 ballot.

One question that has already secured a spot on the ballot in 2018 is the so-called millionaire’s tax. It would amend the state Constitution to put an additional 4 percent tax on annual taxable income above $1 million.   The question was certified two years ago, but as a Constitutional amendment the road to the ballot is longer.

Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a left-leaning research group, said raising taxes on the wealthy is the best opportunity the state has to raise the money needed to improve schools and transportation.

"It does it in a way that improves the overall fairness of our tax system," said Berger.

Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said legislating through the Constitution is a big mistake.

"The downside is that if there are problems with this new tax increase, the legislature does not have the ability to change it," said McAnneny.

In 2015, Healey certified 32 initiative petitions, but just four made it to the 2016 ballot.  Voters last year legalized recreational marijuana and rejected raising the ceiling on the number of charter schools.

Four questions appeared on the 2014 statewide ballot after 28 petitions were initially certified.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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