Mass. voters could face slew of ballot questionsBy STEVE LeBLANC , Associated Press
Aug. 7, 2013 7:21 PM ET
BOSTON (AP) — A higher minimum wage, a cut in the state sales tax and a repeal of a new tax on computer software services are just some of the issues that could be put before Massachusetts voters next year.
Thirty-three questions were filed with Attorney General Martha Coakley's office Wednesday proposing 18 new laws and four constitutional amendments. Many of the questions were variations of the same issue.
Other questions would repeal the state's casino law, require labels on genetically modified foods and create nurse-patient staffing ratios.
One proposal — dubbed The Massachusetts Family Sunshine Protection Act — would make daylight saving time the year-round standard time for the state.
The minimum wage question would raise the wage from $8 to $10.50 per hour over two years. Lead petitioner U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren says a higher minimum wage is a matter of fairness.
"Hardworking men and women who are busting their tails in full-time jobs shouldn't be left in poverty," Warren said.
Critics say a higher minimum wage would burden small businesses and tighten the job market.
The state's other Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Markey is the lead petitioner of a question that would create a statewide earned sick time policy.
A number of questions take aim at tax policy.
One would reduce the state's sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 5 percent, repealing an increase that went into effect in 2009. Voters in 2010 rejected a question that would have lowered the rate to 3 percent.
Another question would repeal a new law that applies the sales tax to computer and software technology services. Backers call the new tax "a grave danger to the future of the innovation economy." The tax was part of a transportation financing package.
Another question seeks to undo another portion of the transportation law that automatically links future hikes in the gas tax to increases in the rate of inflation.
Environmentalists are pushing another question that would expand the types of bottles covered by Massachusetts' 1982 bottle bill.
The original law created a 5-cent deposit on carbonated beverages. The question would expand the law to include non-carbonated beverages such as water, tea and sports drinks. Critics say the measure would drive up the costs of beverages for working families.
Other questions seek to protect whales and sea turtles from commercial fishing gear and require labels on all foods sold in Massachusetts that contain genetically modified material.
Filing the questions with the attorney general's office is just the first step on a long road to the 2014 ballot.
If Coakley determines that a question passes constitutional muster, activists have until Dec. 4 to collect the signatures of 68,911 certified voters — although they typically collect significantly more.
That gets the question before lawmakers. If they fail to take action, another 11,485 new certified signatures are needed by early July to secure a spot on the 2014 ballot.
For the 2012 election, 31 initiative petitions were submitted. Only three made the ballot.