Politics

What to know about the Mass. ballot questions

In addition to choosing candidates for public office in at least a dozen races, Massachusetts residents will be asked to vote yes or no on four ballot questions on Nov. 4. Here’s what you need to know before you vote.

Question 1

The first ballot question would eliminate gas tax indexing. In other words, it would undo a law passed recently by the Massachusetts Legislature that requires the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to be adjusted every year by the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index over the preceding year. Under that law, the tax cannot be adjusted below 21.5 cents per gallon. The current tax rate is 24 cents per gallon.

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A YES vote on the question would repeal the indexing law, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

A NO vote would leave the law as is.

What’s the argument in favor of the repeal proposal?

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Proponents of the repeal say tax increases should not be automatic; they should require a vote of the Legislature. They also say the gas tax is already high and that the state has raised other taxes and fees recently. According to the Committee to Tank Automatic Gas Tax Hikes, “The state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

What’s the argument against the repeal proposal?

Opponents of the repeal say the state’s roads and bridges are in poor shape after decades of neglect. They say the government needs the revenue created by the gas tax indexing to help fix them. According to the Committee for Safer Roads and Bridges, “Question 1 threatens the safety of you and your family when traveling on Massachusetts’s roads and bridges.”

Where can I get more information?

The Committee to Tank Automatic Gas Tax Hikes can be reached at 617-744-0760; its website is www.tankthegastax.org.

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The Committee for Safer Roads and Bridges can be reached at 617-391-9663; its website is www.saferoadsbridges.com.

Question 2

The second ballot question would expand the state’s beverage container deposit law, also known as the Bottle Bill. It would require deposits on containers not currently included in the law — chief among them, bottled water bottles. In general, nonalcoholic, noncarbonated drinks would now be included, with some exceptions. The proposal would also require the state to adjust the container deposit amount every five years to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. The deposit could not be set below 5 cents.

A YES vote would expand the bottle bill, effective April 22, 2015.

A NO vote would leave the law as it is.

What’s the argument in favor of the Bottle Bill expansion?

Proponents argue that the existing Bottle Bill works well — for those bottles it covers. Consumers put down a refundable nickel deposit on beer or soda; they get their money back when they return the container. They point to statistics that show that 80 percent of beer and soda containers get recycled, but only 23 percent of nondeposit containers do. “A YES vote equals more recycling, less trash and litter, and big savings for towns’ waste management costs,” according to the Coalition for an Updated Bottle Bill.

What’s the argument against the Bottle Bill expansion?

Opponents say bottle returns are an inefficient, old-fashioned idea when many households now have access to curbside and community recycling programs. They also object to the prospect of raising the deposit fee automatically. According to the Comprehensive Recycling Works campaign, “Today more than $30 million of your unclaimed nickels go into the state’s general fund and into the hands of politicians — not to environmental programs.”

Where can I get more information?

The Coalition for an Updated Bottle Bill can be reached at 617-747-4322; its website is www.massbottlebill.org.

Comprehensive Recycling Works can be reached at 617-886-5186; its website is NoOnQuestion2.com.

Question 3

The third question would repeal the state’s casino gambling law. It would prohibit the state gaming commission from issuing casino licenses and void any licenses already issued. It would also ban betting on the simulcasting of live greyhound races.

A YES vote would prohibit casinos, slot machine parlors, and betting on simulcast greyhound races.

A NO vote would leave the current law in place.

What’s the argument for repealing the casino law?

Proponents say the casino market is reaching a saturation point. They say casinos bring crime and that the promised economic benefits will not materialize. They argue that casino gambling amounts to a tax on the poor. According to the Repeal the Casino Deal Committee, “Casinos will hurt local restaurants, hotels, and entertainment businesses. Money that would otherwise be spent at locally owned small businesses will instead fall into predatory slot machines owned by out-of-state corporations.”

What’s the argument against repealing the casino law?

Opponents of the repeal say casinos will generate thousands of construction and permanent jobs and create significant state revenue. They argue that state residents already spend close to $900 million at casinos in surrounding states. “The law already has provided voters in several communities, including Springfield and Plainville, an opportunity to bring much-needed jobs and economic activity to their communities through first-class development projects,” according to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, a casino supporter.

Where can I get more information?

The Repeal the Casino Deal Committee can be reached at 617-701-7823; its website is www.repealthecasinodeal.org.

The Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs website is www.ProtectMassJobs.com.

Question 4

The fourth question would entitle Massachusetts workers to earn and use sick time, with certain caveats. Employees who work for businesses with 11 or more employees could earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year; workers at smaller companies could earn and use up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time per year.

A YES vote would entitle employees to earn and use sick time under certain conditions, effective July 1, 2015.

A NO vote would leave current law unchanged.

What’s the argument in favor of the earned sick time law?

Proponents say thousands of Massachusetts workers are forced to choose between going to work sick or losing a day’s pay. They say allowing workers to earn sick time will reduce turnover, increase productivity, and help businesses’ bottom line. “A YES vote on Question 4 will save jobs and income, allowing workers to spend more in the local economy, benefiting us all,” according to Raise Up Massachusetts, which supports the measure.

What’s the argument against the earned sick time measure?

Opponents say the proposal would create red tape and increase costs to employers. They say small businesses depend on flexibility, and they resist the state mandate. In some customer-service-focused businesses, “employers would be required to pay twice, once to the employee on leave and a second time to the employee working the shift. It would essentially double their payroll,” according to the retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Where can I get more information?

Raise Up Massachusetts can be reached at 617-284-1260; its website is raiseupma.org. The Retailers Association of Massachusetts can be reached at 617-523-1900; its website is retailersma.org.

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