Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative on expanding the state’s bottle deposit law Tuesday and soundly approved a referendum to allow most workers to earn and use sick time. Voters also approved a measure to repeal a law that would link the state gas tax to inflation.
Nearly three-quarters of voters rejected Question 2, which sought to include bottled water, sports drinks, and other noncarbonated beverages among the bottles subject to a nickel deposit.
“We’re clearly disappointed, and it’s obvious we didn’t make a strong enough case for the bottle bill,” said Janet Domenitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, which helped lead the campaign to expand the bottle law. “We’re going to regroup now and consider what we need to do to get Massachusetts to recycle 80 percent or higher of its containers.”
With 90 percent of the votes counted just before midnight, 60 percent of voters had approved Question 4, which will allow workers to earn and use a set amount of paid or unpaid sick time per year based on specific conditions, such as the size of their company. And 52 percent voted to repeal the law linking the gas tax to inflation.
Some voters called the language in the ballot initiatives confusing, even after more than 5,500 advertisements for the questions ran on television in the state’s largest markets.
“I didn’t really understand them,” complained Noryarky Vazquez, 22, after voting in Jamaica Plain.
The effort to expand the bottle law was defeated after a barrage of television advertisements financed with nearly $9 million by the beverage industry and large supermarket chains. Many of those ads relied on information that state statistics showed were false.
The supporters, who raised $1.5 million, were never able to compete on television, airing about 300 advertisements. They contended that expanding the law would increase recycling, reduce litter, and save cities and towns millions of dollars by reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills. They noted the state had found 80 percent of redeemable bottles like soda and beer are recycled, while only 23 percent of those that are not redeemable get recycled.
Environmental activists who have tried for years to persuade the Legislature to expand the 32-year-old law were once again frustrated.
After months of arguing that the bottle law is an inefficient, antiquated program that raises prices for consumers, opponents were reveling in their campaign’s success. They had reversed public opinion since the summer, when a Boston Globe poll found that found 62 percent of likely voters supported expansion of the landmark environmental law.
“Commonwealth residents sent a message that it’s time to move forward and expand convenient, comprehensive recycling programs, so that Massachusetts can become the recycling leader that it should be,” said Nicole Giambusso, a spokeswoman for the No on Question 2 campaign.
Supporters of the sick time question celebrated their victory after waging a campaign with more than $1 million — compared with less than $50,000 raised by their opponents.
Employees who work for a business with 11 or more employees will be able to earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year, while workers at smaller companies will be able to use 40 hours of unpaid sick time per year.
Question 4 supporters said nearly a million state residents — mostly those working in retail and the fast-food industries — will no longer have to choose between going to work sick or giving up a day’s pay. They said the new law will ease turnover and boost productivity.
“This vote shows that the people of Massachusetts fundamentally believe that the ability to care and provide for themselves and family members is a right, not a privilege,” said Steve Crawford, a spokesman for the proponents.
Opponents had contended the sick time law would hike employers’ costs and foster unnecessary bureaucracy. They complained that some service industry employers would have to pay twice — once to the employee on leave and again to the employee covering the shift.
“Our argument is that it treats everybody is the same, and that the workforce workers and companies are very different,’’ said Bill Vernon, a spokesman for organization that urged No on Question 4.
The results were much closer for Question 1. Voters rejected the law passed by the Legislature that would stop linking a tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to changes in the Consumer Price Index over the preceding year.
Proponents of the repeal said the state’s gas tax is already too high and that any future tax increase should require a vote by lawmakers. “This has been very much David vs. Goliath,” said Steven Aylward, spokesman for the repeal effort. “Given that we were the underdog and we had big business and big government working against us, we … are really optimistic about this.’’
Opponents of the ballot initiative said the law enabled the state to pay for needed repairs of roads and bridges, many of which are in bad shape after decades of neglect.
“Question 1 was about maintaining the integrity of our infrastructure and spurring economic development, but regrettably, we fell short,’’ representatives from the No on 1 campaign said in a statement.