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dante ramos

Sick leave brings out blue-state tendency

The vote count in the governor’s race was neck-and-neck all Tuesday night, but for Question 4 it was never really close. The ballot measure, which requires companies with 11 or more employees to offer paid sick time off, won an easy victory because it addressed a nagging issue for much of the working public. The margins were large enough to suggest that even many supporters of Republican Charlie Baker — who opposed the measure — had voted for it.

The Republican candidate held a slim lead in the count early Wednesday. But, if the outcome of Question 4 is any guide, Massachusetts remains a prototypical blue state, one where voters aren’t shy about addressing economic worries through aggressive changes in the law.

Granted, one shouldn’t psychoanalyze a varied electorate based on ballot questions alone. On most of the four questions on Tuesday’s ballot, the winning side raised and spent vastly more money than the losing side. The latest data available from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance indicate that unions, grass-roots liberals, and other proponents of mandatory time off outraised opponents of Question 4 by a ratio of 22 to 1.


More telling, perhaps, was Question 2, a proposed expansion of the bottle bill that appeared headed for passage until a well-funded but somewhat misleading media campaign backed by the beverage industry kicked in.

Money isn’t everything, though; the construction interests, business groups, unions, and transportation advocates working to defeat Question 1 — a measure to eliminate the indexing of the state’s gas tax to inflation — vastly outraised their opponents but lost. It would have been a tall order, even in Massachusetts, to get voter approval for a complex system of automatic gas-tax increases.

To voters without any paid sick time, Question 4 had a far more instinctive appeal. Baker understood as much and proposed to push for a milder alternative on Beacon Hill. But years into a slow recovery, certain workplace anxieties are evident — and voters didn’t wait for the market, or even the Legislature, to fix them.

Dante Ramos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @danteramos.