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Editorial | Vote no on Massachusetts’ Questions 1 and 2

Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 05:10

A week from today, voters throughout Massachusetts will decide on three referendum ballot initiatives. The questions deal with taxing alcohol, permits to build low- to moderate-income housing and the state sales tax. Today, the Daily will examine Questions 1 and 2, and later this week we will cover the controversial Question 3.

Question 1 is a motion to repeal the state's 6.25 percent sales tax on alcohol and spirits, which came back into place last year and falls on top of a pre-existing excise tax. If passed, there would no longer be a sales tax on beer, wine and liquor, similar to New Hampshire (New Hampshire, it should be noted, does not have a general sales tax in place). If the motion is rejected, the tax would remain in place and nothing would change.

While passage of the referendum would most likely lead liquor store owners and binge-drinking college students across the state to rejoice at the opportunity to sell and buy even cheaper Natty Light and Rubinoff, passing Question 1 is a bad idea. Repealing the state tax on alcohol would make a sizable dent in the state's revenue. Less money to the Commonwealth means cutbacks on government-funded services at a tough time for state finances. Those prospects are definitely not worth cheaper booze.

Proponents of Question 1 argue that placing the sales tax on top of an excise tax unfairly targets alcohol products twice. Yet the state only grants sales tax exemptions for necessities like food and clothing. Alcohol definitely does not fall into that category, and the liquor industry should not receive a tax break.

No matter how annoying it is to watch the price of a 30-rack increase by 6.25 percent at the register, it's not worth more cutbacks. The long-term effects are just simply not worth the convenience of cheaper spirits.

Question 2 is a motion to repeal the Massachusetts state law statute Chapter 40B, a four-decade-old law which allows developers to build low- and moderate-income housing with only a single comprehensive permit. A yes vote for the motion would repeal the law, while a no vote would keep it in place.

Proponents of repealing Chapter 40B say the law allows developers to bypass a lot of local restrictions, giving the developers too much power. As a result, they argue, local authorities do not have the ability to plan their own growth.

Those opposed to the initiative — including a broad coalition of hundreds of civic, religious, business and municipal leaders and organizations — say that repealing the law would result in less low- and moderate-income housing for citizens across the state. While the law is not perfect, many argue, it has resulted in the creation of 58,000 homes and ensures that cheaper housing is available in areas of the state where it would likely not otherwise exist.

Repealing the law would leave no effective state policy on affordable housing. All four candidates running for governor oppose Question 2's passage; Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) reportedly said in a recent statement, "We are committed to reforms that can make the law more transparent and have instituted some already, but cannot support an outright repeal."

We, too, oppose Question 2. The Commonwealth is currently going through some very tough economic times, and the need for affordable housing is especially important. If Question 2 passes, it will most likely result in developers building fewer affordable homes that residents desperately need.


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