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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Massachusetts, Somerville ballot initiatives to look out for tomorrow

Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to vote on four ballot measures on Election Day this Tuesday. Somerville residents will have an additional fifth question on their ballots concerning a tax hike to fund a new high school. Questions on the Massachusetts ballot range from a new slots parlor to farm animal living conditions. Read up on your options and be ready for the polls tomorrow. Question 1

Massachusetts Ballot Question 1 involves the creation of another casino gambling establishment in the Commonwealth.

According to a voter information guide published by Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin, passing Question 1 would allow the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to provide an additional Category 2 license, allowing for the creation of a site with 1,250 or fewer slot games and no table games.

Currently, only one slots parlor is allowed in the state, and that license was already awarded to the Plainridge Park Casino, according to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission'swebsite.

The Commission could grant the license to establishments that are located on land that is least four acres in area and no more than 1,500 feet from a race track. The track must be physically suitable for horse racing, a highway or railroad track cannot divide the track and site and horse racing must have occurred at the track.

According to the "Yes to 1" campaign website's homepage, passing Question 1 would result in more than $80 million per year in revenue to Massachusetts,$12 million per year to Massachusetts horse racing, thousands of new jobs for citizens of Massachusetts and an additional $5 million in revenue to the host city. 

Celeste Myers, chair of the Committee for Responsible and Sustainable Economic Development, a grassroots ballot question committee of Massachusetts anti-casino activist volunteers, argued against the initiative by saying that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has made many initial promises about casino developments, some of which are thus far failing to achieve their full potential.

Myers said passing Question 1 would also allow an outsider to impact Massachusetts gaming legislation.

"It's a ... huge negative precedent for folks if they think that they can come in from ... outside of the country, and buy off our civic engagement process," she said.

Question 2

Question 2 will present voters with the opportunity to decide whether to expand the charter school system in Massachusetts. If the measure passes, the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will be able to license 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charter schools per year, according to the proposed law.

This year, there are 69 Commonwealth charter schools in operation, according to a DESE fact sheet. If passed, Question 2 would lift the current cap of 72 Commonwealth charter schools, and give preference to new charter schools in areas with low-performing school districts.

Charter schools are operated independently, but are publicly-funded from the budgets of school districts, overseen by DESE and required to admit all students, according to a DESE report.

Proponents of Question 2, led by the organization Great Schools Massachusetts, say that many charter schools have been successful. They point out that, according to standardized test data, minority and low-income charter school students perform better on average than their public school peers.

Great Schools also argues that the state should expand charter schools to accommodate the families on charter school waiting lists, who currently number above 37,000 according to DESE.

"[Charter schools] offer longer school days and more individual attention, and have a proven record of closing the achievement gap for kids trapped in failing school districts," AnneMarie O'Connor Little from Great Schools wrote in the state's Information for Voters guide.

Opponents of the ballot question, led by Save our Public Schools, caution that charter schools take funding from struggling school districts. They also contend that their success varies and that they serve fewer high-need students.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni argued that because charter schools are more selective, standardized testing should not be the only measure of a school's success.

"It is essential that we stop labeling schools based on test scores and start talking about the resources available for the range of experiences we want available to our young people," Madeloni told the Daily in an email.

Question 3

A "yes" vote on Question 3, which pertains to conditions for farm animals, would prohibit any confinement of pigs, calves and hens that prevents them from standing up, lying down, fully extending limbs or turning around freely. A "no" vote would mean no change in current laws about the keeping of farm animals.

The law would also prevent business owners in Massachusetts from selling eggs, veal or pork if they knew that the animal which produced these products was raised in a manner that was not allowed by this law, even if the animals were raised outside of Massachusetts. 

The law would exempt sales of prepared foods that could combine veal or pork with other products, such as sandwiches or pizzas, for example.

"The proposed law's confinement prohibitions would not apply during transportation; state and county fair exhibitions; 4-H programs; slaughter in compliance with applicable laws and regulations; medical research; veterinary exams, testing, treatment and operation," the Massachusetts Information for Voters 2016 Ballot Questions pamphlet reads.

Stephanie Harris, campaign director of Citizens for Farm Animal Protection, argued that a "yes" vote would guard against animal cruelty in Massachusetts by prohibiting inhumanely small spaces for animals and unsafe products on the Massachusetts market.

The argument against Question 3, penned by William Bell of the New England Brown Egg Council, focuses on limited choice for consumers and the possibility of higher food prices.

Bell also argued that the process of making animal containment policies more humane has been progressing on its own.

"The veal industry plans to be completely phased out of veal crates by the end of 2017. One hundred and seventy five food suppliers have already pledged to switch to cage-free eggs. Others will follow," he wrote in the pamphlet.

Because the law would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2022, the fiscal consequences of the proposed measure are unknown at this time.

Question 4

With Ballot Question 4Massachusetts voters will decide on the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana. The proposed law would legalize marijuana use, possession, cultivation and distribution -- with restrictions on amounts -- for individuals older than 21.

The proposed law would create a three-member Cannabis Control Commission, appointed by the state treasurer, which would be responsible for marijuana commercial licenses, as well as developing regulations for the cannabis industry on advertising standards, health and safety standards, inspections and license qualifications.

Local oversight would also be emphasized, as the measure would allow cities and towns to place restrictions on the number, location and type of marijuana businesses.

If legalized, retail sales of marijuana would be subject to state sales tax and an additional excise tax of 3.75 percent, and cities or towns will be given the ability to include a separate tax of up to 2 percent.

Economic benefits from the proposed measure would include revenues from the state excise tax, license application fees and penalties for violations of the law. These revenues would be compiled in a Marijuana Regulation Fund and used for administration of the proposed law.

Property owners would be able to prohibit marijuana use, sale or production. The one exception, according to the voters’ guide distributed to Massachusetts voters by the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Elections Division, would be that landlords would be unable to prohibit tenants’ consumption of marijuana through means other than smoking.

Supporters argue that the initiative replaces an unregulated market controlled by drug dealers with a state-controlled and regulated one.

“Passing this measure will allow local law enforcement to shift resources and focus to serious and violent crimes,” Will Luzier of the Yes on 4 campaign wrote in the voter's guide. 

The opposition argues that the ballot measure would increase overall drug use, especially in light of the current opioid epidemic.  

“[Ballot Question 4 would create] a billion-dollar commercial marijuana industry that, just like Big Tobacco, would make millions on the backs of our communities, compromise health and safety, and harm kids," State Representative Hannah Kane wrote in the guide.

Question 5

Somerville voters will face a fifth ballot question on Election Day that would authorize a citywide tax hike to help fund a new high school. On Election Day, voters will be asked whether or not to allow the city to temporarily raise taxes more than it is typically allowed to, as restricted by Proposition 2 ½. The additional municipal tax revenue would be earmarked solely for the new high school project.

According to the City of Somerville's website, Somerville High School (SHS) is in danger of losing its accreditation due to the condition of the building. Concerns range from energy use and structural issues -- parts of the building are well over 100 years old -- to a lack of modern classroom equipment, according to the website. The website also says that if the high school were to lose its accreditation, students applying to colleges and searching for jobs would be negatively affected.

A 15-person committee that includes Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Superintendent Mary Skipper and Alderman-At-Large Mary Jo Rossetti determined that a combination of renovation and new additions would be the most feasible and cost-effective option.

The new high school design is projected to cost $256 million, according to the website. The city would shoulder just over half of this amount, with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) chipping in $120 million. Somerville would have to pay almost as hefty a sum if it opted to renovate the school instead of building a new one because it wouldn’t receive any funding from the state in that case.

“There needs to be a plan to fix the high school’s problems by the 2020 reaccreditation and this is the most cost-effective way to do that. There just really isn’t an alternative,” Gregory Maynard, campaign manager for the Yes on Question 5 Campaign, said.

But taxpayers will see a sizable rise in their bills if Question 5 passes. Increases would be minimal for the first few years, but by 2027 a two-family home could see a tax hike of up to $349. Many residents have expressed concerns over the high price tag and questioned whether the city could spend less on the project.