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2008 Ballot guide

November 2, 2008
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The biggest buzz on the 2008 Massachusetts ballot has been generated by three referendum questions. Use this guide to help make an informed decision on Tuesday.

Q1
Would reduce the state personal income tax rate to 2.65 percent for the tax year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2010.

PRO Proponents say the tax, which generates roughly $12.5 billion a year for the state, enables government waste, fattens labor unions and public employee benefits, and robs workers of 5.3 percent of their hard-earned income. They say returning the money instead to the state's 3.4 million workers would help people afford to live in Massachusetts and encourage private business growth.

Notable supporters: Carla Howell, former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, and her Committee for Small Government; and Barbara Anderson and Citizens for Limited Taxation, who led the effort to pass the property tax control known as Proposition 2 1/2 in 1980.

CON Opponents say eliminating the tax, which funds roughly 40 percent of the stat's budget, is a reckless move that could wipe out public schools, safety, and infrastructure. They also caution that it would harm the state's credit rating and ability to borrow money, discourage businesses attracted by its schools and quality of life, and cause other taxes to be raised to make up the difference.

Notable opponents: Coalition for Our Communities, which draws most of its funding from public-employee unions; community-activist groups; state and local business organizations; public offi cials; and a host of elected bodies, including Boston's City Council.

THE CONTEXT The same question appeared on the ballot in 2002. Tax supporters dismissed it as outlandish, spending just $4,600 to oppose it, so they were stunned when it won 45 percent of the vote. This time they mounted an aggressive campaign, raising and spending several million dollars to preserve the state's income tax. Meanwhile, Question 1's proponents had raised and spent about one-tenth as much through mid-October and were relying on voter frustration with elected officials, economic constraints, and a general belief in limited government to win passage. --ERIC MOSKOWITZ

Q2 Would replace the criminal penalties for possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana with a system of civil penalties, and would exclude information from the state's criminal record system.

PRO Proponents say the initiative would maintain the state's existing penalties for growing, trafficking, or driving under the influence, while ensuring that those caught with less than an ounce of pot would avoid the taint of a criminal record. They note that marijuana possession arrests and convictions are records that remain visible to many employers, even when the charges are dismissed.

Notable supporters: The American Civil Liberties Union, Greater Boston Civil Rights Coalition, The Boston Workers Alliance, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

CON Opponents of the initiative argue that decriminalizing marijuana possession would send the wrong message to youths. They say it would promote drug use and benefit drug dealers at a time when marijuana has become more potent than ever before. They also warn it would increase violence on the streets and safety hazards in the workplace and cause the number of car crashes to rise.

Notable opponents: Governor Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Senator John F. Kerry, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, former mayor Raymond L. Flynn, district attorneys throughout the state, the Boston TenPoint Coalition, and the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

THE CONTEXT The proposition is part of a broader national effort and echoes local initiatives around the country to relax penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. It seeks to match marijuana possession laws in 12 states that have adopted some form of decriminalization. In 2006, 6,902 people were arrested in Massachusetts for marijuana possession -- more than 38 percent of all the drug arrests in the state that year, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. -- DAVID ABEL

Q3 Would prohibit any dog racing or racing meeting in Massachusetts where any form of betting or wagering on the speed or ability of dogs occurs.

PRO Proponents say the ballot question would end a sport that treats greyhounds cruelly, leaving them in cages for most of the day and causing more than 800 injuries over the past six years. The ballot question would phase out racing by 2010, giving employees of dog tracks time to find other jobs.

Notable supporters: The Humane Society, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Medical Center, and Grey2KUSA, the group that sponsored a similar but unsuccessful ballot question in 2000. Twenty-three legislators endorsed the question, as did the Massachusetts Council of Churches.

CON Opponents say that racing greyhounds are valued competitors that are well protected, fed, and housed and that the rate of injury is low, considering the number of races. And they say the ballot question would cut up to 1,000 jobs at two dog tracks and hurt the local and state economy by eliminating racing and tax revenue.

Notable opponents: George Carney, owner of Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray. Notably absent from the fight is the state's other dog track, Wonderland Park in Revere, which is trying to stay financially afloat and to attract a casino.

THE CONTEXT This is the third attempt in recent years to ban dog racing. In 2000, the ballot question was narrowly defeated, and in 2006, the question was kept off the ballot after a legal challenge by Carney. Dog racing, legal in 10 other states, has been legal in Massachusetts since 1934. But the two dog tracks operating here have been losing patrons in recent years. At Wonderland, the amount gambled plummeted 65 percent from 2002 to 2007. At Raynham, bets were down 37 percent over that time. -- STEPHANIE EBBERT

BALLOT QUESTION 1
For and against...

For and against...

The arguments for and against eliminating state income tax.
INTERACTIVE

Play the budget game

How would you cut 40% of the state's budget?
BALLOT QUESTION 2
For and against...

For and against...

Get the arguments for and against the decriminalization of marijuana.
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