By Eric Moskowitz, Globe Staff
Massachusetts voters once again rejected a ballot question to eliminate the state's income tax, six years after the question lost by such a slim margin that supporters hoped it would pass on a second try. The Associated Press called the outcome at about 8:45 p.m.
The victory for opponents of repealing the tax was a lesson in what money and organization can accomplish on Election Day.
A similar question to repeal the tax in 2002 attracted little advance notice and no formal opposition but nearly passed. Stunned income tax supporters took no chances this time, spending millions of dollars on an aggressive campaign that included TV ads, direct mail, and door-to-door outreach warning of the likely damage to the state and public services as well as the other taxes and fees that might be raised to offset it -- and voters were listening.
"We're in enough trouble as it is," said Leonard LeBlanc, a 78-year-old retired carpenter from Lynnfield who voted no.
Others at the polls in Lynnfield -- one of about 100 communities that supported the question last time -- and elsewhere echoed the heavily advertised message that eliminating the income tax, which generates about $12.5 billion a year for the state, would be reckless.
The Coalition for Our Communities, which led the opposition to Question 1, outspent the question's sponsors by a roughly 10-to-1 margin. That enabled them to pay for a flurry of TV ads and a sophisticated voter ID effort to identify likely and swing voters. Among other tactics, they sent full-color, personalized mailers that incorporated a voter's name and community into the images and warned of specific local cuts.
That spending dovetailed with a network of community activists worried about cuts to schools, health centers, public safety, and other programs. In Dorchester and Mattapan alone, more than 100 volunteers from several local nonprofits offered rides to the polls and handed out thousands of No-on-1 palm cards -- "It's a reckless idea. . . . Times are hard enough. Let's not make them worse" -- to voters waiting to enter urban precincts.
"We know how important Question 1 is to many services that are important to working families across the state," said Cortina Vann, a community organizer with the Dorchester-based Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, where a classroom normally used for a low- and moderate-income homebuyer course had been coverted into a "war room," the walls covered with charts detailing precinct locations and volunteer schedules.
On the other side, the question's proponents, the Committee for Small Government, invested a large share of their limited resources -- about $431,000 raised through mid-October -- early in the campaign, on the signature drive to get the question on the ballot.
After that, Question 1 advocates hoped that frustration with government waste as well as fatigue from strained family budgets would lead many of the state's 3.4 million workers to strike a blow against the 5.3-percent income tax.
"We're getting taxed to death in Massachusetts," said Bernie Friesecke, a North Reading voter who contributed $85 to the Committee for Small Government so that it could make its antitax voice heard against the heavily played message of the Coalition for Our Communities.
"God almighty, that's what really burns my tail. You get these television ads that tell you we're going to lose this, that, and the other thing," said Friesecke, a 78-year-old retired aeronautical engineer. "No one's ever telling you that we've got corruption and spending on stuff we don't need, in huge quantities."