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EDITORIAL

No on Questions 5 and 6; Yes on 7 and 8

On Friday, The Tech discussed the first four of Massachusetts’ eight ballot questions. Today we examine the final four questions.

Question 5 would grant new rights to health-care patients and workers, and calls for universal health care coverage in Massachusetts by July 1, 2002. While universal health care coverage is a worthy goal, The Tech must urge a vote of no on 5. Question 5 is a long, unwieldy petition that would increase government bureaucracy in the health-care system. Additionally, Question 5 does not itself propose a scheme for universal health care, but instead asks a government council and the Legislature to review universal health-care proposals. While Question 5’s supporters have the best of intentions, their petition is so nebulous and cumbersome that we urge its defeat.

Question 6 would allow an income tax credit for automobile tolls and excise taxes. By removing these disincentives to driving, Question 6 would lower the cost of getting behind the wheel; as a simple economic result, traffic congestion would increase, and the Massachusetts Turnpike, Tobin Bridge, and harbor tunnels would be even further snarled. This situation would be made even worse by tollbooth backups as thousands of drivers stop to collect receipts (needed to claim their tax credits). To boot, Question 6 would drain hundreds of millions of dollars from state coffers. The Tech recommends a vote of no on 6.

A no vote on 6, however, does nothing to remedy the two glaring inequities cited by Question 6 supporters -- that the toll system is inherently regressive, and that residents of central and western Massachusetts must pay Pike tolls while those who live in the eastern part of the state are not tolled on Interstate 93. The Tech regrets these inequities and believes that they should be corrected, but not at the expense proposed by Question 6. If the state desires a sensible, equitable transportation system, it should consider such measures as constructing new parking facilities at suburban commuter-rail stations, particularly in central and western areas, in order to provide a viable alternative to highway commuting.

Question 7 seeks to create a state income tax deduction for charitable contributions. This legislation has already been approved by the General Court, but it was passed too late in the session to take Question 7 off the ballot. Still, as Massachusetts annually ranks at or near the bottom of the 50 states in per capita charitable giving, we endorse a vote of yes on 7 to echo the Legislature’s action to increase charitable giving in this state.

Question 8, if passed, would change the Commonwealth’s drug treatment and forfeiture laws. A yes vote would increase the number of drug offenders eligible for drug treatment instead of jail time, and it uses property seized from drug dealers to establish a Drug Treatment Trust Fund to pay for treatment programs.

We recommend a vote of yes on 8. We strongly believe that treatment, not harsh mandatory jail sentences, is the best means to deal with low-level drug offenders. We also support the increased restrictions on property seizures supported by Question 8 as a way to protect innocent property owners.

The eight ballot questions before Massachusetts voters this year are extremely important, affecting tax, crime, and health policies. We encourage all voters to study these questions carefully, and to make informed decisions, before heading to the voting booth.