Monday, October 20, 2014

10/15: Approve bottle bill expansion...


BOSTON - Gov. Deval Patrick is ready to bring his strong approval rating to bear on four ballot questions, aiming to preserve gas tax and gaming policies he helped enact, achieve a bottle bill expansion he has long sought and grant more rights to workers.
"With the bottle bill, I did a video for them. So when asked, I'm happy to help," Patrick told a reporter when asked about his plans to get involved with the four ballot questions. If voters pass Question 2, water, juice and iced tea bottles would be included in the state's bottle deposit program and the state would be able to periodically adjust the 5-cent deposit.
After a visit to the state Transportation Building Wednesday, Patrick said, "Every one of these issues has a campaign associated with it, on both sides. And I've done things when the campaigns have asked me to."
The statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and attorney general are all open this year and sharing space on the ballot with four referendums that could cause major shifts in state policy.
Last year Patrick urged lawmakers to find the "political courage" to support his $2 billion proposal shifting the tax burden from the sales to the income tax while zeroing out tax breaks.
On Wednesday, speaking to transportation officials interested in public-private partnerships, Patrick praised the bravery of the lawmakers who passed a tax plan that increased tobacco and gas taxes, while linking future gas tax increases to inflation. Lawmakers then quickly repealed a new computer services tax that was one of the major revenue generators in the $500 million tax plan they had approved.
Question 1 would repeal the portion of the law linking the gas tax to inflation, and Patrick has urged voters to reject that referendum.
"One of the great failings in politics is the failure to connect up what it is you pay in taxes to what it is you say you want from government, and people are nervous about that. Political people, elected officials are nervous about having a conversation about taxes," Patrick said.
Opponents of the indexing law say the legislation absolves lawmakers of their proper responsibility to vote on future increases in the gas tax.
Rep. James Cantwell, of Marshfield, is one of the Democrats who has attracted the attention of a political action group specifically targeting pols on the basis of their support or opposition to gas-tax indexing. Cantwell voted against an initial version of the bill and voted to remove the indexing language, but supported the final version and joined his colleagues in overriding Patrick's veto.
On Wednesday TankTheGasTax.Net PAC endorsed Cantwell's opponent Jim Pavlik and the group has accused Cantwell of "attempting to mislead" voters and said he "failed to stand up for the taxpayers."
While Patrick said the vote to raise the gas tax for the first time in 23 years and link future increases to inflation was a "really good idea and a courageous vote by the Legislature," in 2013 Patrick vetoed the tax law, writing that the bill was "not good enough." The House and Senate overrode the veto by votes of 123-33 and 35-5.
On Wednesday, Patrick said he still favored his approach but was more complimentary toward lawmakers.
"Don't get me wrong, I asked for more, a lot more. And I asked for it because I think the people of the commonwealth want a lot more, but it was a big lift. Everybody knew that," Patrick said. "There's no doubt that any tax vote by the Legislature is brave. It's hard to do. It's politically risky. But doing the right thing is always the right thing."
The expanded gaming law, signed by Patrick in November 2011, was also borne out of a dispute between the legislative and executive branches that jettisoned a prior version of the bill in 2010. Question 3 would repeal the casino and slots parlor gambling that was legalized under the law.
Asked if he would help the casino industry that is funding the effort to defeat Question 3, Patrick said, "I think my views are very well known. I don't think casinos are the be-all or end-all or a centerpiece of our economic growth strategy. I've said many, many times that a modest expansion of gaming that allows for a few destination resorts and allows for local communities to decide whether it's right in their own community is a good way to go."
A repeal of the casino law would undo the statutory support for licenses awarded to Wynn Resorts in Everett, MGM in Springfield and a slots license for Penn National in Plainville.
The third casino license in southeastern Massachusetts has not yet been awarded.
Patrick, who is leaving office in January, signed legislation in June that would increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2017 and put to rest an effort to pass similar minimum wage legislation through the ballot referendum process. Patrick supports Question 4, which would mandate earned sick time for employees, including paid sick leave at larger companies.
Earned sick time bills failed to pass the Legislature, where Democrats have overwhelming majorities in both branches. Martha Coakley, the Democrat seeking to succeed Patrick, has used her support for Question 4 as a wedge with Charlie Baker, a Republican and her chief rival in the governor's race. Baker supports a more limited earned sick time requirement.
Voters have proven to be pliable in polls about expanding the bottle bill, bending from supporting the bill by a decent margin over the summer to opposing the measure by a similar margin this fall. Patrick, who has annually filed legislation to expand the bottle bill, recently recounted that a former colleague in the soda business told him the legislation was a "loser" because the bottling industry would outspend supporters of the expansion.
The spending dynamic has been lopsidedly opposed to Question 2, with supermarkets and the bottling industry outspending the environmentalist groups aligned in favor of the legislation more than ten-fold this year, through September.
"They're going to spend a lot of money, but I've been outspent in campaigns before, and I trust the people of the commonwealth to make a wise decision, and I think a wise decision is in favor of expansion of the bottle bill," Patrick said. He said, "I think logic and right is on the side of rejecting the repeal measure in the gas tax, expanding earned sick time, retaining the casino bill we have."

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