Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Advocates gather last-minute signatures before ballot deadline

Activists for law reform in Massachusetts have collected enough votes for seven ballot questions to be filed at the office of Mass. Secretary of State William Galvin Wednesday with the hope that their questions will make it on the 2014 ballot and be voted on by Massachusetts residents.

Brian McNiff, spokesman for Galvin’s office, said each petition needs a signature count of 68,911 before turning the certified signatures in to the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday.

“They’ve overcome their biggest hurdle, which is getting the 68,000 signatures,” he said. “But now what happens is the Legislature takes it up or not, sometimes they work out some legislation and the petitioners don’t pursue their initiative.”

McNiff said after the House Clerk receives the petitions at the beginning of 2014, the Legislature has until May to take action, but if no action is taken, the petitioners must collect 11,485 additional certified signatures in order for the question to be on the ballot in November.

John Ribeiro, chairman of the Repeal the Casino Deal Coalition, said he has exceeded the amount of signatures needed to get his question to ban casinos in Massachusetts on the ballot.

Ribeiro said the coalition needed to file an injunction in order to begin collecting signatures after Mass. Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley rejected the petition in September. After filing signatures on Wednesday, the group can move forward with their court case against Coakley.

“That court case should be heard from the time of late January to late February, and then if we are successful, we will be in the same situation as every other ballot question,” he said. “We have to collect signatures during May and July, and if we’re successful with that, we’ll be on the ballot in November.”

In addition to the repeal casino initiative, other petitions for proposed ballot questions include a repeal of the gas tax, a raise in minimum wage, sales tax reforms, updates for the bottle deposit law, reforms in patient safety, required sick time, limits in hospital operating margins and constitutional amendments. Not all initiatives have received the number of signatures yet before the Wednesday deadline.

Tank the Gas Tax Hike has collected 87,000 certified signatures for its petition to repeal the legislation passed in July 2013 that indexes the gas tax to inflation, said Holly Robichaud, spokeswoman for the group.

“The gas tax will automatically go up without a vote every year and we believe that if they want to raise our gas tax, they should have to vote on it,” she said. “So we’re basically trying to stop taxation without representation.”

Robichaud said Tank the Gas Tax Hike aims to stop the linkage of the gas tax to inflation so that other taxes are not linked in the future.

“We feel that if they get away with linking the gas tax to inflation, then it will be the income tax or the property taxes next,” she said.

Raise Up Massachusetts, a grassroots effort proposing two different questions regarding workers’ benefits, has collected 96,970 signatures for earned sick time and 111,758 for raising the minimum wage, said Steven Crawford, spokesman for Raise Up Massachusetts.

Several residents said they supported the effort to get questions on the ballot.

Andrew Kimball, 38, of East Boston, said many of the questions that will be on the 2014 ballot are issues government officials should be dealing with rather than citizens voting on them.

“If the gas tax is supposed to be paying for things and we don’t link it to inflation, and it hasn’t been raised in 20 years, … then that’s a significant problem,” he said. “There are certain things that we need the Legislature to figure out, the hard stuff, and not necessarily people that vote making difficult decisions sometimes.”

Haydee Irizarry, 18, of Allston, said the amount of signatures required to get a question on the ballot is reasonable and a good way of getting people involved in government.

“If people have been getting that many signatures, then [getting a question on the ballot] shouldn’t be that hard to achieve,” she said. “It’s a reasonable approach.”

Michelle Ma, 23, of Dorchester, said she is most excited about the question to raise the minimum wage.

“The minimum wage should be raised because in Massachusetts it costs a lot to live here, and it’s so hard to find a job, even if you have a degree and have had a good job in the past, you can’t find another job,” she said. “Minimum wage is not enough to pay for anything and it’s difficult to just get by, so it should be raised.”

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