Our wheezing democracy

Who are you going to turn to make important decisions affecting the state? The sluggish Legislature or schizophrenic, knee-jerk electorate?

Those seem to be the less-than-compelling options at this point in dealing with a set of questions that will have enormous implications for the state’s budget and initiatives we look for it to fund.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to take up proposals to lower the sales tax or raise the state’s minimum wage and mandate paid family leave for employees, so advocates for those issues are laying the groundwork for them to appear on the November ballot. Meanwhile, a coalition of groups backing more spending for education and transportation wants to raise taxes on high-earners to fund those areas. The so-called millionaire tax on earnings above $1 million a year is due to appear on the November ballot — though that could still be upended by the Supreme Judicial Court, which is expected to rule any day on a constitutional challenge to the question filed by business groups.

With a menu of spending questions possibly heading to the ballot, what are voters thinking?

We need to spend more on stuff — using other people’s money.

That seems to be the mixed message of a new WBUR poll that finds strong support for the millionaire tax, which would bring an estimated $2 billion in state coffers, and support for cutting the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent, which could cut about $1 billion a year from revenue going into state coffers.

The millionaire tax had support from 77 percent of likely voters, while 67 percent back the sales tax cut.

Voters’ apparent interest in seeing more money spent on education and transportation would be badly undercut by their similar interest in saving a little bit each time they buy something subject to the state sales tax. It may be perfectly rational from a household-level perspective — people want better schools and roads and want to keep more of their own earnings. It’s not quite as rational a set of decisions in terms of overall state fiscal policy.

Complicated legislation or tax policy, say most thoughtful observers, is best done through the deliberative — and hopefully thoughtful — legislative process. Taking such questions to the ballot is often seen as a move of last resort, and the threat alone of doing so is sometimes enough to prod action-averse lawmakers to do their job.

There is still hope for that, as lawmakers and advocates for the various questions have been discussing a possible “grand bargain” that would somehow take account of the budgetary push and pull of all the different questions. Whether they can pull that off is anyone’s guess.

If they don’t, get ready for a dizzying season of dueling ballot question battles that try to squeeze complicated budget questions onto bumper stickers.



A Berkshire Eagle editorial slams Gov. Charlie Baker for misrepresenting the safe communities amendment inserted into the Senate budget.

Lawmakers are considering a variety of fee increases that would collectively raise an additional $50 million a year, some of it earmarked for police training, but Gov. Charlie Baker hints that he might veto at least some of the new levies. (Boston Globe)

What a nothingburger. The Senate Task Force on Strengthening Local Retail issued its report, which was basically a summary of all the problems facing local retailers. Not much in there for addressing any of those problems.


A $14 million loan that was intended to cover the city of Lynn’s budget deficit may not be enough amidst rising health care costs. (Daily Item)

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter, who first ran on an anti-tax platform in 2013, is proposing to raise the property tax by the maximum of 2.5 percent for the second year in a row. (The Enterprise)

Quincy officials have canned the city’s problematic trash collector midway through a 10-year contract after the firm was sold to an investor in violation of the contract. The city has rehired its former collector at a 12 percent increase in the annual fee. (Patriot Ledger)

Russell Peotter, who was tasked with finding a way to keep the struggling Hampshire Council of Governments afloat, is throwing in the towel. He announced he is resigning and recommended disbanding the organization or restructuring it. (MassLive)


Federal regulators announced sweeping changes to pare back the Volker Rule, which was enacted in 2010 to curb risky investments by big banks. (New York Times)

President Trump, who did not condemn the racist tweet from Roseanne Barr about a friend and advisor to former President Barack Obama, wondered where his apology from ABC is after Disney chairman Robert Iger called Valerie Jarrett to apologize for the caustic Twitter post. (New York Times)


US Rep. Seth Moulton, who himself ousted an incumbent Democrat in a heated primary, is endorsing Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim in his Democratic primary challenge to Secretary of State William Galvin. (Boston Globe)

Columnist Taylor Armerding says identity politics — whether it’s race, gender, age, or sex — turns the message of Martin Luther King on its head. (Salem News)

Rockland Selectman Denise Hall levied allegations of inappropriate behavior against Town Administrator Allan Chiocca, who has been placed on leave pending an investigation. After making the allegations, Hall withdrew from the race for state representative. (Patriot Ledger)

Oh Mitt, Mitt, Mitt. Joan Vennochi finds something not to like and admire in the declaration by our former governor Mitt Romney, now a Senate candidate in Utah, that he would not want President Trump to serve as a role model for his grandkids — but he by and large likes what he’s been doing as president. (Boston Globe)


Nearly a half-century after the passage of Chapter 40B, there is still a scarcity of affordable housing in the state, with nearly 80 percent of cities and towns falling below the statute’s 10 percent minimum and half the communities with less than 5 percent of affordable units. (Wicked Local)

Wells Fargo, which has had a spate of bad publicity recently, says it will donate $400 million in cash grants to nonprofits in 2018. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

A study by three professors published in the journal Gender & Society finds that sexual harassment not only takes an emotional toll on victims but a financial one as well. (U.S. News & World Report)


UMass Boston students and faculty tell UMass trustees they feel ignored, and back a Senate proposal calling for an investigation of the school’s financial situation. (State House News) A key state senator is consideration drafting legislation that would force UMass to get approval from the state Department of Higher Education before making land acquisitions and create more oversight of how funding is distributed among the university’s campuses. (Boston Herald)

Faced with many schools in need of repairs, Worcester officials are considering merging a number of elementary schools. (Telegram & Gazette)

City Councilor Michelle Wu pens an op-ed calling for Boston to move to a system of universal pre-kindergarten using a mix of the public schools and community-based centers. (Boston Globe)


Business groups join forces in an effort to pare back unnecessary emergency room visits with the goal of saving $100 million. (State House News)


A consultant’s report on what to do with the MBTA’s 1940s-era Mattapan trolleys is delayed again, until the end of this year. (CommonWealth)

The Longfellow Bridge is back open in both directions — at last. (Boston Globe)


Republican New York state Sen. Rob Ortt says his state is being a bad neighbor to New England by blocking efforts to build a pipeline that would bring natural gas from Pennsylvania. (CommonWealth)

After a long slog getting it built, the owners of the natural gas-fired Footprint Power plant in Salem finally flip the switch and start producing electricity. (Salem News)

Babcock Ranch, a community just outside Fort Myers, Florida, aims to be the nation’s first community powered by solar energy. (Governing)


The founders of the marijuana cultivation firm Chilly Farms say they have scouted a number of potential growing locations in Lanesborough, including the Berkshire Mall. (Berkshire Eagle)

Despite what many pot users think, a study done for the Governors Highway Safety Association says marijuana definitely impairs drivers. (MassLive)


A judge has ordered that a heavily redacted report on a serial child rapist who is due to be released from prison be reissued by tomorrow afternoon and include disclosure of all medical and mental health information. (Boston Herald)

It wasn’t exactly a high-speed getaway: An Atlanta man was arrested and charged with stealing a painting from a Provincetown art gallery and fleeing with it on the ferry to Boston, where he was questioned and taken into custody.  (Cape Cod Times)

The New York Times in partnership with ProPublica has the second of a two-part series about the unchallenged reliance of “bloodstain patterns” in homicide trials that has never been scientifically tested or proven.


Mary Meeker’s annual media consumption analysis indicates a stubborn group of print lovers are hanging on, but the ad dollars flowing to print are sliding precipitously. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

The New York Post has fun with Kim Kardashian’s meetup with President Trump in the Oval Office. The headline: “The other big ass summit.”