NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack Valley candidates detailed their positions on three ballot referendums that could have dramatic effects on state government.
Voters could reduce two tax rates and cut state revenue on Nov. 2. The Eagle-Tribune asked candidates from the Merrimack Valley running for state offices where they stand, and candidates filled out questionnaires outlining their positions.
Question 1: Eliminate the sales tax on alcohol
Across the political spectrum, Merrimack Valley candidates agree that the sales tax on alcohol, passed in 2009, should be removed. Voting "Yes" on Question 1 eliminates the tax.
State Rep. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, who is running for state Sen. Susan Tucker's seat has the shared belief that the sales tax on alcohol amounts to a double tax, since alcohol is subject to an excise tax.
"This is essentially a tax on a tax, which needs to be removed," Finegold said.
Most candidates agree that the tax pushes Massachusetts residents to New Hampshire for alcohol purchases, hurting local businesses.
"Being a border community, it hurts small business," said Al DiNuccio, a Republican running against state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen. "We need more reform in Boston before revenue."
State Rep. Harriett Stanley, D-West Newbury, opposes removing the sales tax on alcohol, pointing out that the money from the tax goes toward prevention and intervention programs for substance abusers.
"Sin taxes should go toward solving some of the problems that the 'sins' cause," Stanley said.
Democrat Pat Commane, an Andover resident running for Finegold's seat, also opposes eliminating the alcohol tax.
Gubernatorial candidates Republican Charlie Baker and Treasurer Tim Cahill, an independent, support eliminating the tax and cite business in border towns as the reason.
"The sales tax on alcohol takes money out of the pockets of the middle- class and hurts small businesses during a recession, particularly along the New Hampshire border," Cahill said.
Question 2: Repeal the Chapter 40B "affordable housing" zoning law
Most Democrats oppose Question 2 and argue for keeping the affordable housing law, while most Republicans and independents are pushing for its repeal. Voting "Yes" on Question 2 repeals the law, which allows a qualified organization wishing to build government-subsidized housing that includes low- or moderate-income units to apply for a single comprehensive permit from a city or town's zoning board of appeals, instead of separate permits from each local agency or official having jurisdiction over any aspect of the proposed housing.
All four gubernatorial candidates oppose Question 2, which repeals the law.
"The affordable housing law is not perfect and is in need of some reforms, but I am opposed to its repeal because it has provided much-needed affordable housing to seniors, veterans and working families in Massachusetts," said Baker.
Republican Jamison Tomasek, running to replace Tucker, argues that the Chapter 40B law needs to be repealed, as it has not accomplished its goal of creating affordable housing and legislation to improve the law has not materialized.
"Attempts to change this law died in committee," Tomasek said. "40B is a way for certain groups to benefit at the expense of local zoning laws and the unfortunate abutting citizens."
Question 3: Reduce the state sales and use tax to 3 percent
While many candidates want to lower the sales tax from 6.25 percent, the majority of candidates agree that lowering the tax to 3 percent is too drastic. Voting "Yes" on Question 3 would lower the tax to 3 percent.
Cutting the sales tax in half, many argue, would drive down state revenue and force the state to cut local aid.
"That cut would result in devastating reductions to education, local aid, public safety and senior citizens' services and would prompt a rise in property taxes," said state Rep. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, who opposes the tax.
Stanley bucks the trend, pushing for the passage of Question 3 and acknowledging that her support of Question 3 is a reversal of her 2009 vote to raise the sales tax to its current level.
"But it's based on legislative reality because the state budget will never be level-funded (or cut) unless it is forced to," Stanley said. "Reduction of the sales tax by 50% is a drastic move, but it may be the only way to shake the status quo."
Republican Robert Finneran, Stanley's opponent for the 2nd Essex seat, also would vote yes on the question, but prefers restoring the tax to 5 percent.
"Question 3 reflects the pain and frustration we have with a badly behaving State government," Finneran said. "Unlike many incumbents, I will respect the process in these referendums, and work with the Governor to improve integrity and services in government."
All four gubernatorial candidates oppose Question 3, but Baker and Cahill support reducing the sales tax to 5 percent.
Gov. Deval Patrick defends the tax, which he signed into law in 2009.
"Passing this initiative would have a calamitous impact on the state's ability to fund vital programs and services that our residents rely upon," according to a statement from the Patrick campaign.
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