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Unions pump $1.3M into Mass. sales tax cut fight

Associated Press | 10/5/2010, 7:09 p.m.

Unions have pumped more than $1.3 million into the fight against a statewide ballot question designed to lower Massachusetts sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.

The bulk of the money has come from teachers unions, including more than $560,000 from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and another half million dollars from the National Education Association.

The American Federation of Teachers, a smaller union, has chipped in more than $50,000. A non-teacher union, the Service Employees International Union, contributed $150,000 to the campaign.

A spokesman for the group, the Massachusetts Coalition for Our Communities, said the coalition hopes to raise even more to launch television ads before Election Day.

“We’re running a campaign,” said Toby McGrath, campaign manager for the coalition. “We’re planning on going to go up on television and we’ll definitely do that.”

So far, the group has spent about $400,000 of the $1.3 million on consulting fees.

Backers of the question have raised far less, much of it from individual donors.

They collected nearly $160,000 last year, the bulk of it going to pay for professional signature gatherers to guarantee the question qualified for the ballot. They raised another $76,000 this year, and had less than $18,000 in their account as of mid-September.

Carla Howell, whose Alliance to Roll Back Taxes is pushing the question, said she anticipated the fundraising gap.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that the groups that profiteer from high taxes and high government spending are at it again,” she said. “They want to keep taxes high and feed their special interests on the backs of taxpayers.”

The initiative would reduce the sales tax rate from 6.25 to 3 percent, a move that would cost the state up to $2.5 billion in annual revenue beginning Jan. 1.

Howell and other supporters of the question argue the state would be able to cut that much while not affecting spending by city and town governments.

Critics say there’s no way the state could absorb the loss in revenue without deep cuts, including reducing local aid to cities and towns.

McGrath said the group is made up of more that just unions. He said business groups and

nonprofit organizations also oppose the question.

All four candidates for governor have said they plan to vote against the question.

McGrath said the coalition is planning to hit the airwaves soon.

The battle is a replay of Howell’s attempt two years ago to eliminate the state income tax with a ballot initiative.

Many of the same groups, including the teacher’s unions, were part of a coalition that dumped nearly $7 million into a campaign to convince voters to reject the cut.

They succeeded, in part by flooding the airwaves with television and radio advertisements warning of the disastrous consequences of the sudden loss of revenue.

McGrath said he doesn’t expect the coalition to raise as much money this time around.

“I’m guessing we won’t be around where we were in 2008,” he said. “It all comes down to the resources and it’s not necessarily going to be what it was in the past.”

Howell, who frames the contest in David versus Goliath terms, said this year is different, in part because of the toll the recession has taken on voters’ pocketbooks and scandals on Beacon Hill.

“Clearly we are in a different climate now,” she said. “People are getting fed up with government waste.”

Voters appear sharply divided on the question.

A recent Boston Globe poll found 46 percent of voters supporting the question, with 43 percent opposed and the rest undecided. The difference is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.

Other polls have shown a slight majority in favor of the question.

Associated Press

Alliance to Roll Back Taxes: http://www.rollbacktaxes.com
Coalition for Our Communities: http://votenoquestion3.com