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Massachusetts votes no on Question 1

Talia Whyte and Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.

For the second time this decade, Massachusetts voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot proposal to eliminate the state income tax.

The controversial Question 1 asked voters to decide whether or not to change the state’s personal income tax. A “yes” vote supported cutting the 5.3 percent tax rate to 2.65 percent effective Jan. 1, 2009, and eliminating it altogether on Jan. 1, 2010. A “no” vote meant no change.

Polls in Massachusetts closed at 8 p.m., and the Associated Press called the contest over at about 8:45 p.m. By 1:50 a.m. Wednesday, with 87 percent of state precincts, 70 percent of voters had opposed the repeal, with 30 percent supporting it.

The Libertarian-led Committee for Small Government championed the initiative, decrying Massachusetts lawmakers’ wasteful spending of tax revenues. The group claimed that workers would keep an average of $3,700 per year if the initiative passed.

This is the second time the tax repeal measure has appeared on Massachusetts ballots. It was defeated in 2002, but by a much smaller margin than many observers anticipated.

Carla Howell, leader of the Committee for Small Government, compares her group’s quest to eliminate the income tax to the biblical struggle between David and Goliath — in this case, the anti-initiative Coalition for our Communities.

“Our opposition is going to spend millions on advertising against us,” she said. “It’s a battle of the government haves vs. the government have-nots — those who profit from government spending and those who foot the bill.”

In the weeks leading up to the election, however, the proposal appeared to have difficulty gaining traction with Bay State residents.

Fifty-nine percent of likely voters surveyed in a late-October Suffolk University/WHDH-TV poll said they opposed Question 1, while 26 percent said they supported it and 16 percent were undecided. The poll of 400 registered voters was conducted Oct. 20 through Oct. 22 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Virtually every top political figure in the state, including Gov. Deval Patrick, opposed the measure, saying the question would wipe out approximately 40 percent of state revenues at a time when Massachusetts is already facing troubled fiscal waters.

Many members of Boston’s communities of color also came out in force to oppose Question 1 in the run-up to Election Day.

During a rally at Roxbury Community College on Monday night, activists spoke about the possible dangers of passing Question 1.

“We care about our schools, our seniors, our health care being funded,” said Mimi Ramos, an organizer with the Massachusetts chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). “If you care about these issues, you need to make sure you vote no on Question 1.”

Many voters leaving the polls after casting ballots at Roxbury’s Tobin Community Center on Tuesday morning said they had heeded Ramos’ call to action.

“I voted no on Question 1 because there are so many people in our community who depend on many social services on a daily basis that would just simply go away if this initiative passed,” said Marilyn Jacobs of Mission Hill.

For Roxbury resident Mavis Childrins, public transportation was a major consideration.

“I don’t have a car and I depend on the T to take me everywhere I need to go,” she said. “I voted against [Question 1] because the T is already bad enough service and it would just get worse with the state income tax being cut.”

Outside the Tobin center, Robert Franklin, a firefighter from Jamaica Plain, handed out fliers about the work of firefighters to voters exiting the polls. He said that passing Question 1 would affect his coworkers.

“I don’t want Question 1 to even happen,” he said. “Forty percent of our men would lose their jobs. What is wrong with that picture?”

Opposition was likewise strong at the Woodrow Wilson School in Dorchester.

Nick Smith, a 25-year-old political organizer and registered Democrat, said he was concerned about the impact of the state facing “a $12.7 billion loss of revenue.”

“It’s going to affect us,” said Smith, a Dorchester resident. “Boston Medical Center, police, teachers — they’re all funded by income taxes. Everyone takes a hit.”

The specter of that hit was the main reason that Diamond Roberts voted no on Question 1 at Boston Middle School Academy on McLellan Street in Dorchester.

“We’re low-income,” said Roberts, 23, who traveled to the polls with her nephew David, 2, and niece Danaya, 4. “We need a little bit more of what we’re getting.”

Some who cast ballots at the academy, however, wanted government to take a little bit less. For his part, Anthony Williams voted to repeal the income tax. The 26-year-old Comcast employee said he believes state government doesn’t use tax revenues wisely.

“Everybody wants to know where their money is going,” he said.

Union carpenter Craig Ransom, on the other hand, wanted to know it was going toward strengthening the Commonwealth’s financial future — and on Tuesday night, seven in 10 Massachusetts voters sided with him.

“[Question 1] recklessly endangers the fate of our state economy,” said Ransom, 45, of Dorchester.

The Local 40 member had some advice for proponents of passing Question 1: “If you don’t want to pay income taxes, move to New Hampshire.”

Daniela Caride contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.