Yes or no, each question needs answer

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Everyone dislikes ballot questions. Without a scorecard, it's often tough to figure out whether yes means yes or yes means no — and vice versa. In addition, many ballot questions reflect the inability of some official body to listen to the people and take care of business.

Question 3, for instance. If racing greyhounds is such a heinous thing, then why don't the people in charge of licensing such things take action? Instead, crusading citizens have to circulate petitions and the public has to vote.

The scorecard makes clear that a yes vote is against dog racing in Massachusetts, a gambling venue that seems to be experiencing a decline on its own — perhaps a reflection of the general good taste of Bay Staters. A yes vote here is a vote for the dogs, not a statement about gambling.

Take Question 2. Just a cursory reading of the news each day makes it clear that some people caught with a small amount of marijuana are being locked up for what may well be a cruel and unusual punishment — too severe for the crime.

In a recent appeal for a charity, respected former newsman Walter Cronkite gave examples of people who were imprisoned on minor charges connected with drugs while more serious offenders "helped" police and served less time.

The information book sent out by the state says a yes vote would change the punishment meted out to minor users of marijuana, who have little chance of becoming better citizens by being exposed to prison. The new approach would levy fines for those in possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

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Then there's Question 1. This is the toughie and its very nature means plenty of people will vote yes in their attempt to hang onto what's in their pocketbooks or checking accounts. Question 1 asks whether the Massachusetts income tax should be eliminated.

A yes vote means cutting the tax in half next year and dropping it entirely the following year. A no vote means keeping the income tax.

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Yes sounds delightful. No more nasty forms to fill out before April 15. No Massachusetts withholding on the weekly check. No income tax for the state coffers. More for me, more for you.

It's an illusion. It's very possible state legislators could cut some spending — they could take the governor's proposals on civilian flagmen even further, for instance; they could eliminate the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority; they could take a second look at casino proposals; they could take a hard look — the kind towns take every year — at what they cost the voters. They could also make the tax form simpler, which would make the whole matter less hated.

It's true that some states survive without an income tax. New Hampshire is often cited because it has no tax on individual earned income (wages). It does have an income tax on interest and dividends. Among those who have no state income tax are Arkansas, Alaska, Nevada and Texas - Massachusetts doesn't have the special revenue sources of Alaska and Nevada (nor the sparse population) and should beware of following in the footsteps of states that lack money and therefore fail in the education world.

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Other things to note: The Tax Foundation says New Hampshire gets more than 54 percent of its revenue from property taxes, compared to 42.3 percent in Massachusetts and, in an effort to solve the state's growing budget deficit, one of the N.H. taxes on business has risen 300 percent in the past four years, and the state's 8.5 percent Business Profits Tax is now among the highest in the country.

It's hard to imagine that our property taxes won't go up if the income tax exits. Cities and towns get pinched, as they were under Gov. Romney, when state aid goes down. Most local budgets aren't pudgy, and the smaller the town, the less chance that the budget has significant fat. Towns have to plow, educate and pay the tax collector.

Municipalities get a lot of money from the state for schools, for school transportation, for road and bridge construction, for libraries, etc., so if those checks don't come, local taxes will go up. In many towns, Proposition 2 1/2 will push needed increases into overrides, a tough sell and often a failure.

A yes vote on Question 1 could bring consternation, even chaos. Whatever happens with this ballot question, the piper will keep playing. And he (or she) will have to be paid.

Ruth Bass lives in Richmond.


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