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A very big question

Posted by Jesse Singal  November 2, 2010 02:56 PM

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Question 3, which proposes cutting the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, may be the most important item on the ballot in Massachusetts. There's nothing that would more immediately alter the state — in this case by eliminated $2.5 billion in revenue.

It's worth pointing out that this is far from a partisan issue — all three gubernatorial candidates, even in a season of anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric, have come out against Question 3 as well. But while the "nos" are winning 51-39 in the most recent poll, it wouldn't be hugely shocking if the measure passed.

Michael Widmer, head of the Mass. Taxpayers Foundation, is the go-to person on this issue, since his group has studied it closely and come out strongly opposed (as has the Globe's editorial board). So I asked him him how he thought the voter anger happening at a national level figured into the measure and its chances of success. Question 3 be a state-level question, after all, but it's a state-level question debated as part of a much larger — and louder — national conversation.

"I think it has a major impact," said Widmer said of the anti-government climate. "The mood in Massachusetts mirrors the mood nationally, and it's all part of the same turmoil and sense of deep discontent about the direction of the country and with government in general, government at all levels."

Widmer said he felt the anti-government mood could override concerns about the effects of the budget cuts that passing the measure would bring.

"I think there's such an anger in so much of the electorate that they say, 'Well, whatever the consequences, I've had it.'"

"To be honest, it is frustrating," he went on. "We have been and will continue to push reforms — major reforms that remain to be done, that haven't been addressed by the legislature or the governor. But cutting 2.5 billion I know will have a major impact on services that people in this state value and count on, so I worry about the consequences."

Widmer said he thought there's some disconnect going on when it comes to voters and the issue of taxation.

"There's not a great understanding on the part of the electorate about where their dollars go... [and] a growing cynicism that says they don't even care."

Asked what he'd tell a voter prepared to vote for Question 3 as a means of protesting "big government," he said, "Well, beware of the consequences of expressing your anger in this way by supporting Question 3."

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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