When voters head to the polls on Nov. 8, they will be electing the state’s next governor, secretary of state, attorney general and a range of other offices. They will also get to weigh in on four statewide ballot questions, relating to tax increases for high earners, dental insurance regulation, rules for liquor licenses and driver’s licenses for immigrants living in the country illegally. Here’s what you need to know to cast your ballot.
Question 1: Tax increase for high earners
What it would do: Question 1 is sometimes referred to as the “fair share amendment,” “tax hike amendment” or “millionaire’s tax.” It would amend the state constitution to introduce an additional 4% surtax on a person’s income above $1 million. Anyone earning less than $1 million would not be impacted.
Massachusetts has a flat tax system and currently taxes all income levels at the same rate: 5%. Money raised from the proposed tax increase would be used for transportation and education projects, subject to approval by the state Legislature.
A “yes” vote on the ballot question means you want the state to impose a new 4% tax on a person’s income over $1 million, in addition to that flat 5%.
A “no” vote means you want the current tax policy to remain the same.
The arguments for it: Proponents say the change would make the tax system more equitable. “It will make our tax system fairer and it will provide more money for transportation and education,” Steve Crawford of Fair Share Massachusetts said on Greater Boston. “Right now, the wealthiest people in the state pay a smaller share in taxes than the rest of us. That’s just not fair.”
A Tufts study found that the tax would raise approximately $1.3 billion for the state in 2023, and “do so in a highly progressive way likely to advance racial and economic equity.”
The arguments against it: Opponents say high earners are already paying their fair share because the higher income a person has, the more money they pay in taxes under a flat-rate system.
Opponents also say there is no guarantee the money raised will go directly to education and transportation projects, since the state Legislature gets to decide how it’s spent. Some have also raised concerns that it could impact people with one-time windfalls who sell a home or business, and could hurt small businesses whose revenue is reported as personal income and then passed back through the business.
“As well intended as the proponents may be with attempting to tax the wealthiest among us, this doesn’t do that. It increases taxes on tens of thousands of small-business owners at the worst possible time in the economy,” Dan Cence, with the Coalition to Stop the Tax Hike Amendment, told GBH News. “Massachusetts has a huge budget surplus right now. … There’s no need for more tax revenue to be generated.”
Question 2: Regulation for dental insurance
What it would do: Question 2 would create new regulations for dental insurance in Massachusetts, and require insurers meet a medical loss ratio of 83% — which means at least 83 cents of every dollar an insurer gets in premiums would be spent on patient care or quality improvements, instead of administrative expenses. The measure would also increase transparency and require that insurance companies share their financial data with regulators in the state, who could oppose rate increases. Nationally, no law exists like this proposal, though there are minimum medical loss ratios set for medical insurers under the Affordable Care Act.
A “yes” vote on Question 2 would introduce the new regulations for dental insurance companies.
A “no” vote would make no changes to standards for dental insurance in Massachusetts.
The arguments for it: Proponents say the new regulation is better for patients and guards against companies getting too greedy. They say it would treat dental insurance companies the same way as medical insurance companies.
“Ultimately what this comes down to is: Why is medical insurance regulated and dental insurance is not?” orthodontist Mouhab Rizkallah, from the Committee on Dental Insurance Quality, said on Greater Boston. According to Rizkallah, patients would benefit from the change through premium reductions, premium rebates and co-pay reductions.
The arguments against it: Opponents have called the ballot question “flawed” and argued the case for it is “built on very thin information,” according to Sen. James Welch with the Committee to Protect Public Access to Quality Dental Care. He said on Greater Boston he’s worried it could increase costs or decrease care options for consumers.
“When evaluating any healthcare policy or recommendation, you always want to think of three things, three main pillars: What’s the effect it’s going to have on costs to consumers? What’s the effect it’s going to have on access for consumers? And … the effect it’s going to have on the actual quality of care for consumers? And all three of those questions, this ballot question fails,” Welch said.
Question 3: Expanded availability of licenses to sell alcohol
What it would do: Question 3 would overhaul the state’s licensing for alcohol sales by introducing some new rules for stores. Restaurants and bars would not be impacted. The proposal would do the following:
- Expand the number of liquor licenses a single retailer or company can hold for their chain, gradually doubling it from nine to 18 by 2031.
- Impose a limit on “all alcoholic beverages” licenses to seven per retailer, meaning a retailer could only sell the combination of beer, wine and hard liquor at seven of its locations.
- Ban retailers from allowing customers to check out alcohol themselves.
- Implement a new formula that increases fines for retailers who violate liquor laws.
- Allow people with out-of-state licenses to use their license as proof of age.
A “yes” vote would allow the above changes to take place.
A “no” vote would keep liquor sale laws the way they are now. However, cities and towns would ultimately have the final say on who gets a liquor license and how many are available in their own jurisdiction.
The arguments for it: Proponents of the ballot question, which is being put forward by local package stores, view it as a compromise to allow local independent package stores to keep selling alcohol while giving customers more options for where they can buy alcohol, like bigger grocery stores and convenience stores.
“It’s kind of almost an olive branch, or a compromise they’re [package stores] putting forward to say, ‘Look, stop trying to change the law in the Legislature, stop any further ballot questions that you might do to make that limit go even higher and higher — let’s settle it now at that lower number and let it go,’” Mike Deehan of Axios Boston said on GBH’s Under the Radar.
The arguments against it: Opponents say it is a kind of “Band-Aid” and doesn’t go far enough to give consumers more choice, and are not fans of the increase in fines for retailers. They also say there are other reforms that are more needed — like license quotas and more local oversight.
“It offers an incomplete solution to a complex problem,” Food Stores for Consumer Choice says in their official opposition.
Question 4: Driver’s licenses for immigrants
What it would do: Question 4 lets voters weigh in on the new state law that lets immigrants obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license, regardless of whether they are living in the country legally. They would still have to meet all requirements, including passing a road test, and showing proof of identity and residency. The law would also instruct the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to set up procedures so that immigrants without legal status who get a driver’s license are not automatically registered to vote.
The state Legislature passed that law earlier this year over a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker.
A “yes” would uphold the new law, and it would go into effect next July.
A “no” vote would repeal the law, meaning immigrants living in the country illegally could not get Massachusetts driver’s licenses.
The arguments for it: Proponents say it is a practical measure to help people who are already here participate in daily life. They point to public safety data that shows hit-and-run accidents have decreased significantly in the dozens of other states that have adopted similar measures. A number of local police chiefs have endorsed the measure.
“This makes our roads safer by requiring that everybody follow the same set of rules,” Sen. Brendan Crighton, of Safer Roads Massachusetts, said on Greater Boston. “This isn’t an immigration issue. This has nothing to do with immigration. It’s about making our roads safer, making sure that everybody has to pass a road test and vision test and get insurance and to get a license in the commonwealth.”
The arguments against it: Opponents say the law would give a right to someone who has come to the country illegally. They are also raising concerns that the state’s RMV will not be able to property vet foreign documents, meaning that the law could unwittingly lead to people being able to vote who should not be eligible.
“The Registry of Motor Vehicles, who are going to be in charge of this, has no authority under any federal constitution or federal law to grant legitimacy to people who are otherwise in the country illegally,” Jay McMahon, of Fair and Secure Massachusetts, said on Greater Boston.