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Ballot measures, gubernatorial, Senate races looming for 2018

Jule Pattison-Gordon

A crowded 2018 ballot is shaping up. Progressive favorite U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren faces off against Trump supporters. Democrats line up to challenge Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. Meanwhile, a union-backed proposal raising income tax on the state’s wealthiest residents may sit beside a business-backed measure undercutting it by lowering the sales tax. Progressive referenda boosting support for workers also could appear.

The juxtaposition of economic ballot questions and high-profile elections generally draws higher voter turnout.

“The big difference between the election in a presidential year and a gubernatorial year is over a million voters that don’t show up,” said John Walsh, senior advisor to gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren and former Democratic Party chair. “Charlie Baker won with [about] 1,044,00 votes. With [roughly] 1,090,00 votes, Donald Trump lost [in Massachusetts.]”

Those elections reveal that a million voters who turned out to support Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election stayed home during the 2014 gubernatorial one. With Trump supporters opposing Warren and the millionaires’ tax on the ballot, those formerly-absent Democratic-leaning voters may turn out this year, Walsh said.

Ballot measures

Raise Up Massachusetts has secured the Fair Share Act’s presence on the ballot. Nicknamed “the millionaire’s tax,” the measure will increase the tax rate on income over the first million dollars, with revenue directed to public education and transportation infrastructure.

The coalition also is working to get an item on the ballot that would gradually increase both the standard and tipped minimum wages to $15 and $9 by 2020. After that, both minimums would be pegged to cost of living increases.

Another likely ballot proposal would guarantee employees job-protected paid leave to care for a new child, severely ill or injured family member, or meet needs arising from a family member’s active military service. Employees also would be guaranteed job-protected paid leave to recover from their own serious illness or injuries.

Meanwhile, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts is exploring ballot propositions that would cut the sales tax from 6.25 percent down to 5 or 4.5 percent and enshrine an annual tax holiday weekend.

Baker’s balance

As a moderate Republican, Baker faces a potentially precarious balancing act in a blue state where one-third of voters supported Trump in 2016. According to The Boston Globe, Baker told fundraisers that to win reelection he will need votes from 60 percent of registered independents and 30 percent of Democrats. Meanwhile, the Boston Herald’s Joe Battenfeld argues that Baker also may need to find a way to secure Trump supporters’ votes, given his slim 40,000 vote victory in 2014. That election drew 2.1 million voters. John Walsh noted that in Massachusetts elections, about 1.1 million Republican voters reliably turn out, as do about 1 million Democratic voters. Another million Democratic-leaning independent voters are less predictable.

Raise Up’s ballot measures may push progressive issues to the fore and bring out voters who are working class and of color, said Lewis Finfer of Raise Up.

Meanwhile, if a sales tax cut makes the ballot, it could aid more conservative and business-focused candidates.

Next year also marks the first Massachusetts gubernatorial election with early voting, which could increase voting among those with less flexible schedules, Walsh said. As a result, campaigns that are quick to create a strong presence will be advantaged, he predicted.

Ballot turnout

Finfer said the Raise Up coalition will rally its core base of low- to moderate-income people, labor unions and religious groups. He expects the minimum wage and paid family medical leave measures to have reach beyond that core, with the latter especially appealing to middle-class voters and anyone who cannot comfortably afford to take time for maternity leave or to help family in times of emergency.

The labor union ballot measures and Sen. Warren’s race are mutually reinforcing — progressive voters rallying to defend Warren likely are more likely to vote for the minimum wage initiative that she sponsored, Finfer said. Melvin Poindexter, of the national committee for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, in a separate conversation agreed that presence of questions advancing paid family medical leave and a higher minimum wage could bolster Warren, who supports them. Pointdexter anticipates a strong showing of female voters of color to support the paid family medical leave, as he said this demographic often is the sole family provider. He also expects communities of color to turn out for the minimum wage increase.

“One concern was that this particular election cycle was going to be one that wouldn’t motivate a lot of people to come out,” Poindexter told the Banner. “But a lot of issues currently on the ballot are ones that personally touch people in their day-to-day existence.”

Baker has yet to take a stand on these or the Fair Share Amendment, while Poindexter noted that his challengers support a minimum wage increase and paid family medical leave.

Extent of Raise Up’s impact

How many people Raise Up can rally remains unclear, but its 2013-2014 bid to get a higher minimum wage and earned sick time on the ballot engaged about 5,000 volunteers for signature collection and phone banking, Finfer said. (Voters passed the sick time measure, while the Legislature jumped in front of the minimum wage vote with its own proposal). Thus far, Raise Up’s plan calls for phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, and distributing information near polling places on election day.

Business and U.S. Senate

Sales tax cut ballot measures should mobilize business groups, which could thwart Raise Up’s goals, given their historic opposition to minimum wage increases, Finfer said.

The measures also may draw voters who favor Warren’s challengers. GOP contender and Trump supporter Rep. Geoff Diehl has highlighted prior efforts to repeal linkage of the gas tax to inflation and spoken against the Fair Share Amendment. He states on his campaign website that transportation reforms are needed before new taxes. Shiva Ayadurai, another Republican candidate and Trump fan campaigning against Warren, generally supports low taxes and opposes corporate tax increases, according to his website.

The retailers’ proposed sales cut could nullify the Fair Share Amendment — which aims to supplement current spending — by depleting the overall state budget. In 2016, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said a sales tax holiday weekend could slash $26 million from the state budget.