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In The Arena

In the Arena: Initiatives no sure bet

Even though we have this habit of electing the same legislators every two years, it appears there are some Massachusetts residents still interested in changing things.

That was apparent earlier this month, when 33 proposed 2014 ballot questions were submitted to the attorney general’s office for constitutional review. That’s two more than in 2012, exactly three of which made it on to that ballot.

If their questions pass the AG’s vetting, supporters will have until Dec. 4 to collect the signatures of 68,911 registered voters, the threshold necessary get their issue on the ballot. But even if that happens and those questions end up passing, previous performance has shown that it’s no guarantee the Legislature will implement them.

With that in mind, let’s consider a few of the issues that may be on the table next November.

Bottle bill expansion

Since 1982, Massachusetts residents have been able to get a nickel back for each carbonated beverage container returned. The proposed question would expand the law to add water, tea and sports drink containers to that list.

This idea has been bandied about for years. Environmentalists love it, drink producers, not so much. But the irony here is that this was included in the final version of the Senate budget, only to be clipped by some last-minute conference committee horse trading.

If this passes, I can’t see the Legislature standing in its way. I’d put the odds of implementation at 2-to-1.

Nurse-to-patient ratio

Once again, a measure that couldn’t get out of first gear in the Legislature may end up on the ballot courtesy of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which wants to see a minimum 1-to-4 nurse-to-patient ratio in all Massachusetts hospitals. That essentially means that any nurse would not be responsible for treating more than four patients at a time during a shift.

It seems like a reasonable concept, but it has hospital administrators biting their nails and not just because of the $25,000 fine hospitals would get hit with each time that ratio is violated. Some also view it as an arbitrary standard that does not take into account each patient’s clinical needs or the individual experience level of each nurse on the floor at that time.

This is another one that takes the Legislature off the political hot seat and I see a 3-to-1 likelihood of implementation if passed.

Repealing casino law

This should surprise no one, since it’s pretty much been on the radar since the Legislature passed it. While a lot of communities are falling all over themselves trying to get in line for the few available casino and slot licenses, others are taking a hard look at the potential negatives, especially in neighboring states that have embraced legalized gaming.

I’ll be very surprised if it makes it to the ballot and even more surprised if it passes. But if it somehow does, it’s unlikely this repeal gets fully implemented — especially with Senate’s point man on casinos sitting in the president’s chair.

Repealing gas tax tie

The Legislature made this change during the most recent budget process and it has since been hammered by many conservatives as “taxation without representation.” Proponents say it is the best method for ensuring that the commonwealth takes in enough money to finance road and bridge projects on a consistent basis.

If this repeal gets to the ballot, I expect it to receive overwhelming support — everywhere but the Legislature, where I’d say the odds of implementation are 500-to-1 at best.

Minimum-wage increase

Supporters of U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren will love a plan to bump the minimum wage from $8 to $10.50, but you can expect large and small business to spend a ton of cash to defeat it.

This is not a new exactly a new concept here. Expect proponents to argue that it will benefit the working poor by providing them with a more livable wage, while opponents will charge that it will only force businesses to cut back on hiring, further restricting an already tight job market.

I don’t know how it will end up, but this is one the Legislature will go for, especially the Democrats.

Sales tax reduction

This didn’t pass in 2010, when the rate would have been lowered to 3 percent, and I don’t expect a plan going from 6.25 to 5 percent to likely to pass this time around, assuming it gets to the ballot.

And even if it does, it’s dead on arrival with Beacon Hill Democrats, that have never had a big track record of rolling back taxes just because the people say so — just one of the realities that has turned a process intended to give the people a voice into the modern-day farce it has become.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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