Massachusetts Lawmakers Need To Stop Ignoring Election Results When Conservatives Win

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When the people speak, lawmakers ought to respect those decisions.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen on Beacon Hill.

Recently, the Democratic supermajority once again voted to delay a measure that would make charitable contributions tax-deductible in Massachusetts. It’s something that 72 percent of Bay Staters who voted in the November 2000 general election supported.

What was going on around that time?

George W. Bush was running against Al Gore for president that year and Paul Cellucci was governor of Massachusetts.

Long time ago, right?

And yet, what the voters said then should take place right away still hasn’t happened.

Since 1917, Massachusetts has had two statute-making authorities, according to the state constitution. One is the state Legislature, which is elected by the people and is theoretically accountable to them. The other is the people, voting every two years at the ballot box on initiative petitions — theoretically a form of direct democracy.

Yet the representative-democratic law-making authority sometimes thwarts the direct-democracy law-making authority — and often without justification.

In this case, Massachusetts voters approved the charitable deduction in 2000, both as a means of helping charities and of cutting taxes for people who give to charity … but the state legislature then approved a law that “delayed” the will of the people.

Why?  Not enough revenue coming into the state, legislators said. Can’t do it right now. Maybe next year.

Next year has come and gone for more than 20 years now.

And revenue shortfalls?

In 2021, this always-implausible excuse looks downright ridiculous. The state government has recently received billions of dollars in coronavirus stimulus funding from the federal government — so much so that even in an uncertain economy legislators aren’t even considering decreasing any government spending or dipping into the state’s rainy-day fund. And still — the state has a surplus.

So why not give some of the surplus back to the people — in the form of a tax deduction that the people have already approved?

And perhaps, if enough people give enough money to charity, some government services won’t be needed anymore.

What’s not to like? Why not let the charitable deduction go forward?

The reason it hasn’t and isn’t is that most state legislators think they know how to spend the voters’ money better than the voters do. Massachusetts state reps and state senators are deciding — as they so often do — to use other people’s money for their own priorities rather than the priorities of the majority of people they represent.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only place where we see state legislators ignoring what people in this state want. In 2012, Massachusetts said no to physician-assisted suicide at the ballot, 51 percent to 49 percent. A small majority, perhaps, but a significant one. It consisted of a broad coalition of Republicans and Democrats, including a lot of minorities in urban communities, who took a stand for protecting vulnerable human lives rather than making it cheap, legal, and convenient to kill the poor and the sick. 

Instead of giving a cash-saving gift to for-profit health insurance companies, Massachusetts voters recognized that human life is a gift that’s worth protecting. And yet, there are lawmakers on Beacon Hill that have never respected that vote. 

Thank God that physician-assisted suicide is illegal in this state — but there are bills in the legislature to legalize the practice in this state (S.1384 and H.2381). The House version has 72 sponsors between both chambers, including three Republican state representatives: state Representative Donald Wong (R-Saugus), state Representative James Kelcourse (R-Newburyport), and state Representative Lenny Mirra (R-Georgetown).

Members of the legislature have been pushing for it for the past three legislative sessions. Yet since the people have already spoken, if legislators don’t like their answer, why not bring it back to the people?

Instead, many state legislators prefer to just ignore the will of the people — and, in this case, they prefer that some of those people die.

This is no way to run a state.

It would be wrong if Republicans in a deeply GOP state tried to thwart the will of the voters on an issue like Medicaid expansion or raising the minimum wage. It’s also wrong when Democrats (and a handful of Republicans) in a deeply Democratic state try to thwart the voters on right-of-center issues like a tax cut or the value of human life.

So next time these people claim to care about voting rights, ignore them — just like they ignore you.


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