Massachusetts Lawmakers Have No Love For Ballot Questions, Particularly The One Calling For Audit of State Legislature

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Most of the reports recounted familiar arguments and laid out the committee’s position on the issue. The report dealing with state Auditor Diana DiZoglio’s bid for the power to audit the Legislature was more pointed and personal, calling out the auditor for allegedly making misleading statements and showing bias.

“Auditor DiZoglio lacks the objectivity required to audit the Legislature in accordance with the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards, also known as the Yellow Book, due to the auditor’s recent service in the Legislature as well as the clear prejudice that the auditor has publicly expressed against the Legislature,” the lawmakers said in their report.

The report did not elaborate on how DiZoglio’s service in the House and Senate compromised her objectivity or exhibited prejudice.

DiZoglio said she was not surprised by the personal attacks on her but added that the “constant character assassination” is unwarranted. “Legislators seem to be confused that this is a fight with one woman from Methuen. I am not on the ballot this year,” she said, explaining that the focus should be on the nuts and bolts elements of an audit of the Legislature’s spending practices and personnel policies.

The legislative report took aim at some of the talking points DiZoglio uses in promoting her question. For example, to rebut charges that an audit would violate the separation of powers between the three branches of government, DiZoglio often points to audits she has conducted of the judiciary.

The legislative report acknowledged the Trial Court did consent to an audit of the Office of Jury Commissioner, but said that consent was withdrawn in August 2023 after “the auditor unilaterally expanded the scope of her audit … making clear that the auditor had exceeded her authority and violated the separation of powers principle.”

DiZoglio said there are occasional differences between her office and an agency being audited, but she said her office continues to audit the judicial branch.

The report was also dismissive of the auditor’s claim that the Legislature has consented to audits in the past. The report said 74 of the 113 audits cited by DiZoglio were financial accounting reports containing information that is readily available on a state web site. The remainder, according to the report, are audits of “certain discrete activities or entities with the legislative branch” and are not at all like the “sweeping audit” DiZoglio is envisioning.

Legislative leaders this year for the first time appointed one committee to review all of the ballot questions rather than parceling them out to individual committees with expertise on the particular topics. The committee members held hearings on the ballot questions in March and on Wednesday, May 1 released a series of reports summarizing their findings.  

A majority of the members of the committee, chaired by state Representative Alice Peisch of Wellesley and state Senator Cindy Friedman of Arlington, recommended that none of the ballot questions be approved by the Legislature. That means the backers of the questions will have until June 18 to gather an additional 12,429 signatures to get the measures on the November ballot. Several of the questions are also facing legal challenges before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The report on the DiZoglio question was signed by the six Democrats on the committee but not by the two Republicans. State Senator Ryan Fattman of Sutton, one of the Republicans, said he didn’t sign the report because he felt the question had overwhelming support from voters and is likely to pass. He said he felt the Legislature should pass a law authorizing audits of legislative functions that don’t raise separation of powers issues to avoid a showdown before the Supreme Judicial Court down the road.

Here is a brief summary of the other questions rejected by the committee:


Eliminating MCAS as a graduation requirement — “The initiative petition eliminates the uniform graduation requirement without creating a uniform alternative,” the committee report said. “Simply eliminating the uniform graduation requirement, which will allow students to graduate who do not meet basic standards, with no standardized and consistent benchmark in place to ensure those standards are met, will not improve student outcomes and runs the risk of exacerbating inconsistencies and inequities in instruction and learning across districts.”

State Senator Jason Lewis, a Democrat of Winchester, did not sign the report, reportedly because he is hoping the Legislature will negotiate compromise legislation on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.


Natural psychedelic substances – The committee concluded that legalizing psychedelic substances may be beneficial to people seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. But the committee had concerns about the way the ballot question is drafted because it puts forward a potentially costly licensure system for cultivation and delivery  while at the same time allowing individuals to cultivate and use psychedelics in a non-licensed manner. “The committee finds that the petition’s major goals – licensure and decriminalization – likely undercut each other by creating two separate systems for the use of psychedelic substances,” the report said.

All eight lawmakers signed the report.


Full minimum wage with tips on top:  In Massachusetts, employers can pay tipped workers $6.75 an hour, but gratuities have to make up the rest of pay of up to $15 an hour. The ballot question would require employers to pay the full minimum wage of $15 an hour. Workers could still be tipped on top of the full minimum wage.

All eight members of the committee said it’s unclear what impact the question would have on the restaurant industry and workforce. “Based on testimony received, the committee believes the Legislature would be well served to work with the attorney general to support enhanced prevention of wage theft, sexual harassment, and assault in tipped wage industries.”

All eight members of the committee supported the decision.


Let Transportation Network Companies drivers unionize – The committee noted no one testified in opposition to the question, but the lawmakers decided not to embrace it. “Though the undersigned majority feels that there is merit to the subject of this initiative petition regarding the rights of drivers to form a union and bargain collectively, significant questions remain as to the interplay between this initiative petition and the five initiative petitions that deal with the relationship between transportation network companies and their workforce should they both be presented to the voters,” the report said.

State Senator Lewis did not sign this report.


Treat Transportation Network Companies drivers as independent contractorsFive slightly different questions deal with this issue, and the committee’s analysis reflected the confusion shared by most Massachusetts residents. “The committee feels that any action on this subject must strike a balance between existing employee rights and protection, and the need to ensure that TNCs can continue to operate, which they maintain would not be possible if drivers were not classified as independent contractors.”


This article first appeared on CommonWealth Beacon and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.


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