Massachusetts Sales Tax Relief Act, Question 3 (2010)

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Massachusetts Question 3, filed under the name, the 3% Sales Tax Relief Act, was on the November 2, 2010 ballot in the state of Massachusetts as an initiated state statute, where it was defeated.

The measure, if enacted by voters, would have reduced the state sales tax rate from 6.25 to 3 percent. The measure was sponsored by the Alliance to Roll Back Taxes headed by Carla Howell. The measure would have been enacted into a law 30 days after the election if it had been approved by voters and would have gone into full effect on January 1, 2011. The measure was filed with the Massachusetts Secretary of State in September of 2009.[1][2][3][4][5]

Election results

See also: 2010 ballot measure election results

Official results follow:

Question 3 (Sales Tax Relief)
Defeatedd No1,271,53257%
Yes 966,973 43%

Results via Massachusetts Election Division

Text of measure

Ballot title

The ballot title of the measure read:

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 4, 2010?[6][7]


The summary of the measure read:[8]

This proposed law would reduce the state sales and use tax rates (which were 6.25 percent as of September 2009) to 3 percent as of Jan. 1, 2011. It would make the same reduction in the rate used to determine the amount to be deposited with the state Commissioner of Revenue by non-resident building contractors as security for the payment of sales and use tax on tangible personal property used in carrying out their contracts.

The proposed law provides that if the 3 percent rates would not produce enough revenues to satisfy any lawful pledge of sales and use tax revenues in connection with any bond, note, or other contractual obligation, then the rates would instead be reduced to the lowest level allowed by law.

The proposed law would not affect the collection of moneys due the Commonwealth for sales, storage, use or other consumption of tangible personal property or services occurring before Jan. 1, 2011.

The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.

A YES VOTE would reduce the state sales and use tax rates to 3 percent.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the state sales and use tax rates.[7]



  • The Alliance to Roll Back Taxes, the sponsor of the measure, was a grassroots campaign committee formed by Carla Howell and Michael Cloud with 99% of 2010 reported contribution receipts coming from individuals.[9] They also referred to the measure as the Initiative to Roll Back the Sales Tax.
  • Full list of candidate endorsements
  • Current State Rep. Daniel K. Webster, 6th Plymouth District.
  • Congressional Candidate Vernon Harrison[10]
  • Bill Campbell Candidate for MA Secretary of State[11]
  • Bill Gunn Candidate for US Representative 1st Congressional[12]
  • Marty Lamb Candidate for US Representative 3rd Congressional[13]
  • Bill Hudak Candidate for US Representative 6th Congressional[14]
  • Gerry Dembrowski Candidate for US Representative 7th Congressional[15]
  • Vernon Harrison Candidate for US Representative 9th Congressional[16]
  • Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Christy Mihos stated his support for the measure.[17]
  • Kamal Jain former Candidate for State Auditor[18]


  • Sandra Plasival, a student at Quincy College, said she thought the economy could benefit from the measure, arguing, "Reducing the sales tax is a big step in ending the recession. It benefits people who aren’t financially stable and people who are financially stable probably don’t care.”[19]
  • Dan Cotter, a resident of Quincy, said that the measure was needed, echoing other supporters who were arguing for the measure. Cotter claimed, "It’s a tough economy, and I think that Massachusetts already has a pretty high sales tax."[19]
  • Carla Howell of the Alliance to Rollback Taxes argued, "Yes on Question 3 is the only way to roll back taxes and force the Legislature to cut government waste. The successful Massachusetts ballot initiative of 2000 lowered the income tax from 5.95 percent to 5.3 percent. It has saved taxpayers $7 billion!"[20]
  • Howell also argued the following point: "About 94,200 Massachusetts workers lost their jobs in 2009. What did the Massachusetts state Legislature do? They raised state government spending by $4 billion, and they raised the sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. The result? More Massachusetts businesses driven out of state - or shuttered."[21]
  • Howell countered opponents' arguments about potential jobs cuts if the amendment were approved by stating, "Notice how every time there’s a tax cut on the table, the teachers union and other special interests run the same ads with the same lines: 'Vote no - or else we’ll have to cut police, fire, schools and roads?' Yet total spending on police, fire, schools and roads keeps going up - every year."[21]
  • In a published column written by Howell, five main arguments were made to support the measure:[22]
Create 33,000 new private sector jobs
Give back over $900 average — every year — to every family in Massachusetts
Force state politicians to cut government waste
Keep shoppers in Massachusetts — instead of driving them to New Hampshire’s 0 percent sales tax
Attract shoppers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont and New York
  • Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby argued four points as to why the question should pass. In the editorial, Jacoby stated that the four points were:[23]
When times are tough, even state government should learn to make do with less.
Government’s budgets are as high as they’ve ever been.
Lower tax rate will generate economic growth.
Voting for Question 3 is the only way for Massachusetts taxpayers to get the government's attention.
  • State Representative Daniel K. Webster argued that Question 3 "would tie the hands of Beacon Hill and send a strong message to control spending"[24]
  • Congressional Candidate Vernon Harrison stated about the measure, "I am in favor of any tax decrease. I think our government needs to learn how to spend less. Some solutions can be temporary. Tax increases right now with the way Americans are suffering would increase the burden and that is wrong and part of the problem with the economy."[10]

Campaigning, events and rallies

  • During the weekend of August 15, 2010, proponents of the measure used a tax free holiday to persuade voters in favor of the tax rollback proposal. Proponents handed out fliers and bumper stickers to those out for the holiday. According to the campaign for the measure, they accused lawmakers of approving the two-day holiday in order to alleviate voters' "appetites" for cutting sales tax. According to campaign leader Carla Howell, "Get a sales tax reduction every day with yes on 3. Huge savings, if we do that, for shoppers and even better benefits for job seekers."[25]



Opponents of the measure follow:


Arguments that were made against the measure included:

  • Opponents of the measure stated that question 3 would require deep cuts in public services, contrary to the claims at the time of proponents about merely reducing "government waste." The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation published a report stating that "In order to try to minimize the enormous consequences of Question 3, the proponents argue incorrectly that total state spending is $52 billion when the correct number is approximately $32 billion."[36] Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh argues that "it’s malarkey to claim that 30 to 40 percent of the budget is waste."[37]
  • The Massachusetts Coalition for Our Communities argued that "By causing the sudden layoff of so many teachers, firefighters, police officers, social workers and others while we are still coping with a recession, a cut of this size could halt – or even reverse – the state’s economic recovery." They further claimed that the cuts from question 3 would mainly fall on public education and health care, and that local communities would have been forced to raise property taxes in order to pay for services such as police, roads and fire departments.[38]
  • Boston Globe Columnist Yvonne Abraham, in a column published on September 9, 2010, called for the measure to be voted down. Abraham pointed out that all four candidates for governor were against the measure, and stated, "The fact that not one of the candidates — some of them champion panderers — is willing to go as far as those 54 percent of voters is a testament to the severity of our situation. And to the wrong-headedness of Question 3." Abraham said about supporters of the measure, "Government wastes huge amounts of our money, they say. Their evidence: a 2008 survey showing voters believe government wastes huge amounts of our money — 41 cents on every dollar, to be precise, according to a randomly-selected group of 500 voters asked to pull figures out of the air. Five hundred voters might declare I’m a millionaire. Sadly, that doesn’t make it so." Regarding the measure itself, Abraham argued, "For voters understandably angry about paying higher taxes during hard times, it’s a seductive argument. Especially when lawmakers do a lousy job of making clear what we get in return for our taxes — and tolerate some government waste. But the rollback would hurt. A lot."[39]
  • Arguments against the measure, and Question 1, in an editorial by Katie Robey, member of the Marlborough School Committee and president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, included the following: "As we pull out of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, citizens must consider the risks of undercutting education, public safety, health care, infrastructure needs, and long term recovery by such a foolish and risky pair of ballot questions. It represents no false alarm to say that the loss of billions of dollars from sales tax revenues will mean sharp cuts to local aid and municipal and regional services. Those are services that your communities deliver every day."[40]
  • Brian T. Watson, Salem News columnist, argued that a vote for the measure would punish government and residents of the state. Watson claimed, "To fix our national economy, we need to create a staggering 15 million private-sector jobs. It took us 30 years to develop the dysfunctional, overextended hyper-economy that almost completely collapsed in 2008. It may take years to repair, reform and reinvigorate many components of the private sector. In the short term, in what is still a crisis, state government has a big role to play in spending, rescuing, stabilizing, employing and regulating. There is no other power available whose stated mission is to act in the public interest, and whose capabilities can help guide the reassembly of a new and better economy. Let's not punish our government by approving Question 3. Vote no."[41]
  • The Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association (MSSAA), who unanimously voted to oppose the measure, argued the following in a released statement: "It is obvious that the effect of the draconian cut in the revenue from the sales tax proposed in this question would have a disastrous effect upon all the institutions including our public schools. Public education in Massachusetts, already struggling with financial shortfalls, and facing increasing deficits as matters stand now, could not absorb the level of cutting that passage of this initiative would impose."[42]
  • Amanda Jusino, a columnist for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, wrote an article arguing that "Public higher education and public education at the K-12 level, specifically, are already struggling to provide quality education in today’s economy. This referendum question threatens to exacerbate this problem and it threatens the education of all public school students in the state." She stated that economic recovery required more public investment in education, not less: "In times of economic turmoil, it is even more important for the Commonwealth to fund public higher education. An educated population is the only way to rebuild our economy. The Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) notes that over 80 percent of Massachusetts’ college graduates stay and work in the Commonwealth. These graduates pay taxes and “build and work in businesses that sustain the economy Every time a fee is raised, that is one more barrier preventing Massachusetts’ residents from receiving an education. Especially in light of our jobless economy, we must break down barriers to college access for our state’s young people, not build them. We already have to fight for our right to an education and face fee hikes due to our poor economy."[43]
  • Michael J. Widmer, in an article written for the Worcester Business Journal, claimed that "Question 3 is the classic ruse — cut $2.5 billion in state revenues with absolutely no consequences. In fact, the consequences would be very serious for cities and town, property taxpayers and the state’s economy."[44]
  • Gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein stated on her website that "I will vote NO [on question 3] because there is already a $2.5 billion dollar budget shortfall looming for next year. The loss of an additional $2.4 billion from the proposed reduction of the sales tax from 6.25 to 3% would be devastating to programs that working people rely on – from public schools to public safety, health care, the safety net and the environment."[45]

Campaigning, events and stories

  • According to a report, the town of Holbrook would lose nearly $700,000 in state aid if voters had passed the measure. The $700,000 that could have been lost would have included $550,000 for schools. According to Town Administrator Michael Yunits, on October 5, 2010 to the board of selectmen, "It would be devastating to Holbrook if this passed." In a letter written to Yunits by Superintendent of Schools Joseph Baeta, Baeta argued that the department already had to cut more than $900,000 from the 2010-2011 budget. Baeta wrote, "It is my belief that the Question 3 initiative will cause serious issues for communities and schools, especially those that are truly at bare-bones, as we are in Holbrook."[46]

Campaign contributions


Go here for full reports:

State reports showing key campaign financers:

Contributor Amount
National Education Association $1,325,000.00
Massachusetts Teachers Association $1,062,000.00
Service Employees International Union $888,000.00
American Federation of Teachers - Massachusetts $704,000.00
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees $200,000.00
Boston Teachers Union $150,000.00
Mass Nurses Association $104,000.00

Media endorsements

See also Endorsements of Massachusetts ballot measures, 2010


  • The Boston Herald, A major Boston news paper stated support for the initiative in an editorial published on October 7, 2010, writing "Sometimes a proposition is known by the enemies it makes - and lining up against the tax rollback are all the usual suspects. Unions - mostly public employee unions - have thus far built a $1.3 million kitty to pay for the coming onslaught of radio and TV ads." and "Taxpayers and voters are just fed up with lawmakers who listen more to special interests, more to public employee unions, more to advocates than to those paying the bills. Sometimes voters have to shout to be heard. This is one of those times"[47]
  • The Gloucester Times, A northern Massachusetts newspaper stated support for the initiative in an editorial published on October 27, 2010, writing “Let’s face it: Fears of what this type of cut would bring aren’t really rooted in the need to preserve services. They’re rooted in the desire to preserve unconscionable wage and benefit packages for public employees. If these officials really care about services, they will make the kinds of concessions those in the private sector have been making for most of this decade”[48]


  • Open Media Boston stated its opposition to the measure[49]
  • The Register in Yarmouth recommended a 'no' vote on the measure, stating, "Our towns and cities already have been forced to cope with up to 25 percent reductions in state aid since 2009. The 6.25 percent sales tax must stand, for now. Vote “no” on Question 3."[50]
  • The Massachusetts Daily Collegian was against the measure, as well as the two other ballot measures on the ballot. The publication wrote, "With Massachusetts in precarious financial straits, we need all of the revenue we can pump into social services. While it might be nice to have a few extra pennies in our pockets and purses, what we would lose if we pass these three questions vastly outweighs the few cents per dollar we would get back."[51]
  • The Sun Chronicle was against the measure, as well as the other two ballot measures on the ballot, writing, "Massachusetts voters face three questions on the ballot on Nov. 2. Question 1 would remove the sales tax on alcohol, 2 would repeal Chapter 40B - alternately called the affordable housing law or anti-snob zoning law - and 3 would roll back the sales tax to 3 percent. The state would be best served by votes of No on each question."[52]
  • The Tufts Daily stated opposition, arguing, "It is imperative that voters take heed of what the passage of this ballot initiative would entail for Massachusetts. They must not allow the allure of a tax cut sway them toward a measure that would devastate the Commonwealth's already anemic financial condition."[53]
  • The South Coast Today argued that voters should reject all three measures on the 2010 ballot, stating, "The interests of Massachusetts residents will be served best by a "no" vote on all three ballot questions on Tuesday."[54]
  • The Republican published an editorial against the measure, stating, "When the economy improves, we hope the Legislature will review the sales tax rate, but this is not the time. The state stands to lose $12.5 billion if the tax reverts to 3 percent. We urge a “no” vote on Question 3. "[55]

Analysis and studies

  • Beacon Hill Institute argued that Question 3 would have created private sector job growth and would have lowered the level of unemployment.[56]
  • Question 3 was projected by both proponents and opposition to result in giving back to the taxpayers: $992 million from sales tax revenues in FY11 and a $2.5 billion in sales tax revenues for FY12.[57][58]
  • According to a report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the state would lose its "AA" credit if voters had approved of the measure. According to the report, the tax cut would cost the state $2.5 billion, which would add to $2 billion that the legislature had already overspent projected revenues in FY12 (which begins in June of 2011). The group's analysis concluded that, "It is not an exaggeration to say that the resulting massive spending cuts would eliminate or erode a wide range of services -- from education and public safety to health care and human services -- that for decades the citizens of Massachusetts have counted on the government to provide." The report also stated, "It is impossible to overstate the enormity of the consequences of reducing state revenues by $2.5 billion when programs have already been cut by $2 billion and with the state facing another $2 billion shortfall next year."[59][60]
  • Proponents argued that the drop in sales tax receipts would have been offset by positive economic effects. The Alliance to Roll Back Taxes contended that rolling back the sales tax to 3% would have stimulated $132 million in private sector investment, put an average of $688 back in the pockets of 3,400,000 taxpayers and would have created 33,000 new, private sector jobs based on their interpretation of a May 2009 study by the Beacon Hill Institute. "A Beacon Hill Institute study in 2009 showed that increasing the sales tax from 5% to 6.25% would cause almost 10,000 private sector workers to lose their jobs. Applying that metric in reverse, voting YES on 3 to roll back the sales tax to 3% will create 33,000 new private sector jobs."[61][62]
  • Political leaders in the state claimed that there was no backup plan if the measure was approved by voters. If the measure had been approved, it would have affected the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2010.[2]


See also: Polls, 2010 ballot measures
  • Three polls by Suffolk University and News 7 were taken, one in February, one in May and one in September 2010, that returned identical results. The margin of error on the polls were plus or minus 4.4 percent.[63][64][65]
  • In another poll, called the State House News Service Poll, the majority of voters surveyed stated that they were in favor of the measure. The poll was conducted by KRC/Communications between August 29-31, 2010.[66]

     Position is ahead and at or over 50%     Position is ahead or tied, but under 50%

Date of Poll Pollster In favor Opposed Undecided Number polled
February 21-24, 2010 Suffolk University/7News 49% 44% 7% 500
May 20-23, 2010 Suffolk University/7News 49% 44% 7% 500
August 29-31, 2010 KRC/Communications 54% 44% 2% 500
September 19, 2010 Suffolk University/7News 51% 42% 7% 500
September 17-22, 2010 The Boston Globe 46% 43% 11% 522
October 10-12 Suffolk University/7News 44% 49% 6% 500

Path to the ballot

See also: Massachusetts signature requirements and 2010 ballot measure petition signature costs

Activists stated during the week of November 19, 2009 that they had collected enough signatures to place the measure on the 2010 ballot. Carla Howell, chairwoman of the committee organizing the effort, Alliance to Roll Back Taxes, declined to provide the number of signatures collected, but did state: "We do feel confident we've submitted more than the requirement.” The initiative was reviewed by the Massachusetts Legislature. Since the Massachusetts Legislature did not approve of the initiative by the May 4, 2010 deadline, petition organizers must have obtained signatures from about 1/2 of 1% of voters who voted in the last governor election and submit them before or on July 7, 2010. According to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office, that number amounted to 11,099 signatures.[68]

On June 23, 2010, initiative supporters turned in approximately 19,000 signatures, giving them a good chance of making the ballot in November. Carla Howell, the leader of the initiative campaign, stated that the measure will be placed on the ballot since that number of signatures was well over the 11,099 required.[69]

On July 13, 2010, the Secretary of the Commonwealth affirmed that the sales tax roll back to 3% measure would be on the ballot as Question 3.

See also

External links

Suggest a link

Additional reading




  1. Massachusetts Secretary of State, "Elections: Initiative Petition for Law"
  2. 2.0 2.1 Boston Herald, "Mass. leaders: No ‘Plan B’ if sales tax cut passes," May 23, 2010
  3. Wicked Local, "Massachusetts ballot questions announced by secretary of state," July 15, 2010
  4. PR Inside, "Fitch Rates Massachusetts' $358MM GO Bonds 'AA+'; Outlook Stable," August 17, 2010
  5. Massachusetts Attorney General,
  6. Massachusetts Secretary of State
  7. 7.0 7.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  8. Massachusetts Elections Division 2010 Information For Voters
  9. [1]95355 Alliance to Roll Back Taxes 2010 Receipts (Massachusetts Elections Division)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Needham Patch, "Congressional Candidates on Ballot Question 3," October 28, 2010 (dead link)
  11. "Q3 Endorsement Page"
  12. "Q3 Endorsement Page"
  13. "Q3 Endorsement Page"
  14. "Q3 Endorsement Page"
  15. "Q3 Endorsement Page"
  16. "Q3 Endorsement Page"
  17. Massachusetts Local News, "Republicans to pick top candidate for Massachusetts governor's race," April 16, 2010
  18. ], "Kamal Jain's Endorsement Video"]
  19. 19.0 19.1 Wicked Local, "Sales tax cut ballot question is causing a stir," September 23, 2010 (dead link)
  20. Wicked Local, "Two views on cutting state sales and use tax rates," October 15, 2010
  21. 21.0 21.1 Massachusetts Live, "Viewpoint: Tax rollback will help small business," October 17, 2010
  22. Wicked Local, "Vote yes: Create jobs," October 28, 2010
  23. Boston Globe, "Four reasons to vote ‘yes’ and roll back the sales tax," October 24, 2010
  24. 95.9 WATD, "6th Plymouth District State Rep. Debate"
  25. Massachusetts Live, "Tax holiday used to push tax rollback," August 15, 2010
  26. OCPF, "2010 Oct 20th Report," October, 2010
  27. Candidates for Governor on Question 3 (dead link)
  28. Candidates for Governor on Question 3 (dead link)
  29. Candidates for Governor on Question 3 (dead link)
  30. Jill Stein: Stances on "other important issues."
  31. Wicked Local, "Wolf: Just say no," October 18, 2010
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 The Sun Chronicle, "Sales tax cut a tough sell," February 22, 2010
  33. Boston Herald, "Reports calls for bigger state spending cuts, warns of $5B budget gap," March 1, 2010
  34. Wicked Local, "Newton mayor warns about danger of sales tax rollback," October 6, 2010
  35. Dorchester Reporter, "On November 2nd, vote 'no' on all three ballot questions," October 6, 2010
  36. Question 3 proponents inflate state spending
  37. Coming Clean on Question 3
  38. Vote No on Question 3: Fact Sheet
  39. Boston Globe, "Question 3? Answer is no," September 9, 2010
  40. Milford Daily News, "Robie: Questions 1 and 3 test values," October 3, 2010
  41. Salem News, "Brian T. Watson: Vote for Question 3 punishes government — and yourself," October 7, 2010
  42. Business Wire, "MSSAA Recommends No Vote on Question #3," October 13, 2010
  43. Vote ‘No’ on Question 3 and protect UMass
  44. Tax Cut Is Short-Sighted
  45. Jill Stein: Other important issues
  46. Wicked Local, "Holbrook stands to lose $700K from proposed sales tax cut," October 6, 2010
  47. on Question 3- Boston Herald
  48. [2]
  49. [3]
  50. Wicked Local, "EDITORIAL: Ballot questions: No, no, and no," October 17, 2010
  51. The Daily Collegian, "Massachusetts ballot questions: No, No and No," October 21, 2010
  52. Sun Chronicle, "Tax-cut proposals, 40B repeal, would hobble Bay State," October 25, 2010
  53. The Tufts Daily, "Editorial | Keep the Mass. sales tax: Vote no on 3," October 28, 2010
  54. South Coast Today, "OUR VIEW: Defeat ballot questions," October 26, 2010
  55., "Editorial: Vote no Massachusetts ballot questions 1, 2 and 3," October 27, 2010
  56. Rollback Taxes Website
  57. [4]Beacon Hill Institute, Massachusetts Sales Tax Hike Would Destroy 12,000 Jobs and Destroy $51M in Investment
  58. [5] The Alliance to Roll Back Taxes "About Us" Page
  59., "Massachusetts rating hinges on ballot question: study," September 22, 2010
  60. Gloucester Times, "Business report targets sales-tax referendum," September 26, 2010
  61. [6]Beacon Hill Institute, Massachusetts Sales Tax Hike Would Destroy 12,000 Jobs and Destroy $51M in Investment
  62. [7] The Alliance to Roll Back Taxes "About Us" Page
  63. Suffolk University, "Poll shows Republican Baker Surging," February 25, 2010
  64. Suffolk University, "Suffolk University/7News Poll shows Patrick with Double-Digit Lead; Voters Overwhelmingly Oppose Unlimited Corporate Spending on Campaigns," May 25, 2010 (dead link)
  65. Suffolk University, "Suffolk University/7News Poll Shows Patrick Leads Charlie Baker by 7 Percent: Candidates Meet Tonight for Televised Debate," September 21, 2010 (dead link)
  66. Enterprise News, "Sales tax rollback wins support of 54 percent in poll," September 8, 2010
  67. The Boston Herald, "Mass. voters split on sales tax cut," September 27, 2010
  68. The Republican, "Effort gains steam to trim sales tax," November 19, 2009
  69., "Backers say sales tax cut to be on ballot," June 24, 2010