Sales tax rollback wins majority support in latest SHNS poll

By a 10-point margin, Massachusetts voters favor slicing the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, according to a State House News Service poll - a ballot referendum that would chop roughly $2.4 billion from Beacon Hill coffers and has drawn opposition from all four gubernatorial candidates.
The rollback earned 54 percent support in the survey of 400 Massachusetts residents conducted at the end of August, with 44 percent against the ballot measure, known as Question 3, and 2 percent undecided.  The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percent.

Question 1 on whether to remove the sales tax from alcohol, a budget-balancing maneuver approved in 2009, would fail 38-60 percent if the vote were held tomorrow, the survey showed.  Respondents rejected Question 2, asking about repeal of the state’s “40B” law, which facilitates mixed used, affordable housing construction in communities with insufficient supplies of affordable units, by a 36-54 percent margin, with 10 percent undecided.

State House News pollster Gerry Chervinsky said August results are a good baseline, but far from a prognostication of how people will vote Nov. 2.

“Certainly the people who will spend millions and millions to defeat the rollback have their work cut out for them - but we know that’s going to happen, and these numbers will change,” Chervinsky said.

Chervinsky said respondents’ enthusiasm for one tax cut, and simultaneous disapproval of another, showed that support for the sales-tax rollback is not just an anti-tax knee jerk reaction in bad economic times.  “But ballot questions are touch-and-go,” he said.

The Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick raised the sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 last year to close a multi-billion dollar budget gap. Patrick has described the prospective revenue loss from the rollback as “calamitous,” while soft-pedaling answers to media inquiries about whether he would adhere to the mandate.

Asked Tuesday whether Patrick would implement the rollback, communications director Kyle Sullivan said, “Yes,” and referred to Patrick’s previous assertions that he would “respect the will of the voters.” During a Tuesday night debate, Patrick said “If the voters vote in that way, then I don’t think we have any choice but to respect the will of the voters.”

Republican Charles Baker, Patrick’s closest rival, has said he would implement the tax cut, though he does not support it. Baker wants to bring the sales tax rate back to 5 percent, its level prior to last year’s round of tax hikes.

Independent Treasurer Timothy Cahill is “concerned” with the prospect of the lost revenue, his campaign spokeswoman said last week, but would follow through with the mandate.

Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein said she would package the sales tax cut with a larger restructuring of the tax code, designed to ease the burden for lower- and middle-income taxpayers while increasing it for the wealthiest.

Supporters say the massive tax cut as a means of goosing the economy and relieving years of tax hikes.
“Regardless of what [Patrick] says, or any governor candidate says, the fact of the matter is this is a binding law, and ballot initiatives are by far the most powerful tool voters have for cutting taxes, bar none,” said Carla Howell, lead sponsor of the initiative.