In Mass. voter poll, tax cut has the edge

By Tina Cassidy and Frank Phillips, Globe Staff, 10/30/2000

assachusetts voters appear set to give themselves a $1.2 billion tax cut and mandate universal health care in the state, despite well-funded TV ad blitzes against the measures, a Boston Globe poll indicates.

But they are divided on the heated question of whether to ban greyhound racing. And an initiative to give drivers a tax credit for tolls, while attracting some support, appears to concern voters who worry about its fiscal consequences.

The Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll indicates that 56 percent of those surveyed support Question 4, which would reduce the income tax from 5.85 percent to 5 percent by 2003. Only 26 percent oppose the measure, and 14 percent were undecided. Four percent either did not know or refused to answer.

The poll of 400 likely voters by KRC Communications Research Oct. 24-26 has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

Although opposition advertising has eroded some support in recent weeks, the tax cut, championed by Governor Paul Cellucci, enjoys widespread backing.

''It's in a pretty good position,'' pollster Gerry Chervinsky said. ''It's lost some ground, but I'd be surprised if it didn't pass.''

Polls taken last month showed the public favored the tax cut by a 3-to-1 margin. Since then, the opposition has run television and radio commercials, sounding alarms about the cost of the tax cut and saying the money would be better spent on improving education and health care or paying down debt.

Meanwhile, Question 5, which would require universal health-care coverage and prohibit the conversion of nonprofit hospitals, health maintenance organizations, and health insurers to for-profit status ''is right on the cusp of passing,'' Chervinsky said.

Fifty percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of Question 5, and 25 percent said they were against it. The rest said they did not know which way they would vote or refused to say.

The health care question is controversial, because opponents say the measure would add a layer of bureaucracy to health care by creating an agency that would review and recommend medical legislation. HMOs have launched a $3 million campaign to defeat it.

Meanwhile, Question 6, which would give motorists tax credits for tolls paid for the Massachusetts Turnpike, Tobin Bridge, and tunnels, along with motor vehicle excise taxes, appeared to be on shakier ground. The poll indicates that while 43 percent favor the tax credits, 32 percent oppose them, and 25 percent did not know or refused to answer.

''It could go either way,'' Chervinsky said. ''People who don't use these roads say, `Let's keep the revenue coming in.'''

Some uneasiness over Question 6 may stem from its potential impact on the state's coffers, especially if the income-tax reduction also passes. Some analysts have suggested that Massachusetts cannot afford the passage of both Questions 4 and 6, which together would reduce the state's annual revenues by $2 billion.

That message may be getting through. The poll indicates that 36 percent believe Massachusetts cannot afford both measures, while 34 percent said the state can, and 30 percent were undecided or refused to answer.

Question 3, which would ban dog racing, appears to have sharply divided the electorate. With track owners and dog lovers engaged in a pitched battle over whether to shut down the industry, 44 percent of those polled said they are against the measure, while 38 percent said they support it.

''This one's really up for grabs,'' Chervinsky said. ''Are voters going to [go into the booth and] think people will lose their jobs, or are they going to think `poor doggies'?''

Chervinsky said previous polling on the ballot questions has indicated that many people don't commit to a position until they enter the voting booth. ''And on a number of this year's questions, like dog racing, and the tolls and excise tax question, that appears to be the case,'' he said.

Voters also seem to support Question 8 overwhelmingly, according to the poll. If passed, it would establish a trust fund for drug treatment using fines and assets forfeited from drug-related crimes. In addition, the measure would make it easier for some addicts to receive treatment instead of prison time. Nearly 70 percent support the initiative, 13 percent are against it, and the rest are undecided, according to the poll.

Law enforcement officials, including Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and the state's district attorneys, argue that the measure would make it easier for drug dealers to avoid time behind bars. They also say it would strip law enforcement officials of resources they use to fight crime.

They have no funds for advertising, however, while Question 8 is being backed by wealthy out-of-state interests, including billionaire George Soros, who favor liberalizing drug laws.

The poll also indicates that:

Voters support Question 2 - which would limit the voting rights of incarcerated felons - by a margin of 51 percent to 33 percent. Proponents of this measure say those who have committed crimes should give up the right to participate in the democracy.

Fifty-two percent of voters favor Question 1, which would require district boundaries for state lawmakers and governor's councilors to be drawn two years earlier than under the current system using new census data. Only 16 percent said they would vote no, a move that would make no change in the four-year process.