Milford residents appear to narrowly support Question 3, according to CommonWealth magazine’s Bellwether project.
The Bellwether project’s online town forum found that supporters of the ballot question, which would cut the state’s sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, edged out opponents by the narrow margin of 8 to 5.
“It is time for government to get their house in order,” Milford resident Catherine Ellis said. “We have to live within our means; so should they.”
William Ferguson, another Milford resident, shared a similar sentiment. “Very large organizations, faced with requirements to cut deeply, can find amazing waste, duplication, and nice-to-have things that can be eliminated, but that does not happen unless the funding shrinks dramatically,” he said.
But Milford resident Jay Gilchrist is convinced Question 3 could be devastating. “Having sat through many regional meetings the governor held when the Wall Street financial collapse tipped the state into potential chaos, I learned how close this brought us to a cliff edge and saw the governor getting the public’s preferences on what to cut,” he said. “We could fire all 60,000 state employees and not make a dent.”
Milford resident James LaPrad said he likes the quality of life and the services provided by the sales tax revenue. “The bottom line is that if you want the state to provide services, then someone needs to pay for them,” he said.
The comments were gathered as part of CommonWealth magazine’s Bellwether Project, an online forum at www.localocracy.org, to get beyond the polls and find out what Milford voters think about state and local issues. Milford, a Worcester County town of more than 25,000 residents, attained bellwether status because the town is representative economically of the state as a whole. The town has also voted for every winning gubernatorial candidate since 1990.
Led by Carla Howell of the Alliance to Roll Back Taxes, supporters say Qustion 3 would put an average of $688 in taxpayers’ pockets each year. A Beacon Hill Institute study found that Question 3 would create nearly 30,000 private sector jobs while shedding about 10,000 public sector jobs; increase investment yearly by $73 million, and increase wages by more than $1 billion. The institute concluded that the state would lose about $2.08 billion in sales tax revenues.
Opponents of Question 3, such as the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and Associated Industries of Massachusetts, argue that reducing the sales tax to 3 percent would require mammoth cuts in state services. Those cuts, in turn, would fall heavily on cities and town and stifle the state’s economy. A Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation analysis concluded that, if Question 3 passes, the state budget deficit, projected to be nearly $2 billion in 2012, would balloon to $4.5 billion as a result of a $2.5 billion reduction in sales tax revenues.
William Buckley, chairman of the Milford Board of Selectmen, said Question 3 is “a voter referendum on what size government the taxpayer wants.”
He said he has heard voters saying they are “sick and tired of some of the taxes and fees,” but he says it’s “too tough to call” whether Question 3 will pass in Milford.
According to data provided by the Massachusetts Coalition for Our Communities, Milford stands to lose about $3.3 million in total state aid, based on an Executive Office of Administration and Finance simulation of the impact of Question 3 on the state’s 351 municipalities.
The fiscal 2011 budget in Milford is $78 million, with about $30 million coming in the form of state aid. The town is in fairly sound financial shape, with roughly $14 million in reserves, Buckley said.
Buckley hadn’t seen the coalition’s figures, but he said that their assumptions were “fundamentally flawed” since no one can know exactly how the Legislature would deal with the prospect of deeper cuts.
Do people in Milford understand what would happen to state and local services if Question 3 passes? “No, not at all,” said Buckley.
The four gubernatorial candidates, Gov. Deval Patrick, Charlie Baker, Tim Cahill, and Jill Stein, all oppose Question 3.Of the frontrunners, Patrick calls the measure “a calamity for local communities.” Republican Charlie Baker considers 3 percent too drastic a cut, but he supports a rollback to 5 percent.