Bill Newman opposes Questions 1 and 2, favors 3 and 4

It’s your turn to be a legislator.

In Tuesday’s election, Massachusetts voters will decide the fate of four proposed laws. They’re called ballot questions because they appear on our ballot as interrogatories, i.e. — “do you approve of” — followed by the substance of the initiative.

Question 1 proposes another slot parlor in Massachusetts. No thank you.

Question 2 asks whether Massachusetts should authorize as many as 120 new charter schools — up to a dozen a year for the next decade. To this question, even people who in general enthusiastically endorse charter schools should just say no.

Let’s, as they said in “All the President’s Men,” follow the money. Question 2 would require Massachusetts public schools, which already pay $425 million a year for the existing 65 charters, to fork over up to an additional $1 billion annually for the new ones at the end of 10 years. The credit-rating agency Moody’s Investors Service has warned that passage of this ballot question could significantly weaken municipalities’ (including Boston’s) financial standing and threaten their credit ratings.

More on money: look at who is bankrolling the Yes on 2 campaign. It’s a group of hedge fund billionaires, including the Koch Brothers and the Wal-Mart Waltons, who have a significant interest in busting unions and privatizing even the most essential functions of local governments.

For further guidance I suggest looking at who is opposing this ballot question: virtually every school committee and every mayor in Massachusetts, the NAACP, Jonathan Kozol (the country’s leading advocate for improving underperforming urban schools) U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and state Senate President Stan Rosenberg, among others.

 The issue, although nuanced, has this straightforward truth: charter schools should not be funded by money siphoned from our public schools which, studies show, already are underfunded to the tune of $1 billion a year. (Noteworthy, the ballot question has no effect on the funding of already existing charters.) To exacerbate that shortfall by depriving public schools of critically needed funds borders on public policy lunacy.

Stan Rosenberg had it right. If you want to raise the cap on charter schools, the state should cover the costs and not create an unfunded mandate that robs Peter (our public schools) to pay Paul.

Question 3 asks whether we will prohibit corporate agribusinesses (almost all out-of-state) that torture animals from selling their food in our commonwealth. I’m against torture of both people and animals.

Question 4 would allow marijuana use by persons over 21 in private places and would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. This question or a similar one is on the ballot in five states this November – California, Nevada, Arizona and Maine as well as Massachusetts. Four states, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia, already have legalized non-medicinal marijuana.

A voter’s decision on this question should not turn on whether one is for or against marijuana. Legalization is not an argument for pot. The real question is whether one wants to repeal prohibition. We should.

First, as the Boston Police Department’s recently-released data shows, when it comes to marijuana, law enforcement still overwhelmingly targets African-Americans.

In addition, marijuana will be better controlled if it is taxed and regulated than if it continues to be outlawed, punished and pushed underground. Today teenagers can put their hands on prohibited pot easier than they can access regulated alcohol.

Let’s also dispense with the false argument about public safety and driving. We know from the data in states that have legalized pot that after legalization there is no increase in motor vehicle fatalities. In addition, in Massachusetts driving while impaired – by alcohol or drugs, prescription, over-the counter, or otherwise – already is a crime, and any kind of driving that might endanger the public (driving too slow or too fast, weaving, crossing a solid line, for example) constitutes another crime that likewise carries jail time, a mandatory loss of license, and hefty insurance surcharges. Law enforcement has plenty of tools to prosecute anyone who drives while impaired including field sobriety tests and videotaping with cruiser and body cams.

The time has come for common sense and common decency to prevail over racism and irrational fear. Prohibition should be repealed.

Voting yes on Question 4 — repealing the marijuana prohibition — is important, but the importance of voting no on Question 2 strikes me as even more significant. My reasoning: Lawful marijuana use is coming to America, so even if legalization unfortunately were to lose in Massachusetts on Tuesday, that defeat sooner or later would be reversed. In contrast Question 2 offers no such future safety valve. Once our public schools are decimated, it will be next to impossible to repair the damage.

So: No on Questions 1 and 2. Yes on Questions 3 and 4.

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