Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ballot Questions: Different Temperatures

For the impatient, we say vote Yes on the three statewide ballot questions next week.

None of them heals the sick nor raises the dead. We are not passionate about any, but one question just makes sense and two deserve trials.

Homework: The compulsive sorts should scan the commonwealth elections page on them. Questions 1 and 2 are pretty obvious from the summary. We advise reading the separate details on Question 3. Finally, the Boston Globe has a set of links to pro and con sites for Question 1 here.

Fruit of the Vine

Question 1, permitting food stores to sell wine -- if locally permitted -- is too easy. Yes.

This pits the regressive oligopoly of liquor stores against big and small groceries for this single category. We can certainly understand why the former wants to keep these restrictions. That's what capitalists are about. They fear and fight anything that may decrease their revenue.

The argument they use have been disingenuous though. We can look to most of the nation where this has been the norm for a long time, in some places since the repeal of prohibition. The three results opponents claim do not occur. Specifically:
  • Convenience stores will widely and quickly get local permits, their clerks won't be able to screen purchasers, and teens will get wine easily. In fact, few kids even want expensive, lower alcohol wine; local governments aren't about to permit stores staffed and frequented by teens, C-stores can train for ID checking (or lose that permit in a flash), and many kids determined to get drunk already can get plenty. The horses have left the post on this one.
  • This will lead to an increase in drunk driving. There seems to be zero evidence of this anywhere. It's sad that the anti forces have drafted the grandfather of Melanie's Law subject to say that limiting places where wine is available will somehow prevent drunk driving. The prohibition argument has never worked.
  • This will drive the tenuous mom-and-pop liquor stores out of business. That's not at all what has happened anywhere else. For a comparison, think something else that specialty stores -- like bakeries -- sell along with grocery stores.
Basically, this law would let adults buy bottles of wine at groceries and a few C-stores. It is a slight convenience for consumers. It works nationwide without the threatened problems.

All of that written, we note that it is likely a fantasy by Stop & Shop and their ilk that this will mean lower prices for consumers. Some liquor stores may increase their wine specials, but if you want a real choice, you'll still go to them for that and for cases. They'll still get the seasonal and party business and will retain their regular customers. Grocery stores have tiny margins on groceries and make their profits on non-foods, like toothpaste and soon wine. They will most certainly not undercut liquor stores. They'll offer a mediocre selection of moderately priced wine and make a little more profit than they did.

One from Columns B and C

Question 2 would permit fusion voting, whereby a candidate can be on the ballot under multiple parties for an office. All votes for that candidate count toward a final tally. This doesn't solve big problems and likely won't get much use. However, it is increasingly popular elsewhere and was used here until 1912. There are those who feel very strongly that this would give voters who are dissatisfied with two major parties meaningful chances to elect their candidate while still making their views know. Try Mass Ballot Freedom for an overview and for a FAQ.

The biggest objection is silly -- that this would confuse voters. Well, itty boo. In terms of what voters must adapt to in our elections, this is way down the list of messing up a race by confusion. The ballot questions like these three are much more confusing.

What we really need -- in addition -- is instant runoff voting (IRV). This lets voters rank their choices and when there is no majority for a candidate, the ranking determines the winner, without forcing voters back to the polls for a follow-up election.

That would be more confusing than fusion voting, but a more meaningful reform.

These are not at all exclusive. We would support both. Meanwhile, Yes on 2.

Diaper Union

The most complex and nuanced Question 3 is whether to allow the state's private child-care providers to sort of unionize. We say yes, that this should provide a marginal improvement in care, assuming that enough day-care providers agree to the change after the initiative passes.

Fortunately, we don't have to go in depth in the advantages, a recent post by a provider on Blue Mass Group does that.

The crux of the pro argument is that providers can agree to organize to negotiate with commonwealth agencies on all regulated aspects of care. If enough want to do this, they will have a weak union-esuqe negotiating body. It can't strike or violate regulations, but there is a modest increase in clout with the bureaucracy, with an arbitration safety valve on the end.

Those opposed seem to be entirely on the regulatory side. It is a standard anti-union attitude about not wanting outsiders to interfere with their paternal, pat-on-the-head expertise. That's not convincing.

Yes on 3 to give the providers the option of helping create this system and have a voice in their business.

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