Tax and bilingual education initiatives headed to ballot box

BOSTON—Initiatives to abolish the state income tax and dramatically restructure Massachusetts’ bilingual education program are on their way to the ballot box next year.

Several other ballot questions, including a proposal to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption, failed to gather the necessary number of signatures, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

A question that would define marriage in Massachusetts as a union between one woman and one man gathered more than enough signatures, but because the initiative would change the state constitution it cannot appear on the ballot until 2004. The approval of just two questions for the 2002 ballot marks a dramatic drop from last year, when voters decided on eight ballot questions.

Voters approved the largest income tax cut in state history and a measure denying incarcerated felons voting rights and rejected a ban on greyhound dog racing and a call for universal health care.

The two questions headed for the 2002 ballot are already sparking debate.

Repealing the state income tax would leave more money in the hands of workers, according to former Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Carla Howell, who is pushing the initiative.

But critics say the question, which would cost the state about $9 billion a year, would make it difficult to pay for crucial programs like education and social services.

Debate is also focusing on the bilingual education question, which would move most students who are not native English speakers into regular classes after one year in “English-intensive” classes.

Opponents call the proposal an abandonment of the state’s 30-year commitment to new immigrant students.

The attorney general’s office had received 27 petitions by an August deadline.

But the requirement that activists gather more than 57,100 signatures proved too high a hurdle for most, including a proposed hike in the minimum wage and a plan to require companies to offer workers 12 weeks of paid family leave.

Backers of the surviving questions still must gather an additional 9,500 signatures before April.

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