December 5, 2022

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CommonWealth Magazine

A ballot question that would classify Uber and Lyft workers as independent contractors while granting them certain workplace benefits is shaping up to be the biggest and most expensive fight on the ballot this November, according to newly filed campaign finance reports, while a campaign to raise the income tax rate on income over $1 million is also turning into a multi-million-dollar battle.

Fundraising reports covering 2021 were due to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance Thursday. A glance through those reports shows who the earliest supporters are of the three ballot questions and one constitutional amendment heading toward the November ballot.

The committee supporting the ride-hailing driver question, Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers, raised a staggering $17 million last year. Ride-hailing company Lyft contributed nearly $14.4 million. The Boston Globe reported that a single $13 million contribution Lyft made on December 30 is the largest donation ever listed on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance’s website. Among other companies that rely on similar business models, Uber gave $1 million, while Doordash and Instacart each gave around $1.2 million.

Uber and Lyft won a similar ballot fight in California, after a campaign that was the most expensive in California history. The law remains tied up in court after a judge ruled it was unconstitutional.

The Coalition to Protect Workers Rights, a labor-funded group formed to oppose the ballot question, has raised just over $1 million. Massachusetts unions representing health care workers, aerospace workers, teachers, government workers, painters, laborers, and others contributed the bulk of that money. The George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations gave $100,000. The business and technology-backed Omidyar Network of California, which was founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and describes itself as investing in inclusive and equitable societies, gave $150,000.

The other big fight heading toward the ballot is over a constitutional amendment that would raise the tax rate by 4 percentage points on income over $1 million.

When the amendment was initially going to be voted on in 2018 – before the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it illegal – Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor, clergy, and liberal organizing groups, raised $2.7 million. This time, the question was submitted through a different process that avoids the same legal issues.

So far, Raise Up Massachusetts has raised $1.2 million for this year’s campaign. Some of its larger donors include the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the health care workers union 1199 SEIU, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, SEIU Local 509, National Association of Government Employees, and several other unions. The Omidyar Network – the same organization opposing the gig worker ballot question – gave $100,000.

Another ballot committee campaigning for the surtax, the Coalition for Social Justice, raised $16,800, of which $15,000 came from Marlene Pollock of New Bedford, a retired Bristol Community College professor who founded the coalition.

A ballot committee formed to oppose the income surtax, the Coalition for a Strong Massachusetts Economy, raised $437,000 in 2021, mostly from large donations by business executives. They include: Robert Reynolds, CEO of Putnam Investments ($200,000); Nino Micozzi, owner of the real estate company Micozzi Management ($100,000); Jeffrey Markley, CEO of the Markley Group, which runs data centers ($50,000); and Mark Casady, founder of the investment firm Vestigo Ventures ($25,000).

Other business-backed or conservative-leaning organizations – the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, the Pioneer Institute, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Massachusetts High Technology Institute – have been lobbying lawmakers, publishing research, and holding events opposing the policy. Paul Craney, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said organizations like his have for years been educating the public on the policy, but not spending money specifically to defeat the ballot question, which is why his group has not filed as a ballot committee.

Two other questions heading toward the November ballot are each funded by a single source.

The Massachusetts Package Stores Association is the sole funder behind a ballot question that would increase the number of beer and wine licenses one entity can hold from nine to 18, while reducing the number of hard liquor permits. As CommonWealth reported, the question is being billed as a compromise alternative to a proposal made by Cumberland Farms in 2019 that sought to eliminate the license cap. The Massachusetts Package Stores Association put $404,000 into the effort last year, almost all to pay an agency to collect signatures.

Another ballot question seeks to lower dental costs by limiting how much money dental insurers can spend on administrative costs. The Committee on Dental Insurance Quality is funded entirely by orthodontist Mouhab Rizkallah, who gave $501,000. Attorney General Maura Healey has accused Rizkallah of fraud related to claims he submitted to MassHealth.

There do not yet appear to be ballot committees formed to oppose either of these questions.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Incidental COVID: Nearly half of COVID-19 hospitalizations are identified as incidental, meaning the patient tested positive for COVID but is being treated primarily for something else.The new information is still being evaluated, but it seems to indicate that COVID is less of a problem in hospitals than previously thought. Read more.

No action at FERC: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declines to revoke the Weymouth Compressor Station’s authorization even though the agency’s chair says locating the natural gas facility in the South Shore community was a mistake.

– Richard Glick, the chair of the agency, said there was no legal basis to reverse course and shut down the compressor. “If you’re sitting there living near the Weymouth compressor station, that’s not going to make you any more comfortable, and I fully understand that,” Glick said. “But we’re restricted by the law.” Read more.

Political platitudes: At her first campaign stop as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Maura Healey sticks to the script, saying little and talking in political platitudes. One example: She refused to say whether she’d be running had Gov. Charlie Baker sought a third term. “This is so rear view right now, so I’m all about going forward,”  she said. Read more.

Struggling with drug-impaired driving: The Cannabis Control Commission voices support for updating laws dealing with drug-impaired driving, but is wary of moving forward since there is no consensus on how to do it. The paralysis on the commission may reflect the state of mind on Beacon Hill.  Read more.

OPINION

Christian flag case: Wayne State University professor Mark Satta breaks down the First Amendment case heard by the US Supreme Court this week, in which the justices will have to decide whether a Christian group had the right to fly its flag at Boston City Hall, where various organizations have been allowed to hoist their banners. Read more

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat, resigns from the House to take a position with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (Salem News)

Lydia Edwards of East Boston is sworn in as a state senator and ducks questions about whether she will relinquish her job as a Boston city councilor. (GBH)

Larry Edelman says the state should ease up on efforts to claw back unemployment overpayments during the pandemic. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Boston holds its first public hearing soliciting input on the search for a new police commissioner. (Boston Herald

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu commits $50 million in city and federal funds to renovate a city-owned housing complex in Jamaica Plain. (GBH)

New Bedford Light columnist Jack Spillane dives into a war of words between two city councilors over whether to wear masks at council meetings.

The Hadley Select Board rules no vaccinations are needed to gain access to public buildings, including the library, the senior center, and Town Hall. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Tufts Medical Center is closing its children’s hospital to focus on adult care. The move is likely to accentuate the market clout of the already dominant Children’s Hospital. (Associated Press)

Andrew Dreyfus announced that he will step down at the end of the year as president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest insurer. (Boston Globe

Falmouth Hospital closed its emergency room and treated staff with the anti-overdose drug Narcan after several people were exposed to fentanyl while treating a patient – but experts told MassLive this response was not in line with medical evidence, and overdosing on fentanyl from a passive exposure is impossible. 

Telemedicine is proving particularly popular with Black patients and women, according to a new report by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (Boston Herald)  

ELECTIONS

Former Boston city councilor Andrea Campbell is weighing a run for attorney general following Maura Healey’s announcement that she’ll vacate the seat to run for governor. (Dorchester Reporter

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Business groups say the proposed surtax on income over $1 million will harm small business owners. (Salem News)

EDUCATION

COVID cases in schools dropped by 30 percent this week, though schools still reported more than 28,000 cases among students and 4,700 among staff. (MassLive)

Boston College will begin awarding two-year associate’s degrees through its merger with Pine Manor College. (Boston Globe)

Meet the Author

PASSINGS

Athan “Soco” Catjakis, a former state legislator from Springfield remembered for helping constituents, dies at 91. (MassLive)

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Costly ballot fights ahead on gig economy, income tax amendment