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Massachusetts Voters Deciding Excise Tax On Toxic Chemicals With PM-Political Rdp, Bjt

October 30, 1992

BOSTON (AP) _ A Nov. 3 ballot initiative proposes an excise tax on toxic chemicals and many petroleum products, but opponents have raised questions about who will really end up paying if it passes.

Supporters of ballot Question 4 say polluters will be forced, rightly, to foot the bill. But opponents, who include labor unions as well as chemical and oil companies, argue such a tax would penalize non-polluters with good environmental records, and ultimately get passed to consumers anyway.

If the tax passes, backers hope its proceeds would be used to offset state costs for hazardous-waste cleanup. Massachusetts ballot initiatives cannot dictate how money is spent; that would be up to the Legislature to decide.

Jim DiNatale, a spokesman for the opposition group, No on 4 Coalition, said companies that are taxed would merely pass on the cost. Utilities, hospitals and universities, large consumers of oil for energy, would be hit especially hard, he said.

″We believe the claim that this is a ‘polluters pay’ initiative is an outright deception,″ DiNatale said. ″The fact is that this tax would be imposed upon virtually every resident, worker and employer in the state.″

Supporters estimate the tax would raise $25 million its first year, which they would want spent on cleaning up the 2,430 confirmed toxic dump sites and 2,540 others suspected of being contaminated. The state is about finished with cleaning up 3 percent of the confirmed sites and state officials say preliminary work has begun for the rest.

″We’re at the point where we need to do something and this is a fair and logical solution,″ said Matthew Wilson, director of the Massachusetts Campaign to Clean Up Hazardous Waste, chief backer of the measure.

Opponents who contributed $730,000 to fight the measure include such out- of-state concerns as Exxon Corp. and Union Carbide Corp., state campaign reports show. Also fighting the proposal are organized labor and the administration of Republican Gov. William Weld.

Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Joseph Faherty calls the ballot initiative ″misleading″ and ″badly conceived.″

The ballot measure would tax businesses having 50,000 pounds or more of oil and certain toxic chemicals. The tax would be two-tenths of one cent per pound until June 30, 1995. After that, the state Department of Revenue would set the rate to raise $35 million a year.

It would not apply to gasoline or other engine fuels, or to materials shipped through the state to other destinations.

Washington state adopted a similar tax in 1988 that applies to all petroleum products, including those just passing through the state.

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