A new group made up largely of organized labor has formed to oppose a proposed ballot question that would reduce the state sales tax by 20 percent, further solidifying the campaign as one pitting unions against Bay State retailers.

The Save Our Public Services Committee warned that reducing the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent would eliminate $1.25 billion in annual tax revenues collected by the state, jeopardizing funding for local schools, health programs and roads.

“If the sales tax cut passes, communities will be forced to lay off teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Mental health and addiction treatment programs will close, spending on parks and environmental protection will be cut, and important road and transit construction projects will be delayed for years,” said Deb Fastino, executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice, in a statement.

The opposition committee was founded by 1199SEIU, A Better City, AFSCME Council 93, American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts, Boston Teachers Union, Coalition for Social Justice, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, Mass. AFL-CIO, Massachusetts Communities Action Network, Massachusetts Teachers Association, Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, Transportation for Massachusetts, SEIU Local 509, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445.

Extraordinary Step

The ballot question has been pitched by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

In addition to competition from online sellers, RAM President Jon Hurst has said small business owners faced added pressure from the state’s earned sick time law and other questions moving toward the ballot to increase the minimum wage to $15 and institute a paid family and medical leave program.

The sales tax cut question, according to Hurst, is a response to multiple policy changes in the offing that could negatively impact retailers.

“Our members, small and large basically need two things to be successful: 1. Higher sales; and 2. Lower costs,” Hurst wrote in a recent email to major state business groups and chambers of commerce.

“And given a combination of increased competition coupled with an aggressive public policy agenda driven largely by unionized interests those two objectives are increasingly harder to obtain.”

Hurst, in the March 19 email obtained by the News Service, described the decision to go to the ballot as “taking some pages out of the opposition’s playbook.”

“We don’t take this effort lightly, and have only taken this extraordinary step to protect our members from government imposed discriminatory policies, and the costly, anti-small business agendas put forward by certain special interest labor groups,” Hurst wrote.

The last time a sales tax cut was put on the ballot opponents successfully beat back a proposal to cut the sales tax rate all the way to 3 percent. That question lost in 2010 with 57 percent opposed.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who in his 2010 campaign supported a 5 percent sales tax rate, has not yet taken a position, and said he hopes the issue, along with others targeted for the ballot, can be resolved by the Legislature before voters are asked to decide in November.

The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule shortly on whether a proposed constitutional amendment to impose a 4 percent surtax on income over $1 million to pay for education and transportation is appropriate for the ballot, while House and Senate lawmakers are actively trying to negotiate a compromise with advocates and the business community for paid family and medical leave.

Some Democratic leaders, including Senate President Harriette Chandler, have also expressed interest in addressing the minimum wage before the Legislature recesses from formal sessions in July.