Republicans may sweep into a congressional majority this November.
Will it matter?
Considering that our current ills began long before President Obama and the Democratic congressional majority, theres cause for skepticism.
Direct policy change is available to voters, however, in the 37 states where theyll decide the fate of 175 ballot measures. As Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, points out, One big difference between initiatives and elected representatives is that initiatives do not change their minds once you vote them in.
Most of the measures on this years state ballots (121) were placed there by legislators, a 22 percent increase in such referrals from 2008; citizens petitioned to place just 51 measures onto state ballots, a 31 percent decrease from last cycle. (Three states — Maryland, Michigan and Montana — have an automatic question on the ballot asking voters if they want to call a constitutional convention.)
The reduction in citizen initiative activity may result from years of legislators passing more and more burdensome restrictions on the process, always with the enthusiastic backing of the special interests ensconced in our state capitols. At least, many of these restrictions are now being challenged and overturned as unconstitutional violations of our most basic rights to speak, to assemble and to petition our government.
Still, these ballot measures carry important consequences. They directly change the law. Further, a public vote on an issue sends a far clearer message as to the will of the people than the election of one less-evil candidate over a more-evil one.
Here are the ten measures that will have the greatest impact:
1. Washington I-1098: Establish a State Income Tax Initiative
This measure would begin a state income tax on incomes of $200,000 and greater. Economic growth in Washington and the other six states without any income tax at all compared to the states that tax income is so dramatic one wonders what on earth could possess the voters of Washington to favor this proposal. Trust they wont.
The initiative was launched with $1.3 million in funding from the powerful Service Employees International Union as well as $250,000 from the National Education Association in Washington, D.C. and $500,000 from Bill Gates, Sr. Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman called the measure Pandoras Box, arguing, Once you give the state the power to tax everyone based on income, they're going to tax everyone based on income.
2. California Proposition 26: The Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act
When opponents of initiative and referendum complain that the process has tied the hands of California legislators in dealing with that states budget crunch, it is almost always Prop 13s requirement that tax increases be passed by a two-thirds vote of the legislature that is stuck in their craw.
On the flip side, those opposed to higher taxes have long complained that legislators are regularly end-running this requirement on tax increases by hiking fees on Californians with a simple majority vote. Prop 26 would require that fees, levies, etc. would also require a two-thirds vote. If passed, California politicians would have to look more at cutting spending and less at revenue gimmicks. It would also send a strong message that Prop 13s two-thirds super-majority requirement remains sacrosanct with voters.
3. Colorado Amendment 63, Health Care Choice
If swing-state voters in Colorado join Missouri voters, who in August enacted a state measure protecting citizens from being forced to purchase health insurance through the Obamacare mandate, it will go a long way in strengthening GOP backbone to repeal the mandate should Republicans regain control of Congress. Arizona and Oklahoma will also vote this November on a measure to protect choice in medical care.
4. Massachusetts Question 3: Sales Tax Relief Act
This measure, sponsored by the Alliance to Roll Back Taxes, headed by Carla Howell, would slice the state sales tax from 6.25 to 3 percent. Twice, in 2002 and 2008, Howell attempted unsuccessfully to abolish the states income tax. Though less ambitious, this tax cut would be a significant victory, especially in Taxachusetts.
5. Washington I-1053: Two-Thirds to Raise Taxes Initiative
Early this year, Washingtons state legislature suspended I-960, an initiative passed by voters in 2007 that required a two-thirds vote of legislators or a vote of the people in order to raise taxes. The group Voters Want More Choices, led by Tim Eyman, which had petitioned that measure onto the ballot, launched I-1053 to restore the two-thirds or voter approval requirement for tax increases.
6. Florida Amendment 1: Repeal of Public Financing for Statewide Candidates
Its been a tough year for the idea of publicly funding political campaigns. In June, a public financing initiative in California was defeated. Part of the Arizona clean elections law was struck down in federal court. And, this summer,Â Connecticuts Democratic legislature manipulated its system to give the Democratic gubernatorial nominee an extra $3 million in funding. A vote of the of the people of Florida, the nations fourth largest state, repealing public financing for statewide candidates might (hopefully) be the beginning of the end for the idea.
7. Washington I-1100: Privatize State Liquor Stores Initiative
This measure will close state liquor stores and authorize the sale, distribution, and importation of spirits by private parties. It would also reduce restrictions on the sale and production of beer and wine. Costco contributed heavily to the petition effort, as did other companies. A victory here may speed the day that other states reform their own Byzantine rules governing liquor sales.
8. California Proposition 19: Regulate, Control and Tax Marijuana Act
Californias current medical marijuana law is lenient enough that marijuana use is essentially already legal in the Golden State. But the passage of Prop 19, which regulates and taxes marijuana, could spark a second look at legalization in other states where legislators are looking for new revenue to patch budgetary holes. The measure is currently ahead in polls.
9. California Proposition 23: Suspend AB 32, the Global Warming Act of 2006
If passed, Prop 23 will suspend Californias landmark global warming legislation (AB 32) until the states unemployment rate is at 5.5 percent or lower. The current unemployment rate is 12 percent. AB 32 mandates that California cut, by 2020, greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.
This measure may set records for spending on both sides, indicating that the issue really is about money.
10. South Dakota Referred Law 12: Smoking Ban Referendum
Smoking bans have been passed all across the country, including in South Dakota back in 2002. This measure is a citizen-initiated referendum challenging legislation passed in 2009 that extended the smoking ban to bars, video lottery establishments and Deadwood casinos. A no vote might indicate that nanny-statism is vulnerable to citizen attack.
These ten measures may make the most difference in our future, but there are plenty more measures for voters to consider. For instance, Rhode Island voters are being asked to change the name of their state.
To what? you wonder. Why, to Rhode Island.