The People's Choice: October/November 2012 | STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE
Once again, there's something for everyone on statewide ballots this November.
Editor's note: After this issue went to press, two competing ballot initiatives that would have authorized privately owned casinos in Arkansas were disqualified by the courts. Accordingly, the correct number of state ballot measures is 172. A reference to a vote on authorizing physician-assisted suicide should have said the issue was on the ballot in Massachusetts.
By Jennie Drage Bowser
Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Back again this year are many of the same issues that appeared on ballots throughout the first decade of the 2000s: marriage, marijuana, gambling and of course, taxes. There are, however, a handful of new issues, as well as a few new twists on old themes.
At the end of September, 174 measures had qualified for statewide ballots. Forty-four are citizen initiatives. That’s slightly more than the 42 initiatives seen on the November 2010 ballot, but still a far cry from the average of 62 initiatives on even-year ballots between 2000 and 2008.
What has skyrocketed this year is use of the popular referendum, with 12 on the ballot in seven states. Not since 1920 have there been that many in a single election. The popular referendum, available in 23 states, allows citizens to stop a new law in its tracks. If enough signatures are filed, the new law is put on hold, generally before it even takes effect, until voters in the next election approve or reject it.
The recent rise in use of the popular referendum parallels the historic use of the recall over the past two years. Both are tools for citizens to push back against government actions they don’t like and reflect the significant political polarization in America today.
Ballots in some states will be lengthy. Voters in Alabama, California and Florida will pore over 11 statewide measures. Oregon, which leads the country in use of the initiative, has nine measures this year, as do Arizona and Louisiana. Voters in 12 states will have no statewide measures to consider.
Strategists on both sides of the political spectrum like to use partisan ballot measures to influence voter turnout, believing that a highly contentious issue will bring out voters and benefit the candidates of that same flavor as well. Academic research shows that the presence of any measure on the ballot increases turnout by a few points, but it’s unclear who is more motivated by controversial measures—supporters or opponents.
Of the 11 states considered swing states in the presidential race, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have no ballot measures. And the ones in Nevada and Virginia don’t have a partisan slant strong enough to influence candidates’ races.
The states to keep an eye on, however, are Colorado, Florida, Minnesota (looking more like a swing state in the presidential race, and certainly in the toss-up column for legislative control), New Hampshire and Ohio.
In Minnesota, the Legislature referred two measures to the ballot that are likely to appeal to conservative voters: new voter ID requirements and a ban on same-sex marriage. The New Hampshire legislature placed an amendment on the ballot that would prohibit a state income tax. In Florida, the Legislature referred 11 measures to the ballot, several with a conservative appeal. They include a ban on any law requiring everyone to have health insurance coverage, a ban on the use of public funds for abortions, and a religious freedom amendment to protect “individuals and entities from being denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Statewide Ballot Tax Measures
Tax measures are once again the most common type of issue on state ballots. This year’s group of 32 statewide tax and revenue ballot measures focuses more on tax relief than tax increases. At least 15 measures would create tax exemptions or limits, while eight propose tax increases. Five other measures address different aspects of taxation and property assessments. Following are 18 of the more significant tax measures being decided on Nov. 6.
Amendment 9 would continue the Legislature’s authority to regulate and tax corporations.
Proposition 116 would increase the property tax exemption for newly purchased property used for agriculture, trade or business.
Proposition 117 would limit the annual growth in locally assessed property values.
Proposition 204 would make permanent a one-cent sales tax dedicated to education.
Issue 1 would increase the diesel tax by five cents to pay for surface transportation projects.
to fund education and public safety services.
Proposition 30 would raise the state sales tax by 0.25 cents for four years and increase income taxes on earnings over $250,000 for seven years
Proposition 38 would increase income taxes on all Californians, based on a sliding scale, to fund K-12 education and early childhood programs.
Proposition 39 would change the way multistate business taxes are calculated to generate revenue for energy efficiency and clean energy jobs.
Amendment 4 addresses property tax rates of non-homestead or commercial property and homestead exemptions.
Amendment 10 would expand personal property tax exemptions to property valued between $25,000 and $50,000.
Amendment 8 would allow local governments to opt-in to property tax exemptions for certain non-manufacturing businesses.
Proposal 5 would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or approval by voters to create or increase a tax.
Measure 84 phases out the inheritance tax.
Measure 85 amends the state constitution to reallocate a corporate income/excise tax refund to K–12 education.
Initiated Measure 15 would increase the general sales and use tax rate from 4 percent to 5 percent for K–12 education and Medicaid.
in a referendum. It also defines repealing a tax exemption as raising revenue.
Initiative 1185 would restate the current law that requires any tax increase to be approved by two-thirds of both legislative chambers or approved
On the other side of the spectrum, the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and a proposal to establish an independent redistricting commission in Ohio could attract more liberal-leaning voters to the polls.
It seems as though it is impossible to hold an election in this country without a marriage measure on the ballot somewhere. 2010 was the first even-year general election without one since 1996. But the issue is back on the ballot this year, with a twist.
Voters in Maine are the first in the nation with the opportunity to legalize same-sex marriage. Since 1998, all but one of the 35 statewide votes held on same-sex marriage were to restrict marriage to between one man and one woman. The exception was Arizona, where voters rejected a ban on same-sex marriage in 2006, but later approved one in 2008.
Voters in Minnesota this year will consider such a ban. And in Maryland and Washington, where legislatures recently legalized same-sex marriage, popular referendums are on the ballot to overturn those laws.
This year, however, the winds may be shifting. National and state-specific polls indicate that voters might approve same-sex marriage in Maine, defeat the attempt to repeal the laws passed in Maryland and Washington, and reject the proposed ban in Minnesota.
NCSL data on voter behavior support this possibility—the percentage of voters in favor of a ban on same-sex marriage peaked in 2005, and has steadily declined in every election since.
Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington will weigh in on whether to legalize marijuana for adults and authorize the state to regulate and tax sales of it. These measures are similar to California’s Proposition 19, rejected by voters in 2010. It will be Colorado’s second vote on the issue; a similar initiative was rejected in 2006.
Voters in Arkansas, Massachusetts and Montana will decide whether to allow medical marijuana. Montana’s measure has its roots in a 2004 citizen-approved initiative legalizing medical marijuana. Seven years later the Legislature repealed it, then passed a law restricting the sale and use of medical marijuana. On Nov. 6, if voters say “yes” to IR-124 (one of the 12 popular referendums nationwide), the Legislature’s restrictive law will take effect; if they vote “no,” the initiative passed in 2004 will become law. The measures in Arkansas and Massachusetts would allow qualifying patients to buy and use marijuana.
Legislators in Maryland and Rhode Island decided to play the odds and let citizens decide whether to expand casinos. A pair of initiatives in Oregon would allow casinos to be privately owned. Two competing Arkansas initiatives were certified for the ballot, but are in court and may not remain on the ballot. Both would authorize privately owned casinos as well.
Voters in Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Montana and Wyoming will decide whether to exempt themselves from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by prohibiting the state from requiring health insurance coverage. Voters in Arizona, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma have approved similar measures during the past two years; Colorado voters rejected one in 2010.
Tax increases to fund education are on tap in Arizona, California and South Dakota. An Oregon initiative would divert corporate tax refunds to education. In Idaho and South Dakota, there are ballot battles over labor issues for teachers. Voters in Georgia and Washington will decide whether charter schools make the grade. In Maryland, voters will have a say on whether non-resident illegal immigrants who graduate from a high school within the state should be charged in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.
The Nebraska Legislature is asking voters to allow members to serve one extra term beyond the current limit of two consecutive four-year terms. Voters in Alabama and Nebraska will be asked to increase legislator compensation, and South Dakota voters will decide whether to lift the current 5 cents per mile limit on mileage reimbursement for lawmakers.
A sweeping reform proposal in California would put the state on a two-year budget cycle, establish pay-as-you-go rules for any expenditure over $25 million, and allow the governor to cut or eliminate programs in a fiscal emergency.
Physician-assisted suicide in Michigan … State sovereignty in Arizona … Right to bear arms in Louisiana … Proof of citizenship to receive state services in Montana … Affirmative action in Oklahoma … Abortion in Florida and Montana ... Continuation of government during catastrophic disasters in Oregon … Constitutional conventions in Alaska, New Hampshire and Ohio … Right to hunt and fish in Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Jennie Drage Bowser is NCSL’s expert on ballot initiatives.