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2013 General Election Ballot Guide: Introduction

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Without a Presidential race or regular round of Congressional elections on the ticket, there isn’t nearly as much fanfare during this election cycle, though on November 5, voters will decide gubernatorial and state legislator races in Virginia and New Jersey. For many Americans, however, the most important votes they will cast this year will be on ballot measures. In particular, there are a handful of important statewide ballot propositions, initiatives, referenda, proposals, and constitutional amendments that taxpayers in six states should watch closely. Voters in Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington will determine the fate of ballot measures that could have an enormous impact on government growth, economic vitality, and job creation—not to mention their very own wallets.

Likely the most significant statewide measure this election cycle, Colorado’s Amendment 66 would result in a $1 billion income tax increase that would hit Colorado taxpayers up and down the income scale (along with half a million small businesses) in the name of education funding. The result could have major implications for leaders in other states: if the amendment passes, will they too attempt a similar tax hike?

Amendment 66 isn’t the only controversial item on the Colorado ballot this year. Proposition AA would place new taxes on sales of marijuana—a product that voters in the State recently deemed legal.

In Maine, taxpayers will decide on five ballot questions regarding debt increases to fund everything from the Maine Army National Guard and higher education to transportation and the Maine Maritime Academy. The Pine Tree State already has the 12th highest debt per capita according to the Tax Foundation. How willing are voters to increase this level? New Yorkers will also have a decision on debt. Proposal 3 would continue allowing localities to exceed their debt limits, despite the State’s number one ranking in local-level debt per capita. Another Empire State measure would authorize up to seven casinos, though the fiscal impact remains unclear at this point.

In addition to the governor race, New Jersey voters will weigh in on a hefty minimum wage hike. A key part of the ongoing debate over this issue is the significant body of economic evidence showing that higher minimum wages can actually reduce overall employment.

Texas voters, whose state is often heralded for its job creation and relatively conservative fiscal policies, are being asked whether to tap into the Rainy Day Fund to pay for local water projects. Many taxpayer activists in the state believe that the outcome of the vote will help to determine whether or not officials are encouraged to rein in wasteful spending.

Washington’s Initiative 517 could have profound implications for future ballot measures in the state, as it would extend signature collection time and ensure that measures with sufficient signatures make it on the ballot. On a different note, Initiative 522 could, according to local observers, impact commerce by requiring new labels on genetically modified food.

This year also features a number of key local ballot measures, including but not limited to pension reform in Cincinnati, Ohio and Hialeah, Florida; a soda tax hike in Telluride, Colorado; a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour in SeaTac, Washington; and sales tax hikes across towns and counties in California, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Previously-enacted government employee benefit reforms are also spurring new ballot measures, such as in San Francisco.

While we strove to make this a comprehensive guide to statewide measures dealing with fiscal policy, at the local level we provide only highlights of key proposals. Many local measures do not appear here because sufficient information to merit inclusion was not available; others were omitted because we could not identify an immediate and direct impact on state budgets or taxes. Besides being limited to local highlights only for purposes of the 2013 guide, as a general matter this publication excludes measures dealing with home rule, the timing of elections, or functions of government where the effect on taxpayers is unclear. On the other hand, measures imposing term limits on elected officials, easing the ability of citizens to utilize the ballot initiative process, or increasing government transparency are considered for inclusion because of their positive potential to limit the size of government and empower citizens.

Although NTU’s research team made every effort to identify measures of importance to taxpayers throughout the country, it is impossible to ensure that every jurisdiction’s election slate is completely reported on here. In some cases, election authorities may have made late decisions concerning their ballots that could not be reflected in this guide. For all of these reasons, taxpayers are urged to check with their local election agency for additional information.

Finally, NTU would like to thank the Lucy Burns Institute and the Ballotpedia team for their help with this guide.