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A Quick Review of State and Local Ballot Issues

by Brent Mead / /

The results are in, and the winner is…well, that is complicated. Voters went to the polls across the country yesterday and NTU tracked the results of statewide and local ballot measures in 10 states. While the headlines are focused on the defeat of Issue 2 in Ohio, there were more positives than negatives, and the 2011 elections on the balance show a continued voter preference for lower taxes and less government.

All the results from last night should also be colored by the enormity of the victory in Colorado last week. Proposition 103 in Colorado was the only statewide tax increase in the country and it went down by a 2-1 margin. The policy choices expressed by voters last night do not necessarily reflect a tax preference. That preference is still very much clear by looking at the number of local tax hikes which went down in defeat.

In Ohio, Issue 2, the repeal referendum on the state’s collective bargaining reform law, went down handily. However, those same voters were even stronger in their antipathy for President Obama’s health care law, voting to protect health care freedom of choice by a 65%-35% margin. The early message from big government apologists seems to be that this vote was only symbolic. However, even as a symbol it shows continued strong disapproval of the federal health care law. When coupled with similar actions by states such as Missouri shows that federal overreach will continue to be an issue for voters going into 2012.

Additionally, a majority of the local tax and bonding measures went down in defeat. Thus, while voters said no to the state’s collective bargaining reform efforts, they sent an even stronger message that the solution to Ohio’s budget woes will not be found in tax hikes and government mandates.

Another potential harbinger of things to come can be found in California. San Francisco residents voted for Proposition C, which would save the city over $1 billion in public employee pension costs. While voters rejected a more expansive proposal, Prop C shows a basic recognition by even the most liberal of cities that pension costs are quickly reaching unsustainable levels and reform, not higher taxes, are the answer. On the tax front, Bay Area residents also rejected a .5% sales tax increase to pay for public safety programs.

Washington State also provided a solid win for taxpayers. Voters approved I-1183 to privatize state liquor stores and sell off the related assets. In the process, I-1183 became the most expensive ballot campaign in the state’s history. They also voted to strengthen the budget stabilization fund. However, I-1125, which would ensure transportation revenue goes to transportation needs only, was narrowly defeated 49%-50%.

On the local level, results were also mixed. For instance, residents in Seattle approved a $32 million property tax increase, but rejected a $20 million vehicle fee increase. In San Juan County, voters narrowly decided to extend the real estate excise tax and decisively shot down a new solid waste disposal user fee.

While NTU is still in the process of compiling the results of the hundreds of elections last night a couple basic trends can be found. Voters did express a willingness to raise taxes if the measure delineated what the funds would be used for and was for a set period of time. However, overall, far more tax increases were defeated than passed. I think the big story is that despite the spin over Ohio's Issue 2 from proponents of big government, voters were in no mood to write blank checks to big-spending public officials.