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Press Release

Voters Opted for Limited Government, Survey of Ballot Measure Election Results Shows

For Immediate Release November 3, 2010
Pete Sepp, (703) 683-5700

     (Alexandria, VA) – As pundits argued over the “meaning” of yesterday’s Congressional elections, an overview of state-level ballot measure contests from the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU) identified several clear trends: voters generally rejected tax increases, often embraced tax limits, and overwhelmingly approved government accountability measures across the U.S. In October, NTU compiled its 2010 General Election Ballot Guide: The Taxpayer’s Perspective, which examined hundreds of ballot questions.

     “If one word could sum up voters’ decisions on fiscal-policy issues in the 2010 election, more often than not it would be, ‘enough,’” NTU State Government Affairs Manager John Stephenson said. “Most taxpayers cast their ballots to tell government it already has enough tax, spending, and regulatory power … and, in many cases, too much.” Election highlights include:

  • Washington voters trounced (2 to 1) an attempt to levy a statewide income tax, initially limited to upper-income residents. They also easily approved a rollback of tax hikes on soda, bottled water, and candy. And for good measure, by a 2 to 1 margin they reaffirmed a law requiring a legislative “supermajority” or voter consent for tax hikes.
  • Missourians heavily backed (68 percent-32 percent) a proposal to prevent localities from imposing additional taxes on earnings, while requiring referendums on those levies where they currently exist.
  • In Colorado, three measures to cut several taxes, restore certain tax protections, and restrict government debt all failed. However, in states traditionally regarded as more liberal, voters often split the differences. Californians decided to move ahead with a “cap-and-trade” emission-regulation scheme as well as relax rules regarding the passage of state budgets. On the other hand, they gave the green light to scheduled reductions in business taxes, and strengthened a legislative supermajority safeguard against tax increases by extending it to many types of fees. Massachusetts residents turned down the chance to reduce the state’s sales tax by more than half, but they did agree to a plan that will ease the state’s taxes on alcoholic beverages.
  • Advisory measures on federal policies fared well. By a huge 3 to 1 margin, Floridians called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring the federal government to balance its budget without raising taxes. Arizona and Oklahoma voters gave the nod to “health care choice” referendums opposing the new federal law (though Coloradans rejected such a proposal). Propositions upholding secret ballots for union organizing (and therefore opposing federal “card check” legislation) passed in each state where they appeared: Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.
  • Measures in several states made major changes to their budget structures. Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia, will be required to beef up their “rainy day fund” reserves. A Louisiana amendment will henceforth require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to authorize any new public employee benefit that would increase taxpayer liabilities, and voters in numerous Wisconsin counties advised the state to stop siphoning off transportation tax collections to unrelated programs or purposes. In Illinois, citizens likewise approved many local referendums, in this case calling on the state to implement cost-conscious reforms to public safety employee pensions.
  • Property taxes figured prominently in many areas. Although Louisianans decided against new restrictions on non-elected local governments’ taxing powers, Indianans adopted constitutional caps on property levies. Missourians banned real estate transfer taxes entirely, while Montanans prohibited the imposition of new ones. Many states, such as Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia, approved small measures for targeted property tax relief.
  • Political ethics issues won passage on many election slates, including a recall mechanism for the Governor (Illinois), a 20-year ban on holding office for certain convicted felons (Michigan), and a ban on state elected officials raising their own pay during a current term of office (Louisiana). The movement to limit terms of office for elected officials once again demonstrated its durability in places like Oklahoma and New Mexico, where measures to establish or strengthen them tended to succeed and plans to weaken them tended to fail.

     “Those left wondering about the overall message from yesterday’s election can find many clues by reading a bit further down the statewide ballots, away from the men and women who were candidates and toward the measures put before voters,” Stephenson concluded. “There they will find that in numerous places and cases, taxpayers resisted bigger government and even welcomed the chance to limit its reach.”

The 362,000-member NTU is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizen group founded in 1969 to work for lower taxes, smaller government, and economic freedom. Note: 2010 General Election Ballot Guide: The Taxpayer’s Perspective is available online at; a more complete analysis of the results on measures contained in the guide will be published shortly.