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Ballot Measures 2013: Taxpayers Thwart Worst, But Many Bad Measures Still Pass

by Lee Schalk / /

Despite what may have appeared to be a sleepy off-year election, a host of ballot measures compiled by National Taxpayers Union (featured in The Wall Street Journal) with national implications appeared on November 5 state and local ballots across the country, and the results might surprise you. At the end of the day, there were both silver linings and disappointments for taxpayers across the country.

The Good

  • In Colorado, the $1 billion income tax hike went down in flames. Despite the $10 million spent in support of Amendment 66, Coloradans were in no mood for income tax increases, which are often a major hindrance to economic growth. The amendment secured only 34 percent of the vote in the increasingly blue Centennial State.
  • Telluride, Colorado taxpayers overwhelmingly rejected a penny-per-ounce soda tax, 68-32 percent. Two similarly regressive measures were defeated in Richmond and El Monte, California last November.
  • Texas voters approved five pro-taxpayer amendments: three that grant property tax relief, one that shrinks government by eliminating the ineffective State Medical Education Board, and one that provides consumer flexibility on homestead purchases by allowing reverse mortgages.
  • Washingtonians took down Initiative 522 (55 to 45 percent), which could have significantly disrupted commerce by requiring the labeling of genetically modified food.
  • Hialeah, Florida voters approved a pension reform referendum question. Future elected officials will no longer receive exorbitant pensions after leaving office, and future changes to the Hialeah pension fund must now be approved by taxpayers.
  • Proposition 5 was approved in Kaysville, Utah, restricting revenue of the city Power Department and Power Fund to be used only for that Department. If revenues exceed operating costs for the Power Department, those extra collections will now be returned to the customers. This will provide transparency by barring the local government from spending those proceeds on items unrelated to the power company.

The Bad

  • New Jersey voters passed a minimum wage increase that raises the hourly rate by 14 percent, from $7.25 to $8.25. SeaTac, Washington voters also approved a local minimum wage hike to $15 per hour. These measures, which sailed through with overpowering support, could actually reduce overall employment by making unskilled and young workers more expensive to hire. Additionally, businesses are likely to pass on the cost of the wage increase to consumers.
  • Texans said “yes” to Amendment 6 by an astounding margin, 73 to 27 percent. The Lone Star State’s Rainy Day Fund can now be tapped to pay for local water projects.
  • A handful of California towns and cities (Corte Madera, Larkspur, San Anselmo, San Rafael, and Scotts Valley) voted to raise sales taxes.

The Ugly

  • Maine voters, whose state already claims the 12th-highest per capita debt in the nation, approved five ballot questions to increase state debt by a total of $149.5 million.
  • Proposal 1 passed easily in New York (57 to 43 percent), permitting localities to exceed debt limits when constructing or reconstructing sewage facilities. Evidently, fiscal responsibility remains a foreign concept to many in the Empire State, which ranks number one in local-level, per capita debt among the fifty states.
  • An attempt to strengthen the initiative and referendum process, Initiative 517 was beaten badly in Washington, 60 to 40 percent. The initiative sought to extend signature collection time, ensure that measures with sufficient signatures appear on the ballot, and set penalties for harassing petition organizers.
  • Modest pension reform was rejected in Cincinnati, as 78 percent of voters shot down Issue 4. Last week, NTU board member and former mayor of Cincinnati Ken Blackwell warned that Cincinnati must face the pension crisis that sealed Detroit’s fate.

Last but not least, the results of Colorado’s marijuana tax hike measures could be considered good, bad, or ugly, depending on your point of view. While Coloradans rejected the Amendment 66 income tax hike, they approved the Proposition AA marijuana taxes 65 to 35 percent. Locally, voters in Eagle, Red Cliff, Littleton, Boulder, and Denver also passed new taxes on marijuana. All of these measures increase taxes on a product recently deemed legal under state law.

Keep an eye on NTU.org for additional analysis and commentary on 2013 ballot measures.