(Alexandria, VA) -- Despite the GOP's loss of the House, Democratic gains in the Senate and the defeat of several tax limitation measures on state ballots, most Americans who went to the polls yesterday voted to keep their pocketbooks closed, according to a post-election survey by the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU).
"The 2006 election did not give a boost to bigger government, and in many cases it delivered a strong message for limited and accountable government," said NTU President John Berthoud. "Had Americans been able to use the write-in options for instructing candidates as well as casting votes for them, ballot-counters across the country would be seeing the same words over and over again: don't raise taxes, get a handle on the budget, stay out of trouble, and keep your hands off our property."
Berthoud noted that the Congressional election results were influenced as much about those who didn't vote as those who did. Using the NTU Rating of Congress, which is based on every roll call vote affecting federal spending, taxes, debt, and regulation, his research found that GOP candidates who strayed from the principles of fiscal conservatism were more likely to alienate their base and be defeated:
- Of the 20 Republican House Members who were ousted from their seats, just 2 were recipients of NTU's "Taxpayers' Friend Award" in 2005 for attaining a Rating score of at least 70 percent.
- The remaining 17 losing incumbents posted an average NTU Rating of just 56 percent last year, several points below the overall average for the GOP.
- The six Republican Senators who were defeated by and large did not compile very good records on taxpayer issues. The losing six on average scored 59 percent in NTU's Rating in 2005. The rest of the Senate Republican caucus averaged 70 percent. Only one of the defeated Senators (George Allen) scored higher than the average for the entire caucus.
Several gubernatorial races also appeared to be at least partially influenced by taxpayer issues. Governorships in Arkansas and Ohio swung to Democrats after the Republicans who previously held the offices lost credibility with their own voters by proposing tax increases. Republican Governors in South Carolina and Minnesota who practiced tough fiscal restraint won reelection, as did the somewhat more moderate Democrats in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Tennessee (all of whom professed varying degrees of concern for cutting taxes or controlling spending).
Some of the most important election outcomes involved ballot measures rather than candidates. This year saw nearly 100 proposals pertaining to fiscal and government reform issues. "A shallow reading of the election results would indicate that voters were more liberal this year -- by approving minimum wage hikes in all six states proposing them, and by turning down expenditure limits in Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon," Berthoud said. "A deeper examination, however, shows that voters were skeptical of most tax hike schemes and were concerned about taxes and regulations on their property." Among the highlights of NTU's review of 2006 ballot measure contests:
- Comprehensive approaches to limiting government spending growth to inflation and population increases failed at the polls in Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon. However, the percentage of defeat in Maine is smaller than the rate for a property tax limit that failed in 2004, suggesting that voters there are warming to the idea of tax and spending caps. Past history shows that such proposals must often take several trips to the polls before being ratified (both Proposition 13 in California and Amendment 1 in Colorado did).
- Proposals aimed at property taxes coasted to victory. In South Carolina, voters gave the nod to a plan that will limit the rise in taxable property values, while Arizonans and residents of Nashville, Tennessee approved laws protecting or requiring future public referendums for certain property tax hikes. Louisianans opted to remove municipalities' authority to levy property taxes on motor vehicles, and Washingtonians expanded the exemption level for personal property taxes. A modest New Jersey ballot measure that could allow at least some property tax relief passed, as did various new or increased exemptions for homeowners in several other states, including Florida and Louisiana.
- Property rights measures did well at the polls, with 9 out of 11 possible states adopting new protections against eminent domain abuse. In the wake of last year's Kelo v. New London decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, states and localities have been emboldened to seize private property for purposes of economic development rather than public uses (such as roads and schools). This issue is of a special fiscal concern because many of the projects that eminent domain enables are taxpayer-subsidized sports stadiums, shopping malls, and private housing complexes.
- Voters were generally in no mood to rubber-stamp tax increases. Californians rejected a $4 billion tax hike on oil production in the state (a proposal once considered a slam-dunk for passage), and nixed a higher business tax earmarked for publicly-funded campaigns. Tobacco tax hikes, often a weapon of first resort to would-be revenue raisers, did not receive blanket approval -- such proposals were defeated in California and Missouri, while they were enacted in Arizona and South Dakota.
- Even the so-called politically safe topic of increased education budgets did not push citizens into backing higher taxes. Idahoans said no to a one-cent rise in the sales tax earmarked for education, while Californians gave a collective thumbs-down to a new per-parcel property tax. A Michigan scheme to guarantee a minimum level of school funding that would go up with inflation lost by a wide margin.
- In a reflection of recent federal-level scandals, restrictions on pay and perks for politicians proved popular. Although term limits in Colorado and Oregon did not succeed, Missourians adopted a Constitutional Amendment to deny pensions to politicians removed from office, and Oklahomans chose to bar state pay for legislators convicted of a crime. A pay raise for state lawmakers was nixed in Arizona, and South Dakota's voters put a ban on the use of official state aircraft for personal travel.
Returning to the national level, Berthoud observed that the new House majority will not necessarily make up a monolithic consensus for bigger government. A significant number of Democrats who took over Republican-held seats had a more moderate stance on fiscal issues than the party's national leadership. For example, at least five winners (Ellsworth-IN, Giffords-AZ, Hill-IN, Mitchell-AZ, and Sestak-PA) have publicly pledged support for either holding the line on tax increases or putting a lid on budget growth.
"A fairly good case can be made that the story of Election 2006 is more about poorly-led House Republicans losing than Democrats winning," Berthoud concluded. "This is especially true when viewed alongside the state and local ballot measure results, which show that voters don't long for a return to the tax-and-spend mindset. Americans would likely cheer Bill Clinton's statement in 1996 that the era of big government is over, but 10 years later they're still waiting for the political establishment to act that way."
NTU is a non-profit, non-partisan citizen group working for lower taxes and smaller government at all levels. Note: NTU's Ballot Measure Guide, as well as the NTU Congressional Candidate Survey, is available at www.ntu.org.