Even though the public still has to wait for the official results for which party controls the White House and the Congress, thankfully, we do know the results of many important measures that were on the November ballot across dozens of states. Certainly, the results of the presidential election are important, but we shouldn’t let the media completely overshadow the measures that most directly affect your wallet and daily life. In fact, this year we calculated voters in 37 states voted on at least 2,400 tax and fiscal-related measures.
After analyzing tens of thousands of sample ballots supplied by secretaries of state offices, county election officials, and publicly accessible website data, we estimate voters decided on ballot measures that totaled at least $24.769 billion in annual tax increases or extensions. Of this amount, $14.643 billion was from higher property taxes, $6.2 billion from higher income and payroll tax rates, $1.65 billion from higher sales tax rates, and billions more from other sources. There were also hundreds of measures to issue a combined $50.2 billion in bonds, higher debt obligations that could affect taxpayers for decades.
Here's a look at how some of these measures fared on election day:
Income and Payroll Taxes: In Illinois, voters defeated a $3.6 billion tax increase which would have scrapped the flat income tax rate in favor of a progressive income tax structure with higher rates. Colorado voters approved a $156 million income tax cut but approved a $1.34 billion payroll hike to fund paid leave. In Arizona, a ballot measure to substantially increase income tax rates looks headed for victory, this is a $827 million tax hike. In Portland, Oregon, voters defeated a big payroll tax but approved a $137 million income tax on high-income earners.
Labor: In Florida, voters approved a constitutional amendment that gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026. In California, voters approved common sense changes that would benefit gig workers and independent contractors who drive for rideshare services.
Sales Taxes: Arkansas voters made permanent a 0.5 percentage point sales tax rate, which translates to a $200 million annual tax increase. Locally, voters in dozens of states approved more than $1 billion in higher sales tax rates or extensions.
Housing and Property Taxes: Voters in California defeated a $12.5 billion tax increase on commercial properties as well as a measure to allow cities to institute rent controls. Also in California, voters approved almost $300 million in new real estate transfer taxes. Around the nation, voters approved more than $1.2 billion in higher property taxes.
Business Measures: In Nebraska, voters approved a measure to place a price control on the amount of interest short-term lenders can charge borrowers. In San Francisco, voters approved $250 million in higher taxes on businesses. In St. Louis, Missouri, a new gross receipts tax on telecommunications was defeated. In Alaska, a new $1.1 billion tax increase on oil extraction appears headed for defeat.
While NTU is not able to calculate the results for every single local measure, we point to the fact that at least $18 billion out of the $25 billion in tax increases on the ballot were defeated. Though many votes still remain to be counted, it looks as though the majority of taxes were handily voted down by our nation’s taxpayers.
Unfortunately, by our calculations, there were at least 1,248 measures that provided no information on how much revenue they will raise annually. That means when taxpayers went to fill in their ballots, they were kept in the dark on the tax implications of their vote.
Public officials have a responsibility to provide voters with as much information as possible to ensure a well-informed electorate. States should look to Colorado, Idaho, and California as the standard for transparency in election information. With the start of 2021 state legislative sessions just a few months away, state lawmakers across the country can and should make reasonable adjustments to election laws for 2021 ballot measures so their constituents can make better-informed decisions in the future.