The outcomes of local and statewide tax and spending initiatives on ballots across the country in November sent a strong message to policymakers: People want limited government.
The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) examined the results of the state-level ballot contests and identified several trends. Overall, voters across the United States rejected tax increases, frequently embraced tax limits, and overwhelmingly approved government accountability measures.
“If one word could sum up voters’ decisions on fiscal-policy issues in the 2010 election, more often than not it would be, ‘enough’,” said NTU State Government Affairs Manager John Stephenson. “Most taxpayers cast their ballots to tell government it already has enough tax, spending, and regulatory power … and, in many cases, too much.”
In October, NTU released its 2010 General Election Ballot Guide: The Taxpayer’s Perspective, which examined hundreds of ballot questions. A sampling of those measures and their outcomes is highlighted below:
- In Washington State, voters overwhelmingly rejected—by a 2 to 1 margin—Initiative 1098, an attempt to levy a statewide income tax, initially limited to upper-income residents. Washington State voters 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.
- Voters in Missouri strongly approved (by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin) a proposal to prevent localities from imposing additional taxes on earnings, while requiring referenda on those levies where they currently exist.
- Although Colorado rejected measures to cut taxes and restrict government debt, other traditionally more liberal states saw approval of some ballot initiatives limiting government’s reach. For example, Californians 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 to ease the state’s taxes on alcoholic beverages.
- Advisory measures on federal policies fared well. By a 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 “healthcare choice” referenda opposing the new federal healthcare law, while 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 were offered: Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.
- Measures in several states made major positive changes to budget structures. Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia will be required to beef up their “rainy day fund” reserves. Voters in numerous Wisconsin counties advised the state to stop siphoning off transportation tax collections to unrelated programs or purposes. In Illinois, citizens approved many local referenda, including 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, Indiana voters adopted constitutional caps on property levies. Missourians banned real estate transfer taxes, and voters in Montana prohibited the imposition of new ones. Many states, such as Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia, approved small measures for targeted property tax relief.
“Those still wondering about how the election results will shape our nation’s future course should look to the outcomes of state ballot initiatives for their answers,” Stephenson said. “There they will find that in numerous places and cases, taxpayers resisted bigger government and even welcomed the chance to limit its reach.”
Rachael Slobodien ([email protected]) is communications manager at the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Virginia.
Detailed analysis of ballot measures by the National Taxpayers Union: http://www.ntu.org/news-and-issues/state-issues/ballot-measures/results.html