Voters Reject Spending Caps

Published January 1, 2007

Voters in Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon unequivocally rejected proposals on their November 7 ballots to restrict growth in state government spending.

By varying margins, residents of those three states cast their ballots against initiatives that would have limited annual state spending increases to the rate of inflation plus increases in state population, a formula known as P+I.

While disappointed by the results, backers of the ballot measures vowed to refine their approach and renew efforts to bring fiscal restraint to their state governments.

Trounced in Nebraska, Oregon

Matt Evans, spokesperson for Oregon’s Rainy Day Amendment Committee, partially attributes his measure’s 70 percent to 30 percent drubbing at the polls to the general political climate of the 2006 election.

“There will be more analysis on this later, but I believe conservative Republicans stayed home in large numbers,” Evans said.

In addition, Evans conceded the campaign didn’t fully succeed at getting its message across to voters.

“Even if these folks had turned out, I do not believe this would have delivered us the election because in general we did not do a good job of connecting with fiscal conservatives on the measure,” Evans said.

Nebraska’s spending cap also lost by a 70 percent to 30 percent vote.

“I think there’s a number of Nebraskans that don’t realize how serious the problem is,” prominent spending-cap supporter Dave Nabity, an Omaha businessman, told the Associated Press. “I think voters, unfortunately, bought the scare tactics.”

Tightest Race in Maine

Advocates of fiscal restraint made a harder fight of it in Maine, where the proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) failed by 54 percent to 46 percent.

The close margin in Maine has energized supporters of the spending cap, who are already planning to place a similar measure on the 2008 ballot. In the meantime, they will lobby state officials in hopes of achieving their goals through legislative means.

“We need to remember that it took three turns for TABOR to pass in Colorado,” Bill Becker, president of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, told the Portland Press Herald. Colorado voters enacted their state’s spending lid in 1992 after rejecting it in 1988 and 1990.

Outspent 5 to 1

Maine’s spending cap supporters were outspent five to one by opponents of the measure.

The National Education Association teachers union alone contributed about half of the $2 million used to defeat TABOR. The Maine Education Association and Maine Municipal Association also led the campaign against spending limits.

The heavy labor presence among spending-cap opponents was felt across the country.

The list of supporters of Nebraskans Against 423, the anti-spending cap coalition, was heavy with groups such as the Nebraska AFL-CIO and Nebraska Association of Public Employees.

Government Unions Biggest Opponents

The story was the same in Oregon.

“About 90 percent of the money spent against Measure 48 came from the government employee unions,” said Evans. “Another 6 or 7 percent came from businesses seeking to protect tax breaks or other favors they receive from government.”

Like their counterparts in Maine, Oregon activists plan to try again.

“While it’s always better to win than lose,” said Evans, “we did find that there are more than 165,000 Oregonians whom we can count on to sign petitions for fiscal responsibility measures, to circulate those petitions, to contribute money to our future campaigns, to knock on doors, and make phone calls.

“There are an additional 200,000 people who will vote for such measures. We will work to consolidate those gains and build on them for future elections,” Evans pledged.

J.D. Tuccille ([email protected]) is a communications consultant for Americans for Limited Government.