Diary

Ballot Initiatives This Year

Starting out west, these are the ballot initiatives this year.

Washington:  There are six ballot questions in Washington.  The first is Initiative 1366 which would decrease the state sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5% unless the legislature refers a referendum in 2016 requiring a legislative two-thirds majority to increase any taxes.  This stems from a state supreme court ruling which invalidated a previous two-thirds majority vote to increase taxes.  If the legislature does not refer amending the state constitution, then the sales tax decrease would automatically go into effect and is estimated to cost the state $1 billion in annual revenue.  It is a unique method of forcing the hand of the legislature.  Initiative 1401 would increase the penalties for trafficking in certain endangered animal species products.  Perhaps the one disturbing aspect is that state officials would be permitted to seize such products without a warrant and dispose of them to scientific or educational institutions.  The other four questions are advisory in nature and involve (1) an oil spill response tax, (2) fees charged to marijuana users, (3) maintaining a gas tax, and (4) maintaining or removing special tax treatment for certain manufacturers.

If I was a voter in Washington, then “YES” to 1366 and “NO” to 1401 (given the warrantless seizures, not because I don’t care about trafficking in endangered species).

Colorado: On the ballot is a question that would allow the state to avoid a TABOR (Tax Payer Bill of Rights) refund on excess taxes collected on legal marijuana sales.  Under Colorado law, any amount collected over the budget estimations must be refunded.  If approved, instead of refunding the money, the state would be allowed to keep $58 million in revenue with $40 million going to schools, $12 million to drug education programs, and $6 million remaining in the general fund.  One has to question: who gets the refund- all Colorado residents, or just those buyers and sellers of marijuana?  The answer: $13.3 million through a reduction in the marijuana sales tax for a specified window of time, $19.7 million to marijuana growers, and the remainder to a refund in the state sales and use tax.

TEXAS:  Never one to disappoint, Texas has seven questions.  Question 1 would increase the homestead exemption amount from $15,000 to $25,000 thus costing school districts revenue.  However, the state would step in to fill those gaps.  Question 2 exempts from property taxes surviving spouses of totally disabled veterans.  The requirement that certain executive positions reside in Austin while in office would be rescinded if Question 3 is approved.  Question 4 would allow charitable foundations associated with professional sports teams to conduct raffles while Question 5 would allow counties with fewer than 7,500 residents perform private road construction and maintenance.  Proposition 6 would establish a right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife and #7 would allocate a portion of the sales tax to the state highway fund.

MISSISSIPPI: For the first time in their history, Mississippi confronts its voters with competing ballot questions.  Initiative 42 would require the state to maintain and support “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.”  It would also empower the state’s Chancery Division courts to enforce it.  The alternative would require the legislature to do the same but cuts out the judiciary.

If I were a voter, being all to familiar with the havoc courts can wreak in this area living in New Jersey, I would choose the alternative.

OHIO:  Ohio brings us three quite interesting ballot questions.  Issue #1 would create a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw state legislative districts.  Now that the practice has been upheld by the Supreme Court last term in a case from Arizona (and a very broad reading of the word “legislature”), Ohio voters are faced with this question.  Such commissions exist elsewhere and if anyone is under the delusion that they somehow reduce gerrymandering, they are mistaken.  Question #2 is in response to #3 so let’s start with the latter and its a doozy.  Question 3 would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state.  Obviously seeing dollar signs in the slit red eyes of pot heads, the state hopes to jump on the marijuana legalization bandwagon.  Under the proposal, there would be ten legal pot cultivators in the state.  Which brings us back to question 2 which would require the Ohio Ballot Board to determine if any ballot initiative would create an economic monopoly.  The Ballot Board would then refer a future ballot question to the voters if they determine an economic monopoly would be created by marijuana growers.  In other words, this ballot question would require the creation of further ballot questions.  At this rate, pot heads in Ohio (and neighboring states) will likely see legal marijuana some time in 2030!  Of course having only ten growers would create a monopoly of ten.

MAINE:  There are two bond questions on the ballot- one for $15 million for low-income senior housing construction and one for $85 million for transportation projects.  Question 1 would strengthen the state’s Clean Elections Law by increasing penalties for state campaign finance law violations.  It would also require that all advertisements and communications contain the top three donors.  This is simply a mini-DISCLOSE Act.  As for the bond questions, Maine annually places these questions on their ballot and they annually pass.  Since just 2010, Maine voters have approved 17 of 18 bond proposals totaling $364 million.  So what’s another $100 million this year- a slow year for Maine ballot questions.

So there you have this year’s summary of state ballot questions.  Happy voting!!!