Voters made it more difficult for legislatures to pass tax increases, but in some states they voted yes to spending programs with rich price tags yet no revenue stream, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“The electorate took strong stands on fiscal issues,” said Jennie Drage Bowser, NCSL’s ballot measure expert in a statement. “In some cases, though, the messages were mixed.”
However, California passed a new measure that may put its finances in further jeopardy--in fact, it puts the entire state deeper into Alice in Wonderland accounting. That's dangerous for a state which economists and analysts believe could be the first to experience a severe fiscal crisis.
State voters backed Proposition 25, whereby a simple 50% majority, not two-thirds, of the state legislature must vote in favor of the state's budget in order for it to pass. Democrats hold more than 60% of the legislative seats, so that means they can now pass spending plans with abandon and without any GOP votes. However, tax hikes still require a two-thirds majority vote.
In separate actions, California voters restricted the legislature from taking local funds from transportation programs and from taking local property taxes to balance their budgets, NCSL adds.
San Francisco voters rejected a controversial proposal to make city workers pay more for their health care and pensions in order to cut their growing impact on the city's budget. The measure could have saved the city $120 million annually, but city public employee unions successfully waged a fierce campaign to defeat it. "The Left Coast is working on becoming America's Greece," says economist Ed Yardeni.
Voters in Washington rejected a plan to raise $11.2 billion in revenue over the next five years and also required the legislature to have a two-thirds, rather than a simple majority, to approve tax increases, NCSL says. Two thirds of state voters there sent a strong anti-tax message to Washington, rejecting a new state income tax on the richest 1% of voters that was backed by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, who spent $600,000 of his own money on the campaign for the new tax. The income tax would have been the first ever in the state, and would have slapped a 5% tax on earnings over $200,000. Washington is still one of only 7 states without a state income tax. Washington voters also repealed tax increases approved by the legislature in 2009.
Other successful ballot measures will strain state budgets. Florida voters said no to larger class size requirements. Keeping the state’s strict class-size requirements is expected to cost the state $40 billion over the next 10 years.
Oregon voters approved a new mandatory minimum sentencing law that will cost $1.4 million the first year and grow to an estimated $29.1 million in the fourth year. No revenue stream is provided by the new measure, NCSL says.
In other states, voters took a different tack. Colorado voters rejected three measures that would have prohibited state borrowing and required the state to spend 99% of its general fund on K-12 education. Massachusetts rejected a sales tax cut that would have eliminated $2.5 billion in state revenues.
Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah all rejected union card check measures, preserving the right of workers to vote to unionize in secret ballots.
In other ballot news:
•Measures to legalize marijuana went up in smoke in California, Oregon, South Dakota.
•Measures to block federal health care reforms were approved in Arizona and Oklahoma but rejected in Colorado.
•Maryland voters approved a constitutional convention, becoming the first state to do so since Rhode Island held one in 1985 and 1986.
•Oklahoma approved making English the official language and prohibited courts from using Sharia law and international law in making decisions.
•California voters rejected Proposition 23, which would have suspended state clean air laws until unemployment dropped to 5.5 percent.
•Illinois passed a process for recalling the governor.
•Vermont will now allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election.
•Michigan and North Carolina voters approved measures to ban felons in public offices.