December 2015 Brief: Volume 22, Number 35
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Tax Issues on the Ballot Around the U.S.
by Amy K. Frantz
In the November 3, 2015, election, voters in a few states were able to consider tax-related measures on the ballot. For supporters of lower taxes and limited government the results were somewhat mixed.
In Washington State voters approved I-1366, an initiative statute, to reduce that state’s sales tax from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent unless the Legislature places an amendment on a future ballot to require a two-thirds approval by the Legislature to increase taxes. In Washington only the Legislature can place a measure on the ballot to amend the state’s Constitution; citizens can only petition to place statutes on the ballot. Several times in the past voters have approved the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement as a statute, however, each time the Legislature has simply repealed the statute and gone ahead and raised taxes with a simple majority vote. Citizen supporters decided to try a different method to make the two-thirds supermajority vote requirement binding on the Legislature with I-1366; however, it is certain that this measure will be tied up in court challenges for some time.
Washington voters also considered four Advisory Votes, in which the Legislature asks voters to advise whether some recent tax hikes should be maintained or repealed. Voters recommended maintaining a tax on crude oil or petroleum products transported by railroad and a medical marijuana sales tax, but supported the repeal of additional taxes on motor vehicles and special fuels by a vote of 65 percent. These Advisory Votes are non-binding, so it is unlikely, given its history of ignoring citizen votes on taxes, that the Legislature will actually repeal the fuel tax increase.
In Ohio, the main issue on the ballot was the legalization of marijuana, which was rejected by voters, in part perhaps because the measure also granted a monopoly right to supply the drug to owners of specific parcels of land. A companion measure was placed on the ballot that would prohibit initiatives that grant monopolies to specific individuals or organizations, which was approved by voters. However there is some controversy with this initiative and the impact it may have in the future on other tax issues on the ballot.
The Editorial Board of the Cincinnati Enquirer shared its concerns when it recommended a no vote on Issue 2, the measure prohibiting the granting of monopolies:
Colorado voters approved Proposition BB to allow the state to spend the $66 million in tax revenue raised from the sale of recreational marijuana. The Council on State Taxation reports:
Finally, in Texas, voters overwhelmingly approved measures to amend the Texas Constitution to increase the exemption from public school property taxes, increase the tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran, and to dedicate some sales and car tax revenue to fund road projects. Each of these measures was approved with more than 80 percent support.
These were just a few of the ballot measures considered by voters in several states around the United States in November. Taxpayers will benefit from some of these measures, while other measures will have an adverse impact on the taxpaying citizens in those states.
Amy K. Frantz is Vice President with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact her at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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