Winners and Losers Among Ballot Propositions Affecting Taxes

Voters approved 141 of the 205 initiatives and referendums on the ballots of 37 states in Tuesday’s election, rejecting only 59, according to iandrinstitute.org’s Ballotwatch. Five measures, including Arizona’s controversial cap on property tax increases, remain to be decided. Among the tax proposals AccountingWEB reviewed in Spending Caps, Tax Measures on Ballot in Many States, most property relief measures were approved, but voters rejected all three Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) initiatives and were divided on personal exemption measures. Proposals to ban gay marriage, protect property rights and increase the minimum wage were also successful.


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Homestead exemptions for persons over 65 were approved in Tennessee through a constitutional amendment and in Georgia in a less binding question format. Virginians approved tax breaks for new structures in developing areas. The limit on increases in property tax assessments passed in South Carolina, and voters in New Jersey approved the state legislature’s decision to use 50 percent of a one percent increase in the state’s sales tax for property relief.

A measure in South Dakota that would have limited property tax increases to 3 percent a year was defeated, according to ballotwatch on iandrinstitute.org.

Proposition 41 in Oregon, which would have given taxpayers a choice in the way they calculated their personal exemption, was also defeated.

A Washington measure that authorizes increases in property tax exemptions was successful, iandrinstitute.org says.

“Voters seemed to be in a fiscally expansive mood, rejected tax and spending limits, and approving huge amounts of borrowing,” iandrinstitute.org says. TABOR propositions, in Maine, Oregon and Nebraska were all defeated.

Karen Jackson of Scarborough, Maine, said she was torn over the spending-limit referendum that was Question 1 on the state ballot. "Both sides are credible," said Jackson, according to the Portland Press Herald. "So it was a tough decision but very important. I was on the fence when I was in there."

Jackson was among many voters who identified the TABOR referendum to cap spending increases as one of the biggest motivators in Tuesday's election, though others cited the war in Iraq or local referendums as their biggest issues, the Herald says.

Eminent domain measures, reflecting widespread disapproval of the 2005 Supreme Court ruling, upheld in 2006, that allowed the city of New London, Connecticut, to buy up homes to make way for commercial development, were successful in nine states, losing in California and Idaho. Seven states approved constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, bringing the total number of states with similar laws to 23.

All six ballot propositions to raise the minimum wage were successful, increasing the wage from the federal minimum level of $5.15 to $6.15 in Montana and Nevada, $6.50 in Missouri, $6.75 in Arizona and $6.85 in Ohio, Nasdaq.com says. The newly elected Democratic Congress has pledged to raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 in their first 100 hours in office.

An increase in the cigarette tax was approved in South Dakota but failed in California and Missouri. Smoking bans were approved in Arizona and Ohio, and a modified ban was approved in Nevada. Smoking is still permitted in stand-alone bars and gaming areas of casinos in that state, stateline.org reports.

The ballot proposition process differs by state, with 24 states permitting popular initiatives, when people may collect signatures to put specific issues or specific legislation on the ballot for voter approval. Legislative referendum is permitted in all states on constitutional amendments, statutes, and bond issues, either because it is required by the state’s constitution or because the legislature or other government body chooses to put the measure on the ballot, according to ballotwatch on iandrinstitute.org. Only 43 percent of the citizen initiatives were successful on Tuesday, compared to 70 percent of the legislative referendum questions.

Not all states require that statutes be put on the ballot, but every state requires that constitutional amendments be submitted to the voters.

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