It’s the silly season in politics, that special time when politicians pretend they like us better than the special interests that fund their campaigns. They bombard us with bold and expansive promises of their incredible abilities; they pledge their future fidelity to principle. From bitter experience, oft repeated, we know those promises tend to evaporate faster than warm spit on an August sidewalk.
Regardless of what happens in the presidential race or in the pitched battle for control of the U.S. Senate (and possibly even the U.S. House of Representatives), voters will also be deciding 157 ballot issues in 34 states this November. As Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, once quipped, “One big difference between initiatives and elected representatives is that initiatives do not change their minds once you vote them in.”
Here are this year’s top ten ballot measures most critical to conservatives and libertarians:
10. Voter ID. In Minnesota, after statutes passed by the Republican legislature requiring voters to show identification at the polls were vetoed by the Democratic governor, the legislature placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to enact or reject. If a voter ID law is endorsed by voters in a traditionally deep blue state such as Minnesota, it could provide momentum for efforts in other states.
9. Don’t Steal My Home. Virginia’s Question 1 is a constitutional amendment reforming eminent domain, the taking of property (with supposedly “just” compensation) for public use, which has degenerated into stealing people’s homes and businesses for whatever scheme politicians and developers can dream up. The amendment would specifically prohibit eminent domain use for job creation, tax revenue generation or so-called “economic development.”
My support for Question 1 is further bolstered by the opposition of two prominent slush-funds for big-government politics: the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League. The municipal league argues that the measure “will harm Virginia’s citizens by severely limiting the ability of local governments and the state to carry out projects that help improve life for the commonwealth’s population . . .”
Knowing the success with their previous schemes to “improve” our lives, I sure hope so.
8. Same-Sex Marriage. Four blue states — Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington — have ballot measures on gay marriage, an issue that tends to split conservatives and libertarians.
Mainers will decide the fate of an initiative to legalize same-sex marriage, reversing a 2009 initiative banning it. Maryland voters face a referendum to overturn legislation legalizing gay marriage. Minnesota’s Republican-controlled legislature placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot that will ban same-sex marriage. Once again, Washington state’s ballot contains a same-sex issue, a referendum to overturn legislation allowing gay marriage.
Same-sex marriage is 0-32, thus far, losing every ballot proposition voters have decided, including California’s Prop 8 in 2008. Meanwhile, national polls show the issue gaining a majority and current polls in these four states show majority support for gay marriage in three. Will this November finally bring a popular victory gay marriage or will opponents rally even in these Democratic-leaning states to maintain their perfect record at the ballot box?
7. Nebraska Monkey Business. Legislators in the nation’s lone unicameral state have designed their own Cornhusker kick-backs by placing constitutional amendments 3 and 4 on the ballot. Accordingly, voters need to give them a healthy dose of democratic medicine.
Amendment 3 would weaken the state’s legislative term limits, giving politicians an extra term, allowing them to serve 50 percent longer, 12 years instead of the current 8 year limit. How self-serving can they get? Read on.
Amendment 4 rewards legislators with a whopping 167 percent pay raise, costing the state roughly a million more dollars every year. The best use of a million dollars? Nebraska’s legislators think so.
6. Renewable Energy. Michigan’s Prop 1 is a constitutional amendment mandating that by 2025 at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity must come from renewable sources. Similar measures have passed in California and Missouri.
Since so-called “clean” energy is far more expensive, these measures threaten to significantly hike the price people pay for electricity — a really neat and worthwhile commodity. This Proposition counters that problem by capping future price increases at one percent per year, at least those due to the forced use of renewable energy. But that doesn’t solve the problem, it simply attempts to squeeze the utilities providing electricity.
If this proposition wins, I predict the law will be repealed or struck down in court before 2025 when the 25 percent requirement must be met.
5. Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Amendment 3 in Florida was referred by the legislature as a more stringent limit on state spending growth. The measure is similar to Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, passed by initiative in 1992, which limits state spending growth to the yearly increase of population plus inflation.
While Colorado’s measure can only be overridden by voters, Florida’s legislature can undo Amendment 3 with a supermajority vote, so it may not provide enough restraint. Still, if the 60 percent vote needed to pass an amendment in Florida can be achieved, it will be a tremendous spur to efforts in other states to rein in out-of-control government spending with similar caps controlled by voters.
4. Protect Our Jobs. Or, more accurately, protect our unions. In the aftermath of the failed recall against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Indiana’s legislature passing Right-to-Work, Michigan unions have gone on offense, seeking to enshrine the right to collective bargaining for public and private workers into the state’s constitution via Prop 3.
The state’s Republican attorney general says the implications of the amendment, , affecting 18 parts of the state constitution and 170 separate laws, are so far-reaching that it would be impossible to summarize them all in the 100 words permitted for the explanation on the ballot.
A defeat may encourage an effort to enact right-to-work in Michigan. A win might convince organized labor to attempt similar initiatives in other states.
3. Tax Increases. In California, it seems nearly everyone has his or her own tax increase on the ballot. Governor Jerry Brown organized his own, Proposition 30, an initiative effort to raise taxes by $9 billion. So did Molly Munger, who has contributed nearly $19 million to Proposition 38, an income tax increase to support public education with an additional $10 billion in yearly revenue. Then, there’s Thomas Steyer, who has invested $22 million in Proposition 39, which would tax multi-state businesses based on the percentage of their sales coming from California.
What deep blue Californians decide on higher taxes will be noticed all across the nation.
Similarly, solidly red states Arkansas and South Dakota have sales tax increases on the ballot. Arkansas also has a ballot measure to increase the tax on diesel fuel. If these taxes are enacted by more conservative voters, expect more such efforts on state ballots.
2. Paycheck Protection. California’s Proposition 32, as its official ballot title reads, “Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Applies same use prohibition to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Prohibits union and corporate contributions to candidates and their committees. Prohibits government contractor contributions to elected officers or their committees.”
Prop 32 is being pushed as an anti-special interest measure, reining in both corporate and union influence, but its biggest impact will be in preventing the odd practice of allowing unions to deduct union dues used for political activity directly from workers’ paychecks. Unions don’t want to have to collect that money on their own, knowing they won’t get it all if the transaction tracks more voluntarily.
Prop 32 has already been pushed off the ballot on which it was originally scheduled to appear, because union-dominated legislative Democrats feared they could not defeat the issue on the primary ballot, which skews more Republican. The big labor opponents have raised $28 million to fight Prop 32, but even with a solid financial advantage and a general election with more Democrats turning out, they may not be able to defeat the idea.
1. Two-Thirds Vote to Raise Taxes. Michigan’s Prop 5 would require state legislators to muster a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber to raise taxes or send any tax hike to the voters for their express approval. It is a simple but solid idea, requiring some degree of consensus from legislators before they pick our pockets, or better yet, getting the consent of the governed, those paying the bills.
There will be a ferocious campaign against several harmful measures on Michigan’s ballot (two noted above), but if among all the No votes on those propositions, Prop 5 can get a majority to say Yes, it’ll be the best thing that’s happened to Michigan in quite some time.
Washington state’s tax-fighting initiative guru Tim Eyman has placed a statutory measure, Initiative 1185, which would install the same two-thirds requirement being proposed in Michigan. Or more accurately, re-installing that requirement. Eyman proposed I-1053 two years ago, winning 64 percent of the vote to establish the two-thirds of the legislature or “vote of the people” mandate for any tax increase. He’d passed the same measure years before that as well.
But Washington voters cannot amend the state’s constitution by citizen initiative, only through the legislature. And the legislature can, after two years, repeal or amend any initiative passed by voters. In fact, that’s precisely what Evergreen State solons have done in the past: overrule the people by repealing their vote. If Eyman’s initiative wins this November, the taxpayers are safe from their own representatives for another two years, at least.
This November, in 34 states, voters can do more than pick between promises, they can be the lawmakers, enacting or rejecting more than 150 laws. Vote well, my friends. By which I mean: Do better than our politicians, use your common sense.