Ballot Initiatives 2008

Ballot Initiatives 2008

This Dispatch is a roundup of what ballot initiatives will appear on state ballots across the country this November.  Whether it's workers rights, energy policy, education, transit, abortion or health care, ballot initiates give voters a chance to directly vote on an issue. 

We lead off outlining what began as a nearly epic clash between labor and business groups in Colorado, but has recently just resolved itself into a united front to oppose three fringe anti-union initiatives in that state.  We then take a tour of other initiatives appearing this fall.  Our roundup is deeply in debt to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), which is an invaluable resource to progressive groups across the country promoting positive initiatives and seeking help in defeating initiatives promoted by the rightwing. 

Colorado: An Initiative Clash Ends in Labor-Business Alliance

In Colorado, labor unions and their allies faced an ideological assault by rightwing business leaders pushing three initiatives (47, 49 and 54) aimed at diminishing workers rights in the state:  

  • Measure 47 would turn Colorado into a "right to work" state where non-union members would be able to receive union-negotiated benefits without paying their share of costs in negotiating those contracts.
  • Measure 49, what opponents call a Paycheck Deception bill, would prevent public employees from having union dues or even contributions to the United Way deducted automatically from their paychecks, an attempt to cripple union funding.
  • Measure 54 purports to be an anti-corruption measure to stop political contributions from government contractors, but its deceptive fine print defines all public employee unions as "contractors" and thus barred from participation in the political process,

In response, labor unions in the state filed their own set of pro-worker and corporate accountability initiatives, including a requirement that Colorado employers show "just cause" before firing employees (as we discussed a few weeks ago here ).

The result were negotiations between Colorado unions and the mainstream business community that led late last week to an agreement by the unions to drop their initiatives, in exchange for 75 top Colorado executives agreeing  to oppose the anti-union initiatives.  As part of the agreement the Colorado executives will raise $3 million to contribute to the campaign to defeat anti-union initiatives.

Anti-Worker Initiatives in Other States:  A Paycheck Deception  initiative, similar to Colorado's Measure 49,  is also on the ballot in Oregon as Measure 64.  South Dakota's Measure 10 combines Colorado's Measure's 49 and 54 in an attempt to politically silence worker voices throughout that state as well. 

Even in the midst of the subprime credit meltdown, unsavory financial institutions in Ohio and Arizona have mobilized to repeal limits on the interest rates charged by payday lenders in those states.  

Taxes and Health Care

After the meltdown of anti-tax initiatives across the country in 2006, there are fewer on this year's ballot, but a number could still wreck havoc in those states:

  • Topping the list is Massachusetts' Question 1, which would elminate the state's income tax-- 40% of the state's budget or $12 billion -- and shift the remaining tax burden overwhelmingly on to poor and working families.    Voters rejected a similiar measure in 2002 and a massive coalition of community, labor and business groups are opposing it.
  • In North Dakota, Americans for Prosperity, a political arm of the rightwing Koch Industries -- an oil, chemical and mining corporation -- are promoting too measures to decimate state spending--  Measure 2, which would cut the state's income tax by 50%  and Measure 1, a constitutional initiative to lock up oil and gas taxes in a complicated scheme to make it nearly impossible to use the funds for needed state investments.  
  • In Oregon, perennial rightwing anti-tax campaigner Bill Sizemore (who has been found guilty of racketeering for illegal actions in past campaigns), put Measure 59 on the ballot to created an unlimited deduction for federal income taxes-- a measure that would deliver a $15,809 tax cut to the wealthiest Oregonian and less than $1 to 75 percent of Oregonians.  Conservative activist Bill Sizemore, who is funding this and other iniatives, might be in contempt for violating an injunction against certain campaign activities and for gaining $855,000 from wealthy financiers of his initiatives.

Beyond cutting immediate taxes, Arizona's Proposition 105 would require a majority of registered voters to approve future ballot initiatives to raise state taxes or fees, meaning every non-voter would count as a no vote, making it nearly impossible to use initiatives to raise state revenue.

On the positive side, Colorado is considering their own Amendment 59, which would further fix problems with the state's TABOR tax limitation system by creating a SAFE (Saving Account for Education) which would create a permanent fund to prevent cuts in education during recessions. Further, Oregon's Ballot Measure 56 seeks to repeal a double-majority requirement for local property tax increases previously enacted in that state.

Health Care:  In Maine, business lobbyists are seeking to repeal modest taxes on beer, wine and soft drink syrup that were enacted to help fund the state's innovative Dirigo health care plan-- a plan that could undermine health care for tens of thousands of Maine residents. 

More positively:

Education, Energy and Transit

Oregon's Measure 60 would require "merit pay" for teachers based on "classroom performance."  There is no evidence that changes in methods of paying teachers has any benefit for students, and a coalition of teachers, parents, school advocates, and others has formed to defeat the measure, which they believe would lead to more standardized testing in classrooms and more teaching to the test.  In 2000, a similar ballot measure was rejected by 65% of voters.  This year teacher's groups are standing against the measureFive of eight Oregon ballot initiatives come from Bill Sizemore, and anti-tax activist in the state.

Renewable EnergyIn Missouri Prop. C, the Clean Energy Initiative, would require the Missouri investor-owned electric utilities (Ameren, Empire, Aquila, and KCP&L) to get 15% of their electricity from renewable and clean energy sources like wind, solar, landfill gas, biomass, and small hydroelectric projects.  Unlike in other states, affected utilities are supporting this initiative.  California Prop. 7 is even more ambitious in calling on all utilities, including government-owned utilities, to generate 20% of their power from renewable energy by 2010, 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2025.  This is seen as too ambitious by some opponents, not only the usual suspects like utility companies but also the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology and the California Democratic Party. 

California Prop. 10, the California Alternative Fuels Initiative , would authorize $5 billion in bonds, paid from state’s General Fund, for cash payments to high full economy and alternative fuels vehicles, incentives for renewables research and use, and grants for education and training in renewable technologies.

Minnesota's Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment will raise the state sales tax three-eights of one percent, raising $300 million a year to restore wetlands, forests, lakes, parks and cultural heritage sites throughout the state.

Transit Investments: California has two major transit initiatives on their ballot-- California's Prop. 1A which asks voters to approve $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds to fund a $40 billion, 800-mile high speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles and Los Angeles County's Measure R to add a half-cent sale tax increase dedicated to raising $40 billion over thirty years for major transit investments.

On the negative side, Washington's I-985, promoted by rightwing activist Tim Eyman, would open up High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to people driving alone during non-rush hours and divert existing tax revenues to a handful of other traffic-related goals, leading to broad-based opposition to a measure that undermines car-pooling and takes revenue from education and other programs.

Election Reforms

Making Voting More Accessible:  The Connecticut Voting Age Measure would allow state residents to vote in primaries at the age of 17, while the Maryland Early Voting Measure would authorize the state legislature to implement in-person early voting the two weeks preceding an election. Three designated polling places in each county would be opened for the 10 days before Election Day.

Redistricting:  California Prop. 11, the Voters FIRST Act , would create a non-partisan redistricting commission in the state.  No other initiative this year has created such strife between usually allied groups.  The measure has strong support led by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the Governor.  Yet many civil rights organizations such as Mexican American LDF and NAACP LDF, and Senator Boxer and Speaker Pelosi, think that voting rights will be diminished under the proposal and are actively opposing the measure. 

Utah Amendment 4 would prevent mid-census redistricting by clarify that the Legislature's division of the state into districts must occur no later than the next annual general session following results of the United States enumeration.

Oregon Measure 55 is designed to prevent situations where State Senators whose seats are not up in the next cycle following a redistricting are forced to move to their new district.

Term Limits: South Dakota Amendment J would repeal legislative term limits.

Other Measures:  Nevada Question 1 would eliminate an unconstitutional requirement that a person must reside in Nevada for 6 months prior to an election in order to be eligible to vote in that election, lowering the residency requirement to 30 days. 

Oregon Measure 65 would institute top two primary elections where all candidates for an office would compete against each other regardless of party, and the two candidates with the most votes would then advance to the general election.  This statute would also allow independent voters to participate in primary elections for US Senator or Representative, Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General, state Senator or Representative, and any other local partisan office.

Social Issues: Immigration, Civil Rights and Reproductive Rights

Immigration:   Despite the noise around anti-immigrant bills in state legislatures, only two stand-alone anti-immigrant measures are on ballots around the country:

  • Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1 would establish English as the official language for all government meetings and is supported by groups like U.S. English even though government bodies in Missouri have apparently only conducted business in English.
  • Oregon's Measure 58 would limit bilingual education, in which students are taught entirely in their non-English native language for all or part of the school day, to one to two years, after which students would be mainstreamed into regular English-language classes for all subjects regardless of their proficiency.  The measure has provoked a strong negative response from educators.

In Arizona, business leaders have put Arizona Prop. 202 on the ballot to weaken the employer sanctions law that took effect in January by raising the threshold for filing complaints by requiring complaints to be signed, rather than anonymous. It would also crack down on employers who engage in wage theft and those who avoid taxes by paying their workers in cash. On the negative side, it would also expand the definition of identity theft to criminalize immigrants forced to use fake identification to obtain or continue employment.

Affirmative ActionWard Connerly, who has paid himself $7.6 million for running anti-affirmative action campaigns in various states yet benefitted from affirmative action programs in California in the 1990s, ran into trouble this year as both his own campaign's fraud and organized challenges to his initiatives led to a number of them failing to make the ballot or being withdrawn. Just two will be on the ballot:

  • Colorado Amendment 46 is being opposed by everyone from civil rights activists to the Chamber of Commerce to Gov. Bill Ritter. Equal opportunity supporters had filed their own measure that would have invalidated Amendment 46, a first for the movement against affirmative action bans, but it will not be on the ballot. There have also been widespread allegations of petitioners deceiving pro-affirmative action voters into thinking that they were signing anti-discrimination petitions.
  • The Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative would ban publicly-funded race and gender-based affirmative action programs, and is similar to other bans that were passed in California, Washington, and Michigan. 

LGBT equality: California Prop. 8 seeks to overturn the California state law recognizing gay marriage equality. National anti-gay rights organizations like Focus on the Family have put resources into the campaign, but a broadbased campaign is working for a strong democratic endorsement of marriage equality this November.

  • Having had an anti-gay marriage initiative rejected in 2006, those forces have returned with Arizona Proposition 102 which would define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Religious groups are divided on the issue. 
  • Florida Amendment 2 would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman, and would not recognize other legal unions. Also, it prohibits judges from overturning the law as was the case in Massachusetts. It is supported by much of Florida's religious community and the traditional family values crowd while being opposed by the ACLU and NAACP amongst others.

Arkansas' Unmarried Couple Adoption Ban would make it illegal for any unmarried couples, gay or straight, to adopt or provide foster care to minors, a measure which is supported by conservative groups seeking to limit gay marriage. A coalition of child welfare, faith and social justice groups oppose the measure and say that it would reduce the pool of good foster and adoptive parents. Gov. Beebe has backed off of previous support for the measure, believing that children need more qualified foster homes and parents.

Reproductive Rights:  Three initiatives seek to restrict abortion rights:

  • California Prop. 4 would prohibit abortion for minors until 48 hours after a doctor notifies their parent or legal guardian. In a twist from previous parental notification initiatives in California, the physician can inform an alternate adult family member if the patient claimed physical, sexual or severe emotional abuse and reported their parent to the police or family services.
  • Colorado Amendment 48 seeks to define a fertilized egg as a person under state law, giving legal rights to embryos. No such law exists in other states and if passed, it could lead to a ban on the safest and most common forms of birth control as well as in vitro fertilization. Conservatives are split on the measure, with some top anti-abortion groups staying out of the fray.
  • South Dakota Measure 11 is a radical measure designed to invite constitutional challenge, since it would ban all abortions in the state except in cases of rape or incest or to protect the woman's health. It would become a felony to perform an abortion and would carry maximum penalties of 10 years in jail and a $20,000 fine. South Dakota is already one of the most difficult places in the country to obtain an abortion.