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On the Ballot: Defeating TABOR, Defending Relationship Equality Laws & A Roundup of Other Ballot Issues

While New Jersey and Virginia are getting a lot of national press for high-profile governors races, the action on state ballots this year is in Maine and Washington, with scattered other issues playing out in additional states.  

In both Maine and Washington, right wing groups have the same anti-tax initiative on the ballot and similar efforts to repeal laws giving gay and lesbian relationships protection under state law -- with the same kind of deception and fraud by the same right wing organizations that we've seen year after year in ballot initiatives.  

Along with giving a roundup of the range of initiatives on the ballot in this off-year election, this Dispatch will give special focus to the campaigns against TABOR and defending relationship equality laws.


Table of Contents:

- TABOR Resurfaces in Maine, Heads to Washington

- Defending Wins on Same-Sex Relationships

- Fixing the Initiative Process

- Other Ballot Issues in November


TABOR Resurfaces in Maine, Heads to Washington

The right wing anti-tax movement has seen repeated failures in recent years, yet they are again promoting anti-tax ballot initiatives in Maine and Washington.  So-called TABOR ("Taxpayer Bill of Rights") initiatives would, if approved, create a rigid spending formula that would cripple those states' capacity to provide services like education, health care, emergency services, and public safety. 

In Maine, TABOR failed at the ballot in 2006 but is back again this year with the backing of the conservative groups Maine Heritage Policy Center (which also supported it in 2006) and Maine Leads, which is under investigation for violating campaign finance laws by hiding the identity of its funders.  Behind the I-1033 TABOR initiative in Washington, is the ubiquitous Tim Eyman - referred to by many progressives and conservatives alike as a “professional initiative salesman,” who personally profits from his prolific ballot initiative career.  Anti-TABOR forces are branding the message "Vote NO on Tim Eyman's I-1033." 

Even as communities are postponing and canceling road work because of a lack of funding, Maine voters face an additional anti-tax measure that would reduce funding to roads by cutting the state's excise tax for new and hybrid vehicles.  This would be a big tax break for those able to afford a new car, but would force many communities to raise local property taxes to make up for the lost revenue, leading a broad-based coalition called Maine Can Do Better to deem it a similar threat to state prosperity as TABOR.

TABOR's Disastrous Record in Colorado:  TABOR passed in Colorado in 1992, leading to terrible results, including large declines in K-12 funding, higher education tuition rates, and hindering the state's ability to address the lack of medical insurance coverage for many children and adults (see our past Dispatch on "TABOR's Disastrous Record in Colorado").  While voters in Colorado partially repudiated TABOR at the ballot in 2005, the legacy of over a decade of TABOR's effects live on in a state ranked one of the lowest levels in K-12 education, drop-out rates, and immunization rates, among other problems.

TABOR uses a rigid formula restricting spending levels based on a simplistic calculation tying spending to population and the consumer price index (CPI).  When health or education costs rise more than the specific CPI inflation calculator (as they have in recent years), states have to cut services and programs.

How Coalitions are Fighting TABOR:  Broad coalitions of education advocates, health care organizations, community groups, unions and even chambers of commerce have united in both Washington and Maine to oppose to the TABOR measures.  The No on I-1033 campaign has highlighted the lessons from Colorado and produced videos detailing personal stories about the likely effects of TABOR.   In Maine, the No on TABOR II campaign is emphasizing how TABOR will undermine state efforts to recover from the recession and the campaign brought a number of Colorado Republicans to the state to talk about the damage TABOR did in Colorado.

Defeating TABOR initiatives in Washington and Maine will help stop any trend toward more of these ballot initiatives in the future.  In fact, since 2005, TABOR has failed to be enacted in all 28 legislatures where it was introduced, but according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), any TABOR victories in 2009 could encourage several state legislatures or signature collection campaigns to put it on the 2010 ballot -- the most likely candidates being Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, and Missouri

While recent polls in both Washington and Maine show narrow leads for the TABOR initiatives, anti-TABOR leaders in both states express confidence that the broad-based coalitions speaking out on its devastating potential effects will win out on election day, as they have repeatedly in other states around the country.

Resources:
Progressive States Network - The Taxpayers' Bill of Goods
No on I-1033
Washington State Budget & Policy Center - Toxic Twins: I-1033 Mirrors Colorado's Corrosive TABOR
No on TABOR II and Maine Can Do Better
Maine Center for Economic Policy - TABOR in Maine
Ballot Initiative Strategy Center
The Bell Policy Center - TABOR
Center for American Progress, TABOR
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - TABOR: A Threat to Education, Health Care, and Social Services
The Tax Policy Center - "The Economic Effects of TABOR

Defending Wins on Same-Sex Relationships

In contrast to 2006, when the anti-relationship equality movement was on the offensive with a spate of constitutional amendments banning all forms of state recognition for same-sex couples, this year, conservatives are on the defense, having to go to the ballot to try to rollback significant legislative advances in both Washington state and Maine legalizing same-sex unions. 

Marriage Equality on the Move:  In the 2009 legislative session, four state legislatures (ME, NH, VT, CT) passed bills that were signed by their governors to include same-sex couples in their respective state's civil marriage law.  In Washington, since the state introduced its first nondiscrimination bill 20 years ago and passed it in 2006, the legislature has followed up year after year with additional relationship protections that add heft to domestic partnership protections.  In both Maine and Washington, conservatives took to the ballot referendum process to rollback those gains:

  • In Maine, after the crushing blow of Prop 8, by which California voters rejected their state supreme court's ruling to allow civil marriages for same-sex couples, voters are well poised to turn the tide by becoming the first state to defend marriage at the ballot box. 
  • In Washington, voters will be faced with Referendum 71 and decide whether to approve the state legislature's recent expansion of the domestic partnership law to protect couples' right to care for each other, especially in times of crisis. 

Deceptive Tactics by the Right Wing:  As noted above, initiative campaigns are under fire for ethics violations for fraudulent signature gathering processes.  In Washington, signature gatherers for Referendum 71 were caught on video lying to citizens about the law and used deceptive signature petitions in order to trick people into signing their petitions.

While conservative groups like National Organization for Marriage (NOM) are funneling money into Maine, it is a hard sell to argue that the sky will fall with "traditional marriage" surviving quite well in next door Massachusetts with its own marriage equality law (which has existed for over five years).  Using the same PR firm as was used in California, the anti-marriage equality campaign is recycling the same threat, that allowing this law to stand would mean altering the eduction system to "promote homosexuality."  But a recent poll shows that the public isn't buying it: roughly 62 percent of respondents said they do not believe gay marriage will be taught in public schools if the law is allowed to take effect.

Setting the Stage for Equality Fights in 2010:  If marriage equality supporters protects their victory in Maine, that will leave only Rhode Island left to solidify New England as a region for equal civil marriage laws.  And while NOM's website talks about fighting marriage equality in "the Northeast and West Coast," they don't seem to want to mention that state legislators refused to repeal civil marriage equality as established by the Iowa Supreme Court or that just this past year, Wisconsin Governor Doyle signed domestic partnerships into law, highlighting that "pro-traditional family" arguments are failing, even in the heartland.  In New Mexico, for example, Governor Richardson has pledged to put the domestic partnership issue on the legislative agenda for the 30-day budget session, and other states are moving to enact protections where legally feasible (some states ban any recognition, no matter how small, for same-sex relationships).

Resources:
Maine No on 1 campaign 
Washington Approve R-71 campaign
The Task Force - Marriage/Partner Recognition
Human Rights Campaign - about marriage and relationship recognition
Ballot Initiative Strategy Center - LGBT issues on the ballot
Williams Institute at UCLA - economic analysis on Maine - economic analysis on Washington

Fixing the Initiative Process

The high-profile fights on TABOR and relationship equality in both Washington and Maine show how the initiative process has been hijacked in recent years by monied interests, often using the same right wing front groups to try to undermine progressive goals -- and at the least to force progressives to waste money defending them.  

As the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center and others have documented, fraud and deception have become all too common in the signature gathering process for state initiatives.  Reform of the process is desperately needed to fix the system and assure that initiatives reflect real grassroots concerns and not just those of elite right wing interests playing games with the ballot process.

As we detailed in our Dispatch Reforming the Ballot Initiative Process: Making Direct Democracy Work, there are a number of disclosure and anti-fraud measures that, if enacted, would prevent these kinds of abuses of the ballot initiative process.

Resources:
Progressive States Network - Reforming the Ballot Initiative Process: Making Direct Democracy Work
Progressive States Network - Right Wing Fraud Derails Tax Revolt
Ballot Initiative Strategy Center - Signature Reform Guidelines
Ballot Initiative Strategy Center - The Campaign Finance Reform Blind Spot

Other Ballot Issues in November

While likely to get less national attention, there are other important initiatives on state ballots around the country. BISC has a roundup by state here, but a few key state decisions include:

Bond and Investment Measures:  As a likely prelude to 2010, both Maine and New Jersey are moving large bond measures to invest in the state:

  • In Maine, there is a $71 million bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, airports, public transit facilities, ferry and port facilities, including port and harbor structures that will make the state eligible for over $148,000,000 in federal and other matching funds.
  • In New Jersey, a proposed bond act would authorize $400 million in funds to acquire and develop lands for recreation and conservation purposes, preserving farmland, buying flood-prone or storm-damaged properties, and historic preservation projects.

Slate of Texas Constitutional Amendments:  A number are non-controversial, but a few would have real impact, including:

  • Streamlining and equalizing the appraisal process for property taxes;
  • Protecting public access to beaches on the Gulf of Mexico;
  • Restricting eminent domain by limiting state and local governments use of eminent domain to promote economic development; and,
  • Establishing the "National Research University Fund"  to dedicate $500 million in a fund to turn seven Texas universities into top Tier 1 research institutions.

Other Ballot Initiative Issues:  Additionally, Maine voters will be asked to weigh in on:

  • Repealing the state's 2007 school consolidation law, which exempted many urban areas and led to opposition in rural parts of the state.
  • Another initiative would legalize medical marijuana in the state, following fourteen other states that have legalized medical marijuana for the treatment of a host of health problems such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, hepatitis C, and Alzheimer's disease.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Election:  Given the recent history of business groups engineering the takeover of state high courts, there are high stakes in Pennsylvania where ideological control of the high court, currently divided 3-3 between business and consumer-labor friendly judges, will be decided by elections on November 3rd.   Labor unions in particular have made the race a priority in both get-out-the-vote and campaign funding decisions.

Resources:
Maine No Bad Roads: Vote No on 2
Progressive States Network - Corporate Influence on State Supreme Courts Show Need for Reform