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National Popular Vote Moves Forward

http://www.progressivestates.org/dispatch

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Increasing Democracy

by J. Mijin Cha

National Popular Vote Moves Forward in North Dakota and Nation

Legislators in North Dakota are promoting the radical idea that the candidate who wins the most votes for President should actually be President.  The legislature introduced a bill last week to award its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally.  A national popular vote initiative was passed by both chambers in California last year, only to be vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.  For the upcoming legislative sessions, twenty-nine states have also already lined up sponsors to introduce "National Popular Vote" bills.

National Popular Vote would ensure that only the candidate who receives the most votes nationally would be president.  Under the current system, presidential candidates are forced to focus their campaigns on only a handful of closely divided "battleground" states to capture the states' electoral votes.  As a result, nearly two-thirds of the states are irrelevant in the presidential race.  Because many voters feel their votes do not count, especially if they do not live in a battleground state, the present system lowers voter turnout.

With National Popular Vote, however, every vote counts because a states' electoral votes would only go to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.  For example, progressives living in Texas -- and conservatives in Massachusetts -- have an uphill battle in terms of delivering their states' electoral votes to their favored candidate.  Under the National Popular Vote system, however, their votes would be very important because they would count towards the overall national popular vote totals which would decide the election, rather than the archaic Electoral College system. 

Implementing National Popular Vote can be done without a constitutional amendment.  Instead, each state legislature can approve a "national compact" to cast its electoral vote for the winner of the national popular vote.  Each bill would then contain a provision that it only goes into effect when enough states have similar legislation in place to account for a majority of electoral votes. 

As Rep. Duane DeKrey (R-ND) said this week in promoting North Dakota's bill, "Its (National Popular Vote) strength is, it is what the people want.  It kind of takes out that system where the person who gets the most votes doesn't necessarily win."

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Growing Economy

by Nathan Newman

Tax Cuts for Seniors That Don't Help Low-Income Seniors

Tax cuts for seniors?  Helping older voters on fixed incomes seems like a good idea to many legislators, but a number of states are passing tax cuts for taxpayers over age 65 regardless of whether the seniors need the help:

  • In Kansas, the state Senate this week debated a bill to exempt Social Security payments from state income tax, costing the state $19 million in tax revenue-- a tax benefit that will not help lower-income seniors and would give the largest benefits to the richest seniors in the highest tax brackets.
  • Last week in Missouri, House Speaker Rod Jetton introduced a similar plan to eliminate state income taxes on Social Security benefits, costing the state an estimated $100 million per year.  Since current law already exempts individuals making less than $27,000 and couples making less than $32,000, the plan would do nothing to help the large number of lower-income seniors.
  • A Georgia referendum last fall eliminated the state property tax for all seniors regardless of income, costing the state $6.8 million for fiscal year 2008.

The problem with these kinds of laws is not just that they help richer seniors while offering little or no help to the poorest seniors who need the most help.  They also ignore demographic realities. As the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute wrote in an analysis of the Georgia law, "the population over 65 will continue to grow...As this population grows, the revenue loss associated with senior citizen tax exemptions will also increase...While certain tax exemptions and preferences are justified, the state should aim to base all exemptions on income, rather than age alone."

Instead of these untargeted senior tax cuts, other states have enacted reforms that provide tax relief for the seniors who need the help most.   As we detailed last July, a number of states use "Circuit Breakers" to limit property taxes to a percentage of income, a reform that targets help to lower-income seniors.  Other alternative reforms are programs that defer payment of property taxes by seniors until property is sold or "homestead exemptions" that exempt part of a home's value from taxes.

So instead of nice sounding tax cuts for seniors, lawmakers should make sure reforms actually give tax relief to the lower-income seniors on fixed income who need the help most.

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Strengthening Communities

by Matt Singer

States Respond to Bush's Escalation Plan

Yesterday, state legislators from across America joined with U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Progressive States, and our partners at MoveOn, the Women Legislators' Lobby, and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq to discuss the power (.wav format) of states to play a key role in preventing President George W. Bush's disastrous escalation proposal.

Senator Kennedy drew a parallel between the minimum wage ”“ which was increased by voters in six states last fall and in statehouses across the country last year ”“ and the Iraq war in noting the ability of states to put opposition to the escalation on Congress’s front burner.

Kennedy is sponsoring legislation in the U.S. Senate to require that the Bush Administration seek Congressional authority for any escalation.

Conference call participants encouraged legislators to introduce resolutions opposing the escalation and supporting Congressional intervention to prevent it.

Also on the conference call was Steve Doherty, co-chair of Progressive States and former minority leader of the Montana Senate. He noted the many times in his legislative career when the Montana Legislature had chosen to speak out on issues of international importance -- and of the continued importance of state legislators as leaders on these issues. Rep. Garnet Coleman of Texas and Sen. Nan Grogan Orrock of Georgia spoke of the interest that they had seen in the issue from their colleagues and constituents.

The Progressive States Network is now working with legislators across the country to get resolutions introduced and passed across the country. In addition, we have launched an online action tool that allows voters to contact their legislators asking them to take action on this critical issue. The public outcry so far has been palpable.

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Research Roundup

State of Health Care Reform, Tax Subsidies

A new "State of the States" report by State Coverage Initiatives, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation surveys recent state efforts to expand health insurance coverage. Rising hopes bode well for additional reforms in other states, but the report cautions that because of variations in each state, particular reforms are not always easily replicable in other states.

Good Jobs First has released a report on how state tax subsidies in the Chicago region encourage sprawl and favor more affluent suburbs at the expense of poorer communities, a followup study to similar results found in reports on sprawl in the Twin Cities and in Michigan.

National Popular Vote Moves Forward in North Dakota and Nation

National Popular Vote

Progressive States Network, "Bypassing DC: National Popular Vote."

"Popular Vote Plan Makes Gains"

FairVote: Presidential Elections Reform

Tax Cuts for Seniors That Don't Help Low-Income Seniors

Progressive States Network, Additional Strategies for Preventing Tax Revolts

ITEP, Property Tax Circuit Breakers

The Middle Way to Property Tax Reform- policy brief on tax deferral proposal

ITEP, Property Tax Homestead Exemptions

States Respond to Bush's Escalation Plan

Model Legislation

Fact Sheet

State-by-State Data

National Press Advisory

National Press Release

Audio of Conference Call (.wav, 18MB)

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
Matt Singer, Communications Director

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Please shoot me an email at msinger@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch

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