Anti-Tax Forces Lose at Ballot/Split Decision on Gay Unions/Other Election Analysis

Anti-Tax Forces Lose at Ballot/Split Decision on Gay Unions/Other Election Analysis

Thursday, November 5, 2009



By: nathan newman

Anti-Tax Forces Lose at Ballot/Split Decision on Gay Unions/Other Election Analysis

While the governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia got most of the headlines, other state races around the country delivered a mixed message by voters on a number of issues.

Anti-Tax Forces Continue to Fail at the Ballot Box:  The defeat of three anti-tax initiatives that were on the ballot in Washington state and Maine left the anti-tax movement as the big losers of the night -- and this just continues a multi-year string of defeats by the right-wing on tax issues.   In both states, voters rejected the so-called TABOR ("Taxpayer Bill of Rights") initiatives that would have created rigid formulas restricting the power of states to raise revenue that would have crippled those states' capacity to provide services like education, health care, emergency services, and public safety.  Voters in Maine also rejected a proposal to slash the excise tax on new and hybrid cars, which would have undermined local revenue around the state. 

Back in the early 90s, the right-wing managed to pass a TABOR system in Colorado at the ballot box, which had disastrous consequences, including large declines in K-12 funding and increased higher education tuition rates.  The measure additionally hindered the state's ability to address the lack of medical insurance coverage for many children and adults (see the PSN Dispatch on "TABOR's Disastrous Record in Colorado").  This led voters to partially repudiate TABOR at the ballot in 2005.  And when the right-wing tried to enact TABOR-like initiatives in states across the country in 2006, progressives highlighted fraud in signature collecting in multiple states and the issue was thrown off the ballot in Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma and Missouri.  On Election Day, voters in Maine, Nebraska and Oregon finished the job in voting down the remaining TABOR initiatives.  And in 2008, anti-government tax measures were defeated overwhelmingly in Massachusetts, North Dakota and Oregon.  So the 2009 results in Maine and Washington reflect that voters reject the rhetoric of the right-wing anti-tax movement -- a message more elected leaders should recognize as they grapple with budget crises needing new revenue.

Split Vote on Gay and Lesbian Unions:  Even as Washington state voters supported a broad domestic partnership law providing many of the legal protections of marriage, Maine voters by a close margin rejected a state law granting full marriage equality to gay and lesbian partners.   While the Maine loss was heartbreakingly close, supporters of marriage equality took heart from the fact that 47% of Maine voters supported it, something that would have been impossible even a decade ago.  And as we detailed this past Monday, young voters overwhelmingly support marriage equality, so victory is inevitable in coming years.  "As a young person in Maine, I actually feel very confident that marriage equality will be the law in our state at some point in my lifetime. I hope it's in the next couple of years," Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree said.

Voters Continue to Support Public Investments:  Despite tough economic times, voters continued to support initiatives to dedicate funding to long-term initiatives for economic growth and environmental sustainability:

  • In Maine, voters approved 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, voters approved a bond act that 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.
  • Texas voters established a "National Research University Fund" to dedicate $500 million to turning seven Texas universities into top Tier 1 research institutions.

Although Gov. Ted Strickland opposed the initiative, Ohio voters, desiring jobs and economic growth, approved casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.  Supporters of the measure estimate the casinos will create 34,000 jobs, bring $200 million in licensing fees and generate an estimated $651 million annually in revenue for Ohio.  Ohio voters also approved selling $200 million of bonds to provide services and compensation to residents who are veterans of conflicts in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Denver Anti-Immigrant Measure Rejected:  Denver voters soundly rejected a so-called car impound initiative, which was designed to target undocumented immigrants by requiring police to seize the vehicles of every unlicensed driver they stop.

Mixed Message for Progressives in Candidate Elections:  In New York, a Democrat won a state Assembly seat that no Democrat had won since before the Civil War, even as progressive Gov. Jon Corzine lost in New Jersey.  In the recent Virginia Governor's race, the conservative Democratic candidate spent much of his time explaining how he opposed a public option in health care, opposed robust climate change legislation, and opposed reforms to protect the freedom of workers to form labor unions.  His subsequent loss highlights an important, perennial message for progressive candidates: when given a choice between a conservative and a conservative Democrat, voters will choose the true conservative.

Results were even more mixed when you look down ballot.  New Jersey Democrats held onto their large majorities in the Assembly with little change, while conservatives in Virginia gained a number of seats in their House of Delegates.  And conservatives gained majority control of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by winning a hotly contested race for a state Supreme Court seat.  Yet as Progressive Majority details, local progressive candidates did well throughout the country, although progressives lost in a few upscale suburban districts around New York City. 

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Maine Victory on Medical Marijuana Use Comes as Feds Decide Not to Use Prosecutions to Frustrate Local Laws

Maine's voters approved a measure by a margin of 59% to 41% to make it the fifth state to allow retail pot dispensaries, expanding its existing ten year-old medical marijuana law.  Maine now joins California, Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island which allow for places where medical marijuana patients can legally buy pot. Unlike California's more free-wheeling system, Maine law will require that dispensaries be licensed by the state and more narrowly defines medical conditions for which patients can be prescribed pot.

Federal Government Changes Policy on Prosecutions in States with Medical Marijuana Laws:  Eight additional states allow medical marijuana use without provisions for retail dispensaries, but users in all states with local laws had been threatened by Bush administration actions to threaten prosecutions under federal drug laws even where state law made use legal.  However, in October, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal prosecutors would no longer prosecute people who use marijuana for medical purposes in the 13 states that have a medical marijuana ordinance.  Advocates, like the Marijuana Policy Project, hailed the decision and see opportunities for expanding programs and improving access to safe medical marijuana use even while questions emerged about how local and state governments will take on the role of policing medical marijuana use and distribution, a task that local law enforcement had typically left to federal officials. 

New Movement in the States:  Without the specter of federal intervention, many supporters believe the decision will prompt other states to legalize medical marijuana and shepherd in changes to make medical marijuana more accessible in states where it is already law. 

  • To increase access and ensure a controlled distribution of marijuana, Oregon, in an ironic but practical twist, may grow marijuana at the State Penitentiary.  Opponents will likely harp on the superficial absurdity of this idea, but states would be hard-pressed to find a more secure location for the state to grow and oversee the distribution of marijuana for medical purposes. 
  • Elsewhere, at least 5 states are considering legislation or voter referendums to allow medical marijuana, including New York and New Jersey
  • Supporters in Massachusetts say the federal AG's decision bolsters their drive for a bill currently before the state legislature, an effort also aided by a recent state poll showing 81% of Massachusetts voters support the measure.  
  • Similarly, New Hampshire legislators last week fell two votes shy of overriding a veto of a medical marijuana law, although some legislators expressed concerns about whether the state health department has the funds to administer a medical marijuana law.  The major differences between the legislative and executive branch, however, concerned who would be eligible for the program, which would have established three non-profit "compassion centers" to ensure controlled use and distribution.  The bill's sponsor, Rep. Evalyn Merrick, promised to reintroduce the legislation in 2011.

With the threat of federal enforcement lessened, the U.S. Attorney General's decision will now focus debate more on tensions between state and local enforcement.  As the New York Times reports, local governments in California and Colorado have imposed bans or moratoriums on distributors of marijuana for medical purposes.  Other municipalities in California are considering requirements that distributors act as non-profit organizations, a provision in one of the pieces of model legislation promoted by the Marijuana Policy Project.  

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Stimulus Contributes to GDP Growth

Last week marked the 80th anniversary of the stock market crash of 1929.  While parallels can be drawn between the Great Depression and the lingering repercussions of the most recent recession -- high unemployment and foreclosure rates, steep decline in tax revenue, and the need for massive government spending -- the United States posted positive economic growth in the third quarter of 2009.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released an advance estimate last Thursday, reporting that in the third quarter, real gross domestic product (GDP) increased 3.5%

After four consecutive quarters of decline, this uptick in growth gives many economists hope that the recession has ended, although job growth may be extremely slow.  Christina Romer, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, citing "the two-quarter swing in the rate of growth of 9.9 percentage points," finds that the stimulus has had an immense impact on national economic performance and added up to 4% to growth this quarter.  A report by the Economic Policy Institute, entitled, How We Know the Recovery Package is Working, confirms the stimulus' effect on GDP growth and additionally finds that it is responsible for creating or saving from 1.1 to 1.5 million jobs since its passage.

These larger numbers of jobs created or saved by stimulus spending helps put in context the somewhat smaller number officially reported at the site. ProPubilca notes that the 640,329 jobs reported by involve complicated estimates by governments and contractors, only account for jobs directly funded by stimulus dollars, and does not include those indirectly created or maintained due to spending by consumers or firms receiving federal funds. 

Nevertheless, as a columnist bluntly writes, "you can't eat GDP or pay your mortgage with it."  While the GDP growth is undoubtedly positive news, the country is a long way from a full recovery and families are still reeling from the effects of the downturn.  Paul Krugman affirms this in a recent column, Too Little of a Good Thing.  He points out that while the stimulus has spared the country from continued economic decline, high unemployment rates will persist without further action and it is unclear whether it will foster growth at a similar rate in the future.  To truly achieve significant self-sustaining growth, a second round of massive federal spending is necessary. Unfortunately, Krugman notes that "sound-bite politics" compromise the feasibility of another stimulus.  Yet, without such an effort, the country is headed for a "prolonged jobless recovery," that will translate to even more pain for working families.

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ARRA Funding Opportunity for Programs to Improve Rx Safety and Cut Costs

The Agency on Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) is accepting Letters of Intent until November 18, 2009, for grants of up to $1.5 million that can be used to create an academic detailing initiative.  States are establishing "academic detailing" initiatives, or “Prescriber Education Programs”, to help physicians stay on top of the latest scientific information about drug quality and effectiveness and to reduce the industry’s influence over physicians' prescribing decisions.  The ARRA funds are available for academic detailing as part of comparative effectiveness research initiatives. 

The drug industry spends an average $8,800 directly marketing to each of the 817,000 physicians in the US.  90,000 sales reps, or detailers, and fellow physicians paid by the industry pitch drugs directly to physicians. This is called "detailing".  As the New York Times reported in 2007, "doctors who have close relationships with drug makers tend to prescribe more, newer and pricier drugs" regardless of a drug’s value compared to less expensive medications.  The adverse consequences of industry marketing can be costly, and deadly.  As The Prescription Project reports, $209 million was spent marketing the pain-killer Vioxx. This drove up utilization even though Vioxx was not clinically proven more effective than existing, less expensive drugs and before the medical community had a full understanding for the drug's side effects, resulting in 139,000 people suffering heart attacks.

Academic detailing helps improve medical care and save money by supporting chronic disease management and reducing purchases of unnecessary or less effective but more costly pharmaceuticals.  As reported by Prescription Policy Choices, a pilot Medicaid-based academic detailing initiative achieved $2 in savings for every $1 invested.  For a model program, check our Pennsylvania’s Independent Drug Information Services, which is a partnership between the state and Harvard Medical School.  Also, see Prescription Policy Choices' Academic Detailing Toolkit and the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices.  Elsewhere, Vermont’s academic detailing program is run by the University of Vermont Medical School and Maine’s is a collaboration between the Maine Medical Association and the State.  Massachusetts and New York are also implementing systems. 

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PSN On the Air

On Election Day, PSN Executive Director was featured on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC Public Radio. Listen to him online as he offers analysis of ballot questions posed to voters around the country.

Research Roundup

Event:  What the TANF Emergency Fund Can Do For Your Cash-Strapped State -  On Monday, November 16, CLASP will bring together leading TANF experts to discuss the latest federal guidance on innovative ways that states can draw on the TANF Emergency Fund and claim expenditures by third parties, such as counties, nonprofit service-providers, and even merchants. Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions about the TANF Emergency Fund. Click on link to register online.

Economy Track -  The Economic Policy Institute has a new website featuring a collection of charts containing EPI's data offering a detailed picture of the recession and the current jobs crisis unavailable elsewhere.  It provides and interactive, easy-to-use format that lets users see the context behind the numbers by comparing the latest employment data to that from past recessions and allows them to parse the numbers by race, gender, region, and level of education.

The Impact of State Income Taxes on Low-Income Families in 2008 -  An analysis of state income tax systems by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities finds that in 16 of the 42 states that levy income taxes, two-parent families of four with incomes below the federal poverty line are liable for income tax and  26 states collect taxes from families of four with incomes just above the poverty line.  The report recommends creating or expanding Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs), setting reasonable levels below which no tax is owed, and personal exemptions and standard deductions at levels adequate to shield poverty-level income from taxation.

Spending Is Up, and So Are Interstate Disparities in States' K-12 Education Revenues - States are spending more on schools, but differences in education funding have also been growing since the 2001 recession, according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government.  The current economic downturn seems to be worsening the gap between student need and resource disparities.

A Look at Community Schools - This Center for American Progress report details how “community schools,” a growing movement that capitalizes on schools' physical space and access to students and families, help deliver much-needed services in a central, accessible location. The report details best practices for how community schools partner with nonprofits and local agencies to provide students with health care, academic enrichment, mental and behavioral health services, and other youth development activities without burdening school staff.

Measure by Measure: The Current Measure v. the National Academy of Sciences Measure - A new report from the Center for Law and Social Policy compares state poverty rates under the current official federal poverty measure and an alternative measure based on the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Under the NAS alternative measure, poverty rates increased in every state.

Improving State Voter Registration Databases & Maintenance of State Voter Registration Lists - Two reports from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Association of Secretaries of State, respectively, give guidance and perspective on practices for voter registration database management.  The first gives a comprehensive overview of best practices in database management and the second gives an equally comprehensive treatment to the current practices in each state.

Please email us leads on good research at


Maine Victory on Medical Marijuana Use Comes as Feds Decide Not to Use Prosecutions to Frustrate Local Laws

Marijuana Policy Project - Model Legislation
Marijuana Policy Project - State by State Medical Marijuana Laws

Stimulus Contributes to GDP Growth

Bureau of Economic Analysis - Gross Domestic Product: Third Quarter 2009
Christina D. Romer, Chair, Council of Economic Advisers - Back from the Brink
Christina D. Romer, Chair, Council of Economic Advisers - On Today's GDP Numbers
Economic Policy Institute - How We Know the Recovery Package is Working
The New York Times - U.S. Economy Started to Grow Again in the Third Quarter
ProPublica - Unofficial Guide to

ARRA Funding Opportunity for Programs to Improve Rx Safety and Cut Costs

Prescription Policy Choices - Academic Detailing Toolkit
Prescription Policy Choices, Maine Center for Economic Policy - A New Kind of House Call Delivers Science Not Sales: Prescription Drug Reform that Works


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
Nora Ranney, Legislative Director
Marisol Thomer
, Outreach Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Altaf Rahamatulla, Tax & Budget Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Executive Administrator and Outreach Associate
Mike Maiorini, Online Technology Manager


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