Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Western Ballot Measure Preview

Ballot measures were a signature mark of the Progressive era at the turn of the 20th century. The West continues to be the predominant region in the country where ballot measures occur. This year voters were asked to decide on a host of issues through the ballot measure process that tackle the size and scope of government and severely diminishing public services. Many of these measures, like those in Colorado, take an extreme position in limiting government, rolling back the federal health care reform package and addressing social issue ranging from abortion to marijuana.

Economy & Taxes

In Colorado, three conservative anti-government measures on the 2010 ballot (Amendments 60, 61, and Proposition 101) have been opposed by a large left-right coalitions including the Chamber of Commerce and labor unions. All three measures are trailing badly in recent polls.[1]

The citizen-initiated measures are the most controversial and significant. Amendment 60 would cut in half the property taxes for school districts and require the state to make up the difference. It would impose property taxes on authorities and enterprises while repealing previous local voter-approved decisions on property taxes. It would charge property taxes for existing public entities such as airports, hospitals and water authorities through an amendment to the Colorado constitution. An estimated 8,000 teaching jobs will be cut and class sizes would increase proportionally.

Amendment 61 would forbid the state to borrow for long-term public construction projects (Colorado’s Constitution requires that the state balance its budget annually). Local governments would be required to limit their bonding to 10 years, and constrict the bonding limits to a fraction of current levels. Essentially it would eliminate the ability for Colorado to build universities, prisons, highways, museums or other large public projects. It limits cities’ ability to invest in long-term essential public services such as sewage treatment plants, public transportation, libraries, roads, and schools because the 10-year time frame would increase taxpayers’ payments. It would also require a public vote on leasing equipment such as copying machines.

Vehicle fees support local governments’ road and bridge maintenance, local school districts and other local funding. Telecommunications fees support 9-1-1 emergency services. Income taxes support Colorado’s higher education, health care, K-12 education and corrections. Proposition 101 would drastically reduce all of these and create a larger deficit for Colorado’s budget, impacting education, children’s services, public safety and health care. It would reduce vehicle fees that pay for local street maintenance to 1919 levels. A freeze in fees for 9-1-1 services would also prevent growing communities from providing adequate emergency services.

Montanans will vote on a controversial payday lending ballot measure that will cap interest rates on payday loans as 36% (Initiative I-164). Currently the limit on payday loan interest rates is 650%. Proponents argue that Montana working families deserve the ability to get out of the cycle of debt, and that this loan cap will be a step in that direction. The initiative has broad support from the Montana electorate. Opponents appealed the measure earlier this year—appeals which the Montana State Supreme Court denied.[2]


Two states in the West have ballot measures that center around legalizing marijuana. Arizona’s Proposition 203 would legalize medicinal marijuana in the state, similar to Colorado’s current law, passed in 2008. California’s Prop 19 would legalize marijuana. In California, proponents say that legalizing marijuana would create a $1.7 billion industry in a state with severe budget woes. Those over 21 would be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use and marijuana could be grown in gardens larger than 25 square feet. In late October, an LA Times poll shows that voters oppose this measure 51-39%.[3]

Colorado, which passed a law allowing medicinal marijuana in 2008, has 26 counties that are considering passing laws which regulate or ban marijuana dispensaries.

Health Care

Arizonans are asked to vote to eliminate the state’s First Things First early child care program. This program would eliminate essential services such as quality child care, early literacy programs, oral health treatments for children, and programs that work to prevent childhood obesity. This proposition was made in order to help balance the state’s budget.

Colorado (Amendment 63), Arizona (Proposition 106), and Oklahoma (Question 756) have a “health care nullification” measure on the 2010 ballot. This measure gives voters the option of opting out of the Affordable Health Care Act—which would, in effect, create thousands of people without health care and place an enormous burden on the already-stressed hospitals and emergency rooms to provide costly care for these uninsured.

Colorado's Amendment 63 is designed to prohibit the state from imposing either a federal or state mandate requiring a person to purchase health care coverage. An individual mandate is one of the significant provisions in the federal health care reform legislation - Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.


In Arizona, Proposition 111 looks to remake the state’s officeholders by eliminating the position of Secretary of State and transferring those duties to the Lt. Governor. Arizona does not currently have a position of Lt. Governor. Proponents of this Proposition cite government transparency and continuity as their motivation and include Governor Brewer and the Chamber of Commerce. Opponents say that a Lt. Governor that runs on a joint ticket with the governor would create a conflict of interest, as the Lt. Governor would also be the Chief of Elections.[4]

A measure on the ballot in Nevada would allow for the governor to appoint judges to open seats. Judges would have to run for reelection after serving 2 years. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor supports this measure and proponents say that passing the measure would take politics out of the state’s judicial systems.

Anti-Union Measures

Voters in Arizona and Utah will see a measure called “Save Our Secret Ballot” which is diametrically opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which allows workers the freedom to choose to unionize. “Save Our Secret Ballot” would require workers to vote for or against unionizing using a secret ballot. Funders of this measure have right-wing corporate interests. These measures would not have much impact on local laws—however, they would seriously impact EFCA from passing in future Congressional sessions.