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Business Costs & Regulation

Ballot Initiatives Could Reshape Your State

There will be a lot more on the November ballot than control of Congress.

Will Coloradans ditch the car tax? It’ll be up to the voters on Nov. 2, along with half a dozen other key pocketbook issues. And not just in Colorado. Across the nation, 145 questions will be put to the public, many with far-reaching implications for businesses and individuals. Ballot questions typically don’t attract as much attention as hot political races, but they can have a striking impact at the state and local levels. What’s more, ballot questions that pass in one state will be studied closely by other states and may be considered by legislatures or voters in future election cycles.

See Ballot Initiatives as a Slide Show.

Taxes and Fees

In addition to deciding the fate of most state and local vehicle taxes and fees, Colorado voters must take sides on a plan to reduce the individual income tax rate from 4.63% to 3.5%. Colorado will decide on a proposal to cut property taxes in half by 2020 and require that the state use general funds to fill any gaps that develop.

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Look for Washington voters to impose a new income tax on individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year and couples who earn more than $400,000 annually. Washington is one of nine states with no state income tax now. The $1 billion in revenue raised each year would be dedicated to state health and education projects. Voters in Washington state will also decide whether to repeal recent targeted taxes on candy and soda sales and whether to require the state to privatize state owned and managed liquor stores.

California will consider rolling back recently enacted corporate tax breaks that would raise $1.2 billion through 2012. Another California proposal would institute an annual $18 vehicle fee to fund operations and preservation programs at 278 state parks. About $500 million would be raised each year for park operations, relieving the general state budget of a large annual commitment.

Massachusetts voters will reject a plan to reduce the state sales tax from 6.25% to 3%. They’ll also nix a ballot proposal to repeal state taxes on alcohol. The voter initiative was sponsored by discount merchants and distributors of spirits. While they obtained the necessary signatures to present the question on the ballot, it will lose by a margin of 4-to-1.

Balancing Budgets

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California votes on whether to end its requirement that state budgets be approved by two-thirds, rather than a majority, of the legislature. The two-thirds hurdle is often blamed for perennial state budget stalemates. There is no corresponding move to end the two-thirds requirement for tax increases, and in fact, voters will be asked to extend it to other fees.

A proposal to legalize and tax marijuana will have far-reaching implications if it passes, bringing in millions in new revenue. Californians will also vote on whether the state should be barred from raiding hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation funding for other purposes, i.e., balancing the budget.

Colorado will vote on whether to require that state and local governments receive voter approval before taking on debt to balance government budgets. Oregon is likely to lift a requirement that a portion of state lottery revenue go to parks, beaches and wildlife preserves. If approved, lottery revenue would be available instead for other budget priorities.

Arizona voters are expected to approve a plan to redirect revenue from a recent tax increase on tobacco to the state’s general fund instead of directing it only to childhood development programs.

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Environment

Expect California voters to reject a business-backed move to suspend the state’s 2006 greenhouse gas reduction law until the state’s unemployment rate drops below 5.5%. The law requires a 25% reduction in emissions by 2020. A huge advertising blitz is under way on each side of the issue.

Union Organizing

South Carolina, Utah, South Dakota and Arizona are set to pass proposals to amend their state constitutions to require that elections for deciding on union representation be held by secret ballot. The Republican-backed measures are meant to undercut efforts by Democrats in Congress to pass a federal card check law that would allow a majority of employees to establish a union by signing a card in support of unionization.

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Healthcare

Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona will all likely pass nonbinding proposals expressing disapproval of the new health law’s requirement that individuals buy insurance. The mandate issue will ultimately be decided by courts -- probably the U.S. Supreme Court -- or through federal legislation in coming years.

Education

Should class size limits in public schools be increased from 24 pupils to 45? Florida says the larger classes would save $4 billion over 10 years, but opponents say students would get the short end of that stick. Florida also votes on whether to abolish a public financing option for most statewide candidates.

Affirmative Action

Arizona voters will decide on a controversial proposal that would bar affirmative action plans or goals in public employment and state government contracting.