Balancing the budget could become more difficult in several statehouses across the country after Tuesday night. Generally speaking, voters on Tuesday made it more difficult for legislatures to pass tax increases, yet gave consent to programs with high price tags and no revenue stream.
“Though there were fewer voter-driven measures on the ballot this year, the electorate took strong stands on fiscal issues,” said Jennie Drage Bowser, NCSL’s ballot measure expert. “In some cases, though, the messages were mixed.”
Voters in Washington rejected a plan to raise $11.2 billion in revenue over the next five years and required the legislature to have a two-thirds, rather than a simple majority, to approve tax increases. California, which already has the two-thirds requirement, now must meet the same threshold to raise regulatory fees. In separate actions, California voters rejected $3.3 in potential revenue increases and restricted the legislature to take funds from transportation programs and local government to help balance the state budget.
Two states repealed legislative tax actions. Arizona rejected a legislative plan passed this fall that will increase a budget deficit of $825 million to around $1.3 billion. Washington voters repealed tax increases approved the legislature in 2009, bringing a future loss of $352 million to the state budget and $83 million to local governments over the next five years.
Other successful ballot measures will strain state budgets. Florida voters said no to larger class size requirements. The estimated cost for this year is $2.9 billion. Keeping the state’s strict constitutional class-size requirements is expected to cost the state $40 billion over the next 10 years. Oregon voters approved a new mandatory minimum sentencing law that will cost $1.4 million the first year and grow to an estimated $29.1 million in the fourth year. No revenue stream is provided by the new measure.
In some states voters took a different approach. Colorado voters rejected three measures that would have prohibited state borrowing and required the state to spend 99 percent of its general fund on K-12 education. Massachusetts rejected a sales tax cut that would have eliminated $2.5 billion in state revenues.
And ballot measures revolving around the state legislature also were decided by voters on Tuesday. Arizonans rejected a move to rename the office of secretary of state to the office of the lieutenant governor. Nebraska voters said no to abolishing the office of treasurer, while Oklahoma voters approved a measure limiting most statewide officeholders to no more than eight years in office. Lawmakers already have term limits in Oklahoma.
In other ballot news:
— Measures to legalize marijuana went up in smoke in California, Oregon, South Dakota and probably in Arizona.
— Measures to block federal health care reforms were approved in Arizona and Oklahoma but rejected in Colorado.
— Maryland voters approved a constitutional convention, becoming the first state to do so since Rhode Island held one in 1985 and 1986.
— Oklahoma approved making English the official language and prohibited courts from using Sharia law and international law in making decisions.
— California voters rejected Proposition 23, which would have suspended state clean air laws until unemployment dropped to 5.5 percent.
— Illinois passed a process for recalling the governor.
— Vermont will now allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the general election.
— Michigan and North Carolina voters approved measures to ban felons in public offices.
In 37 states, 160 measures qualified for the November ballot, and another 24 measures already have appeared on primary and special election ballots.
Twenty-four states allow voters to petition to place measures on the ballot. In these states, there were a total of 42 citizen initiatives this year. Typically, the total number of statewide ballot measures ends up in the neighborhood of 200, with about half of them citizen initiatives.
NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.