Updated: Nov. 4, 1:42 p.m. eastern
There are 26 tax-related ballot measures, according to Ballotpedia. They include some substantial changes to income and property taxes, along with measures that affect sales, oil and gas production, tobacco and gambling. Voters decided on the following key measures involving state tax and finance:
California’s Proposition 15
Proposition 15 would amend the Prop. 13 law and require commercial and industrial properties — except those zoned as commercial agriculture — to be taxed based on their market value, which tends to increase faster than 2 percent annually. The state’s fiscal analyst estimates that, if the ballot initiative passes, it would generate between $8 billion and $12.5 billion in revenue per year, all of which would go to cities, counties and school districts.
Proponents of the measure point out that Proposition 13 has given large businesses a huge tax break. If the initiative passes, it would affect big businesses worth at least $3 million, shielding entrepreneurs and farmers from any change. Critics of the measure take a different view, pointing out that California has one of the nation’s least-friendly business laws, but the current tax code is one of the few bright spots. Proposition 15 would be a step backwards, according to the Tax Foundation.
Many of the state’s biggest firms, from Disney to Silicon Valley tech giants, have seen their business values soar, yet the land they own is assessed at a fraction of its market value, according to experts.
The proposition appears to be headed towards defeat with 51.7 percent of the vote opposed to changing the state's commercial property tax. However, with 71 percent of the vote counted, the final results remain unclear. (AP)
Colorado Amendment B
In Colorado, voters have an opportunity (for the second time) to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, a constitutional provision set in 1982 that limits the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property taxes equal 45 percent of the total share of state property taxes and non-residential property taxes equal 55 percent of the total share of state property taxes.
The Gallagher measure has saved Colorado homeowners an estimated $35 billion in residential property taxes, according to the Colorado Sun, alleviating the financial impact of the state’s rising cost of living. But the drop in property tax revenue also has choked off badly needed money for the public sector. Worst hit have been rural communities that can least afford shrinking budgets. The amendment has also shifted more costs to the state, creating a financial strain on its budget.
The repeal effort has unprecedented bipartisan support. It was put on the ballots by Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature. If the amendment to repeal fails to pass, estimates show that when property tax assessments are reset in 2021, some property owners would see their taxes drop by a fifth, denying an estimated $490 million to school systems and $200 million to county governments.
The Gallagher Amendment has been repealed with 57.5 percent have voted in favor of lifting the limits on the residential share of state property taxes. (AP)
Arizona’s Proposition 208
According to one national ranking, Arizona has the third worst public school system in the country. One factor behind the poor performance has been the miserly level of per-pupil funding, the second lowest in the nation, according to the Arizona Center for Economic Progress. Other rankings place its teachers at the lowest level among the 50 states.
Proposition 208 will raise the tax on incomes over $250,000 to pay for better teacher salaries and a host of school support initiatives, ranging from better services for deaf and blind students to grants that support career and technical programs.
The 3.5 percent income tax surcharge is expected to raise $827 million. Proponents of the initiative say the funds will go a long way towards alleviating the chronic teacher shortage by boosting salaries. But opponents claim Prop. 208 is too loosely worded and that money for teachers could end up paying for support and administrative personnel.
With 85 percent of the votes counted, Arizona's Propostion 208 appears to be headed toward victory with 52.6 percent in favor of the tax increase on incomes over $250,000. (AP)
Illinois Graduated Income Tax Amendment
It’s being called one of the biggest changes in state taxation in decades. Illinois voters will be asked whether the state’s Constitution should be amended to replace its current flat income tax with a graduated rate tax structure that increases the levy as income rises. The proposed amendment is a signature policy proposal by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and is expected to generate $3.4 billion in new revenue. The Pritzker administration has estimated that budget revenue for this year and next is expected to fall short by $6.5 billion. If passed, the amendment will take effect in January 2021.
As of 2019, 43 states taxed personal income, with 11 states levying a flat income tax rate. Illinois taxes income at a flat rate of 4.95 percent. The amendment would eliminate the flat rate and replace it with six graduated rates of income taxation that would range from 4.95 percent to 7.99 percent, making Illinois the state with the sixth highest top bracket rate in the country.
Proponents of the amendment say it will take some of the tax burden off middle-class taxpayers and shift it to the wealthy (only taxpayers earning $250,000 or more will see their taxes increase). But opponents predict the shift to a graduated tax just opens the door to future tax increases; it will raise Illinois tax rates at a time when neighboring states are lowering their flat rates; and it will boost the business tax rate to one of the highest in the country.
Repeal of the state's flat income tax appears to be headed towards defeat with 55 percent of voters opposed to a graduated rate tax structure. (AP)
Maryland State Budget Amendment
Does the Maryland governor have too much budget control? That’s the reasoning behind the first question on Maryland’s ballot that would tilt power back to the Legislature, allowing it to increase, decrease or add items to the state budget. Currently, the Assembly can only reduce the state’s operating budget.
Democrats in the state Legislature are in favor of the amendment, saying it will advance the state’s ability to set a balanced budget. So, too, is the state’s largest newspaper, the Baltimore Sun. In an editorial, it said the proposed amendment to the state Constitution would alter that balance of power to give lawmakers a bigger say. But it would leave the governor with the power of a line-item veto to strip out any wasteful or unnecessary spending, which could advance only with a three-fifths override vote from the state Legislature. Nor could legislators increase overall spending; they’d still have to approve a balanced budget.
But state Republicans oppose the amendment, saying the language is misleading and will grant too much power to legislators who, unlike the governor, are not elected in a statewide vote.
Maryland voters have approved Question 1, which allows the General Assembly to change the budget. With 74 percent of the vote counted, 74.2 percent have voted in favor of budgetary power shift.
There are 16 transit funding measures on state ballots. Since the pandemic, voters have approved every transportation measure that has been put before them. The biggest indicator to date of public commitment to public transportation was evidenced in the response to four large measures on the November ballot.
Bay Area Measure RR
Voters in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo were asked to approve a 1/8 cent sales tax to ensure that Caltrain has a dedicated funding service. Lost fare revenues during the pandemic have had a serious impact on Caltrain, which has said that discontinuing service is a possibility without the tax increase, which is anticipated to result in $100,000,000.
Opponents complain that a sales tax will pose a disproportionate burden on lower-income families, a concern exacerbated by the fact that Caltrain riders tend to be relatively wealthy. Proponents underscore the fact that Caltrain is an integral part of a network that is essential to preventing traffic nightmares in the Bay Area. With no dedicated funding source, Caltrain could be forced cease operations if RR fails, and possibly not be able to resume for more than two years.
Austin Metro Proposition A
Capital Metro in Austin is seeking approval for an 8.5 percent increase in city property tax to fund Project Connect, a $7 billion plan that would include light rail, a downtown transit tunnel, an electric bus fleet providing expanded service, park and ride facilities and more.
Opponents of the proposal claim that the tax increase is actually 20 percent, based on the amount that the tax bill from the city will increase. The bulk of property tax bills, however, reflect levies by the county, the healthcare district, the school district and the Austin Community College. When these are considered together, the total tax rate increase is approximately 4 percent. Some argue against investing in public transportation at a time when public health concerns are driving ridership down.
Proponents point to the fact that traffic problems are destroying quality of life in one the country’s best-loved cities, and to the importance of public transit to climate goals and equitable access to jobs and education.
Portland Measure 26-18
Voters in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties will cast ballots on a payroll tax measure that would fund Get Moving 2020, a $7 billion plan. Projects would including light rail, a regional bus network, bridge replacement and repair, biking and walking infrastructure and more.
The plan was developed with significant input from a wide range of community stakeholders, with attention to racial and social equity. Proponents believe the transportation system is decades behind where it needs to be, and that this investment is central to reviving the economy in the region. Small businesses are exempt from the payroll tax imposed by the measure, but large employers believe that it will impact their ability to recover and have indirect effects on local businesses.
Gwinnett County Transit Referendum
Gwinnett County is seeking a one percent sales tax increase for a period of up to 30 years to fund a transit plan that addresses the needs of a rapidly growing population in this Atlanta suburb. The $12 billion plan includes rail, bus rapid transit, arterial rapid transit, bus-only lanes, a new transit hub and expanded local bus service.
Opponents of the measure don’t agree that this is best investment to solve the county’s traffic problems, or that it will contribute to economic development. Proponents point to the fact that a sales tax will yield funding from anyone spending money in the county. They see the upgrades as essential to ensuring that workers can travel into and out of the company for jobs, and to providing mobility services to a disproportionate number of older citizens.
Outcome: At mid-day on Nov 4, the “no” vote had a 1,749-vote advantage, but according to a County spokesman, there are 4,000 absentee ballots yet to count and nearly 1,000 provisional ballots to process.
Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota will vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Voters in South Dakota and Mississippi will decide medical marijuana initiatives. South Dakota is the first state to vote on both recreational and medical marijuana measures at the same election.
- Arizona has legalized the possession and use of marijuana for adults, age 21 years or older, and will permit individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants in their residences. (AP)
- New Jersey has voted in favor of legalizing marijuana (AP).
- Montana has passed Constitutional Initiative 118, which establishes that the state can set the legal age for purchasing, consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages and marijuana. (AP)
- South Dakota has passed Measure 26, which establishes a medical marijuana program for individuals who have a debilitating medical condition as certified by a physician. (AP)
- Mississippi has legalized the medical use of marijuana. (AP)
Measures to curb police power by creating or expanding the power of civilian review boards are on the ballot in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, San Diego, Columbus, Ohio, Portland, Ore., and a number of smaller cities. Other types of oversight entities could be created or empowered in Oakland, San Jose and Sonoma County, Calif., and King County, Wash., which includes Seattle.
- Philadelphia has approved the creation of a Citizens Police Oversight Commission with 75 percent voting in favor of the measure. (Results remains unofficlal. Source: Ballotpedia)
- In Pittsburgh, a measure has passed with 85 percent of the votes, amending the city charter to require police officers to cooperate with investigations by the Independent Citizen Police Review Board, which will have the authorization to audit the police bureau, and change board member removal procedures. (Ballotpedia)
- In San Francisco, voters passed an mesure in favor of amending the city and county charter to create the Sheriff's Department Oversight Board which will be authorized to report findings and recommendations on department operations to the board of supervisors and to create the Sheriff's Department Office of Inspector General to investigate non-criminal misconduct by employees and in-custody deaths and recommend policy changes to the sheriff and board of supervisors. The measure passed with 67.5 percent of the vote. (Ballotpedia)
- San Diego's Measure B to create a civilian review board appears to have passed with 75 percent of the vote. It would create a Commission on Police Practices, which would have members appointed by the City Council, its own staff, an independent attorney and the power to subpoena and conduct investigations into police officer misconduct. (KPBS)
- Voters in Columbus, Ohio, have overwhelmingly approved the creation of a new citizen police oversight panel and a new office of inspector general, which would conduct investigations. With over 345,000 early votes and election-day votes counted, the unofficial results showed Issue 2 cruising to a landslide victory with 74% percent of voters in favor. (Columbus Times-Dispatch)
- Voters in Portland, Ore., overwhelminglyapproved the establishment of a police oversight board. The measure passed with more than 82 percent in favor of giving the board the power to subpoena witnesses and request police documents and evidence to investigate complaints made against the Portland Police Bureau,and impose disciplinary actions up to termination of law enforcement professionals. (Ballotpedia)
Voters in both Massachusetts and Alaska will decide whether to adopt ranked choice voting systems. Under ranked choice voting (RCV), if no candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes, the candidates with the lowest levels of support are gradually eliminated until someone does receive a majority.
Alabama, Colorado and Florida all have measures that would clarify that only citizens may vote. The measures are in part a response to a law, which took effect in 2018, that allows noncitizens to vote in San Francisco for school district elections.
This year, voters in San Francisco and Oakland will decide whether to lower the voting age to 16 for local elections. Sixteen and 17-year-olds can vote in local elections in some Maryland communities and in school board races in Berkeley. A measure to lower the voting age to 16 in Golden, Colo., failed in 2018.
California voters will decide whether to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, so long as they turn 18 in time for general elections. Such policies are already in place in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
- Massachusetts voters appear to have rejected ranked choice voting initiative with 52.8 percent of the vote against the measure. (AP)
- Alaska's ranked choice voting measure is headed towards defeat with 64.8 percent voting against the creation of an open, nonpartisan primary where all candidates would appear on one ballot. (AP)