Californians Say No To More Taxes, Will The Other 49 States Follow?


In California this month, voters narrowly rejected an increase in the state’s cigarette tax. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This month, in my former state of residence California, voters narrowly rejected an increase in the state’s cigarette tax by voting down Proposition 29; an act that, for some, seemed out of touch with voter concerns about balancing their state budget. Others contend that the measure went down in flames because voters have lost faith in their government’s ability to manage their state’s budget. In fact, California voters have rejected every ballot effort to raise taxes since 2004. California’s general assembly should follow suit and begin to limit spending, as well.

My home state of Missouri has defeated increasing cigarette taxes twice by statewide ballot.  While each state’s ballot initiative process is different, ultimately certifying ballot measures correctly requires sound legal planning to survive likely legal attacks.

Case in point: This week, the Missouri State Supreme Court heard a number of state constitutional arguments that could impact our state’s ballot initiative process.  At the core of these debates are fundamental rights provided in the Missouri Constitution, “the people reserve power to propose and enact or reject laws and amendments to the constitution by the initiative, independent of the general assembly, and also reserve power to approve or reject by referendum any act of the general assembly, except as hereinafter provided.” Today, in 26 states citizens can place a measure on a statewide ballot through either a referendum or initiative process.

In difficult economic times, it is not surprising to see voter anxiety over taxes that may not help to balance their state’s budget.  Voters tend to avoid risk if they suspect that they may not benefit from the returns of a new or increased tax. Business owners who are concerned about the impact of government regulation and spending will limit investment and expansion.  If there ever is a state in which citizens should have the right to revolt it is Illinois, Missouri’s neighbor to the east. Illinois has placed such tight restrictions on their ballot initiative process that many policy experts refuse to recognize it as an initiative process state.

Recently Citizens in Charge commissioned a nationwide poll to determine public support for initiative and referendum. Hands down, across the country there was widespread support for the initiative and referendum process. People favor it by more by more than two-thirds.

Next week, as we celebrate our country’s birthday, we should consider the value that more than half of our states’ constitutions provide through the initiative and referendum process. If you vote in a state that offers a ballot initiative or referendum process, cast your vote. If you reside in a state that does not or that places extreme limits on this privilege, consider getting involved with the issue. Contact your legislator, write an op-ed for your local paper, and look into joining your local state think tank. The national coalition of free-market think tanks State Policy Network has more than 100 active members. Many of them are producing excellent policy studies while educating elected officials, voters and the media.

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A Missouri Compromise Akin to Real Progress

By Rex Sinquefield,

Amidst epic political struggles, it’s difficult to recall how often consensus through reasonable compromise has prevailed. Presidential election cycles tend to exacerbate the polarities at the base of the left and right, much to the chagrin of the silent majority of independent-minded voters. Case in point: The Show-Me-State of Missouri has been thrown onto the national stage this week in ways that few progressives or conservatives might have imagined.

Since Roger Ibbotson and I first co-published “Stocks, Bonds, Bills, and Inflation: Simulations of the Future (1976-2000),” there have been many times when the volatility of the financial markets parallels the volatility of political markets.

When political stocks analogous to prediction markets such as Intrade start to move within the presidential field, you can expect to see even less bipartisan consensus on any given issue. Nevertheless, whether our candidates are debating the fairness of our tax code, or the proper priorities of funding our education system, such discourse is a necessity to a civil society. Having a vibrant debate about who should lead this country is ultimately a sign of our collective strength, not our weakness.

So, before we write off our ability to resolve our political differences, I would like to offer one anecdote of real hope and change in my own home state. This month, a Missouri statewide ballot initiative was certified to restore control of the St. Louis Police Department back to its own city. St. Louis is one of only two cities left in America that does not operate its own public safety department.

The police force in St. Louis is controlled by a board of five people composed of the Mayor of St. Louis and four political appointees of the Governor. This special board, based in our state’s capital Jefferson City, is the ultimate authority in managing police operations and setting the budget.

As you might imagine, having a city police department operated from 130 miles away can lead to many inefficiencies that most mayors would not accept. However, fixing this 150-year-old problem, which is an unfortunate vestige of the Civil War, was no small negotiating task. The odds for real reform were stacked against our efforts, largely due to concerns regarding how the measure might impact police officer pensions, city governance, and one-third of our city’s general revenue fund. Police associations, Mayor Slay, urban elected officials, and rural outstate conservatives in charge of state government all had to work together to construct an agreeable compromise.

While it has taken several years to emerge, Missouri now awaits voter approval of Proposition A after one of the broadest issue coalitions ever to come together from our diverse state demographics. Across the political spectrum, from progressive liberals to Tea Party conservatives, all groups contributed to its broad coalition of support. Urban Democrats were able to convince rural Republicans that support for the local control initiative was the right choice when more than 200,000 of Missouri’s citizens supported the grassroots cause.

Missouri’s own, President Harry S. Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” After these November elections, it will be time to set aside political rancor and begin to work together to advance the nation’s progress on several critical fronts, from tax reform to improving high quality educational access for all children. That is the time when political leaders should look to Missouri’s Proposition A, a shining example of how broad coalitions are built around a single issue when the stakes are as high as the commitment is strong.

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