Ballot initiatives up for vote in 35 states

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Next week, voters in 35 states will determine the fate of 154 ballot initiatives, according to Ballotpedia. Of these, nine involve the legalization of recreational or medicinal marijuana; five address minimum wage hikes; five pertain to health care related matters; and four seek to tighten access to guns by way of background checks and other steps. 

In July, we provided a rundown of some of these ballot initiatives, including the following:
  • Taxation of marijuana sales, in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri;
  • Stadium funding, in San Diego;
  • Gas tax allocation, in New Jersey;
  • Income tax increases, in Cleveland, Ohio;
  • Imposition of transit taxes, in California; and
  • Imposition of tech-taxes, in San Francisco.

Besides these, others are worthy of mention as well, including the following: 

Washington: Carbon Tax 

Initiative 732 would impose a carbon emission tax of $15 per metric ton of emissions on the sale or use of certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity. The tax would increase to $25 per metric ton in July 2018, and then 3.5 percent plus inflation each year until the tax reaches $100 per metric ton. The tax would be phased in more slowly for farmers and nonprofit transportation providers.

No states currently tax carbon emissions. Initiative 732’s goal is to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in a revenue neutral manner. It would accomplish this by reducing the state sales tax from 6.5 to 5.5 percent, increasing the Working Families Tax Credit for low-income families, and cutting the business and occupation tax rate from 0.484 to 0.001 percent. Even so, there is some dispute as to whether the initiative would be revenue netural. 

The Tax Foundation opined that “Initiative 732 is an ambitious proposal, and in many respects a balanced one, but it also carries significant risks, both in terms of revenue certainty and broader economic effects.”

Texas: Ballpark Sales Tax

The Ballpark Sales tax would fund a $1 billion baseball stadium for the Texas Rangers. The Tax Foundation explains that it would raise the local sales tax by 0.5 percent, the hotel tax by 2 percent, and rental car tax by 5 percent, and impose a baseball tickets tax. Arlington’s current 8 percent sales tax is tied for 51st highest of major cities in the country; raising it to 8.5 percent would have it tie for 21st highest.

Vote Yes!, a proponent of the referendum, claims that “there would be no new taxes and no tax increase to fund the city’s portion of the new ballpark.” Instead, it asserts that a new bond issue would pay for the stadium. “Losing [the Texas Rangers] to another city would have a devastating impact, taking millions in spending and valuable jobs away from our city.”

On the other hand, Citizens for a Better Arlington argues that “if it weren’t a new tax, then we wouldn’t have to vote on it!” Moreover, the group contends, the city is not at risk of losing the Rangers: “This is just a scary tale that might work well with elementary school children around a campfire at night, but adults should have no problem seeing through this ham-handed ghost story.” 

California and Colorado: Soda Tax

Pew Charitable Trusts reported that sugared beverage taxes are on the ballots three California cities, along with Boulder, Colorado. As we noted when they passed, Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are the only two cities that have successfully passed and now impose such beverage taxes.

In Orange County, Fountain Valley, California’s Measure HH would establish a one percent sales tax for fund city services. According to the ballot language, the measure would “maintain 911 emergency response times, fire stations, police officers/firefighters/paramedics, anti-gang/drug programs, after school, senior programs; upgrade first responder disaster communication; repair stormwater systems to prevent flooding, streets/potholes/parks; other general city services.” That language also establishes that Measure HH would provide $11.5 million annually for twenty years.

In San Francisco, Proposition V would impose a one-cent per ounce tax on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages. The city’s comptroller calculated that it would result in an annual tax revenue increase of approximately $7.5 million in fiscal year 2017–2018, and $15 million in fiscal year 2018–19. 

Unlike in Philadelphia, where the tax was purposed in funding education and infrastructure, San Francisco’s tax attempts to defray the health costs associated with obesity, dental decay, and other diseases with which there is a direct link with sugary drinks. This is similar to similar to Berkeley’s beverage tax. 

In the California city of Albany, Measure 01 would likewise impose a one-cent per ounce general tax, providing approximately $223,000 annually on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages and sweeteners. This would be used to fight diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay, especially in children, low income communities and communities of color. 

Finally, Measure 2H in Boulder, Colorado would impose a 2 cents per ounce soda tax, which is expected to raise $3.8 million in the first full fiscal year. The sides are putting forth the usual arguments. For instance, supports Measure 2H for the funds that it is expected to raise that will “create opportunities for healthy food and fitness within the city – especially for low-income residents most impacted by unhealthy sugary drink.”

On the other hand, the Boulder Weekly contends that it is a “sin tax that provides money for beneficial programs on the backs of a small segment of the population. We reiterate that sin taxes are regressive, and research shows they do little to curb consumption or improve public health.”

Clearly, the debate over these soda taxes rages on. Pew noted that in the months after Berkeley’s tax took effect, there was a 21 percent drop in soda and other sugary beverage consumption in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, while water consumption increased by 63 percent. But in Mexico, a tax of about five cents per liter only reduced consumption by 3 percent, and had no significant impact on average caloric intake. A study by Ohio State and Cornell professors suggests that this could be because beer consumption increases when taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages exist.

Colorado: Universal Health Care

Amendment 69, or the Colorado Creation of ColoradoCare System Initiative, would finance universal healthcare for Colorado residents, in part through an additional 10 percent payroll tax. Employers would pay for two-thirds of tax, and employees would pay for the rest, resulting in approximately $25 billion per year in revenue. Other non-payroll income would also be taxed, at 10 percent.

The Tax Foundation determined that the new tax would make Colorado much less competitive, causing it plummet from 16th to 34th nationally on the State Business Tax Climate Index. More specifically, it concluded that Amendment 69 would “dramatically alter the state’s tax and health care systems…hurt Colorado’s tax climate[,]…create a new bureaucracy, with immense authority to change taxes, outside of the state’s current balance of powers, eliminating transparency for taxpayers.”

The group’s Top State Tax Ballot Initiatives to Watch in 2016 contains a complete watchlist.

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