Florida Launches 2008 Ballot Question Season
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
|The 2008 Ballot|
|Here's a preview of measures that could appear on state ballots this year:
Abortion: Measures circulating in Colorado, Oregon and Montana would give legal protection to fertilized eggs while efforts in South Dakota and Missouri would ban abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the mother's health. Voters in South Dakota in 2006 overrode a law that would have banned abortion in that state while Oregon and California also defeated measures that would have required doctors to notify a parent before performing an abortion on a minor.
Affirmative action: Measures to end preferences in college admissions and government hiring are underway in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Michigan voters approved a similar measure in 2006.
Health care: Workers in Ohio would be guaranteed seven days of paid sick leave under a proposal being circulated there. Missouri would expand subsidized health care for the poor while a measure in Michigan would require the Legislature pass universal health care legislation. Various health care initiatives are underway in California, including one to amend the state constitution to make health care an inalienable right.
Immigration: Several measures to crack down on illegal immigration are circulating in Arizona, including permanently revoking business licenses to employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers. Voters there in 2006 approved four immigration measures, including one that banned illegal immigrants from receiving day care funding and in-state tuition.
Gay rights: Initiatives to ban same-sex partnerships are circulating in California, Florida and Illinois while a measure in Oregon would prohibit public schools from teaching about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. A proposal in Arkansas would ban adoptions by gay couples. Arizona in 2006 became the first state to reject a ballot initiative to prohibit same-sex marriage while 26 other states have approved such bans in recent years.
Taxes: The state income tax would be abolished in California and Massachusetts and cut in North Dakota under pending proposals while measures to cap increases in state spending could resurface in Maine, where voters there rejected a similar measure in 2006 as did voters in Nebraska and Oregon.
Unions: "Paycheck protection" proposals circulating in Colorado, Michigan and Oregon would require labor unions to get annual written approval from every union member before spending any portion of dues on political activities. Organized labor calls the measures "Paycheck deception" laws.
(Updated Jan. 30, 8:02 a.m.)
When Floridians went to the polls Jan. 29 to vote in the presidential primary, they also endorsed a controversial measure that aims to slash property taxes by $12.4 billion and boost the state's flagging real estate market. The question is the first of a long list of ballot measures voters across the country are expected to consider this election year.
From initiatives limiting abortions to those guaranteeing workers get paid sick leave, both parties are expected to use ballot measures to pull in the votes of loyalists who might not otherwise turn out for the candidates.
The Florida ballot measure is the first salvo of the year in making property rights and anti-tax issues a part of the 2008 conversation," said Oliver Griswold, a spokesman for the liberal Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.
Most of the 2008 ballot measures will be decided Nov. 5, when voters in 11 states elect governors and the nation selects the next occupant of the White House. But over the next week, voters in Florida and California will consider high-stakes measures during their presidential primaries that could influence efforts under way in other states.
Florida voters' endorsement of the property tax measure comes at a time when the faltering housing market has property owners clamoring for relief and is a victory for Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who campaigned extensively for its passage.
The Florida measure will revamp the state's property tax system, slashing taxes by $12.4 billion by giving businesses a new $25,000 tax exemption, increasing the current $25,000 "homestead" exemption for homeowners and allowing many property owners to transfer a lucrative tax break when they move. The measure won by a 64 percent to 35.9 percent margin.
Elsewhere, ballot measures to cut property taxes are percolating in Arizona, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Billions of dollars in state revenue and state lawmakers' jobs are at stake in seven measures that Californians will consider when they go to the polls Feb. 5 on "Super-Duper Tuesday" when voters in 23 states express their preferences for president.
Californians will decide whether to:
- Reduce to 12 years from 14 years the time one can serve in the state Legislature;
- Increase funding for community colleges; and
- Repeal deals Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) negotiated with four American Indian tribes that would pay the state more than $130 million each year.
Experts caution that it's early to predict the types of measures that will ultimately appear on Nov. 5 general election ballots because drives are time-consuming, costly and fraught with legal hurdles. But advocates on both sides are already thinking about ways to replicate past success. Liberal groups, for example, used minimum wage hikes as a way to energize their voters in 2006, in the same way conservatives used bans on gay marriage in 2004 and 2006.
Griswold of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center said "wedge issues are flying fast and furious" because conservatives are unenthusiastic about the GOP presidential candidates and instead will turn to anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, anti-affirmative action and anti-tax measures to get their supporters to the polls. "These people need a reason to get their base out to vote."
Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, founder of the Americans for Tax Reform, predicts both presidential campaigns will champion ballot measures that put their opponents on the defensive. He expects anti-union measures to be in the works in Ohio and Michigan - presidential swing states and union strongholds - to force organized labor to spend time and money to defeat the initiatives. Conversely, he expects organized labor will circulate environmental or health care measures "to suck up business groups' money." He added, "It's nice to win, but it's more important to throw a bowling ball on the other team's feet."
Daniel A. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, however, said it is difficult for advocates to plot strategies until the parties select their nominees for president. "Will affirmative action be a real wedge-driver if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee or it's Barack Obama? I think it plays very differently."