Coast to Coast to Taxes


Ben DeGrow follows up on a John Fund piece in the Wall Street Journal last week, discussing a couple of ballot initiatives in Maine and Washington State.  The closely mirror our own Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits budget growth to inflation + population growth.  Ben sees these as almost more of a bellwether than the NY-23, and New Jersey & Virginia governor’s races.  The referenda, I-1033 in Washington and Ballot Question #4 in Maine, however, both appear to be going down to defeat, in large part because of massive spending by the opposition.

In Washington, opponents have dumped $3 million into the race in the last month, moving I-1033 from 13 points up to 12 points down in SurveyUSA polls.  This despite significant differences between Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights and I-1033, detailed by sponsor Tim Eyman:

Colorado’s TABOR is a constitutional amendment — it couldn’t be amended by the Legislature; I-1033, like I-601, is a law, providing the Legislature with flexibility to change it. TABOR encompassed every government – school districts, library districts, fire districts, ports, public utility districts, etc. I-1033 focuses only on the state, counties and cities. TABOR put a limit on every governmental account and every tax dollar received, including transportation funds, pension funds, capital budgets, workman’s compensation, unemployment insurance funds, federal funds, etc. I-1033, like I-601, only addresses the general fund, the account that state, counties, and cities have the most trouble showing fiscal discipline with. TABOR didn’t allow rainy day funds. I-1033, like I-601, gives ‘first bite’ of excess tax revenues to the rainy day fund. TABOR didn’t exclude federal funds; I-1033 explicitly does. TABOR prohibited governments from borrowing money except with voter approval; I-1033, like I-601, has nothing like that. TABOR required voter approval for any tax and fee increase by any government; I-1033, like I-601, doesn’t.

Despite all these difference, the SEIU, the education establishment, and other big-government groups still can’t swallow limits on government growth, and asking the people first before taking more of their money.  Has Washington passed the tipping point where the patronage groups have enough money to defeat any efforts to limit them?  According to the resident lefties, and the Seattle P-I, Eyman’s initiatives have tended to poll worse than they perform on election day.  Probably the Bradley effect.  So there’s still some hope the thing will pass.

Maine is another story.  There, as Ben points out, a similar prop failed a couple of years ago, and now they’re back again with another try.  Polling also has this one down, and for much the same reason.  The opponents have outspent supporters 10-1.

These two point out a reason that ballot initiatives are different from elections.  Ballot initiatives tend to be narrow, elections are about broad coalitions.  For that reason alone, ballot initiatives tend to attract more one-sided money.  So there’s a dual effect here.  More money on a narrower issue almost certainly means more volatility.

As a test of Obama’s staying power, I still like elections better than referendums.