Voters Used Ballot Initiatives To Defy Power-Mad Politicians
Ballot initiatives are a mixed blessing. People can vote for some really stupid things, and people can reject important reforms. But they’re also an important democratic tool, a way citizens can cut through the influence peddling that dominates state capitols across the country. When lawmakers serve entrenched interests, particularly in states where one party dominates, a ballot iniative is a way to reverse their bad conduct.
On Tuesday night, in several states, voters used ballot initiatives and referendums to reject the best-laid plans of their political elite. And good for them! Here are some of the big highlights:
Illinois Rejects Tax Hike
Illinois’ Democratic lawmakers, with the full support and encouragement of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, voted in 2019 to change its income tax system from a flat tax of 4.95 percent to a graduated tax rate. Under the new system, the state’s poorer citizens would pay slightly less (very slightly—often less than $100 a year), while those with annual incomes of more than $250,000 would see dramatic increases, up to a nearly 8 percent marginal rate.
But Illinois couldn’t implement the change without voter support, because the flat tax is written into the state’s constitution. So Pritzker, party leaders, and state labor unions pushed hard for public support, calling this a “Fair Tax,” spending millions of dollars to promote it, and telling citizens this change was key to fixing the state’s massive debt and budget deficit problems.
On Tuesday, Illinois voters flatly rejected the change. With 98 percent of Illinois votes counted, 55 percent of voters have said no. The flat tax is going to stay.
Illinois citizens are already very highly taxed, and no doubt that contributed to the proposal’s failure. But there was also the extremely deceptive way Pritzker was promoting the vote. Illinois voters weren’t actually voting on whether to implement the governor’s “Fair Tax.” They were voting on whether to give lawmakers the authority to implement a graduated tax, period. The new rates Pritzker touted were not set in stone; future legislators would be free to jack those rates up further. Whatever little savings the average taxpayer might get in the short term could very quickly be wiped out.
Pritzker’s group, Vote Yes for Fairness, was defiant about the loss, blaming the state’s problems (overspending and a failure to properly fund pension systems) on the rich. The group’s chairman, Quentin Fulks, put out a statement pretty much yelling at the voters:
Illinois is in a massive budget crisis due to years of a tax system that has protected millionaires and billionaires at the expense of our working families, a crisis that was only made worse by the Coronavirus pandemic. Now lawmakers must address a multi-billion-dollar budget gap without the ability to ask the wealthy to pay their fair share. Fair Tax opponents must answer for whatever comes next.
In fact, Chicago’s richest have been fleeing the state and moving elsewhere.
Arizona and Mississippi Embrace Marijuana
In one sense, every time drugs are decriminalized or legalized via ballot initiative the voters are defying their elected officials. After all, legislators could actually do it themselves. Heck, New Jersey lawmakers put the decision to legalize recreational marijuana to the voters via a referendum Tuesday because they couldn’t get their act together to pass a statute.
But Mississippi’s vote on medical marijuana and Arizona’s vote on recreational marijuana show some additional defiance.
In Mississippi, supporters of medical marijuana gathered more than 214,00
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