Voters Pull at State Purse Strings: Results of 2010 Fiscal Ballot Initiatives

As voters determined who would be governing their states and the nation on Tuesday, they also made decisions on a myriad of ballot initiatives, referendums and legislative measures.  In total, there were 160 ballot proposals in 37 states, many of which were related to fiscal and economic issues.  According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute, taxes – as in past years – were the number one issue on state ballots in 2010.  Measures concerning property taxes found their way on to a number of state ballots this year, along with income taxes, sales taxes, fiscal limits, fees and miscellaneous taxes, rainy day funds, and changes to legislative procedures and voting requirements related to budget issues. 

The biggest trends running through all of the fiscally themed initiatives were limits on taxes and government.  Based on the voting trends, here is what many citizens had to say in 2010:

  • We want limited taxes and fees, including limited property taxes on certain groups like disabled veterans or the elderly and no new taxes on real estate sales.
  • We want to limit the power of state and local governments to raise taxes and fees, either by capping certain revenue streams or changing the legislative procedure, such as increasing the majority threshold or creating a voter approved requirement.
  • We think state governments should be more fiscally responsible and should increase the amount of rainy day funds available and how much is contributed to those funds.

These themes were certainly present in Washington, where citizens voted against creating the state’s first-ever income tax on high-income individuals ($200,000 gross income) and dropped the sales tax on candy, bottled water and carbonated beverages.  Voters also reinstated the recently repealed requirement that legislative actions that increase taxes be approved by 2/3 majority or receive voter approval. 

Some states bucked the trend, however, and voted against dropping or placing limits on taxes. In particular, Colorado citizens voted against Prop. 101, which would have reduced income tax rates from 4.63 percent to 3.5 percent, and reduced or eliminated taxes and fees on vehicles and telecommunication services. Voters in Colorado also disapproved a measure that would have banned state borrowing and required voter approval for local government borrowing.  In Massachusetts, voters shot down a proposed decrease in the sales tax, which would have reduced the state tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.

Download the PDF Version of the Table: 2010 Fiscal and Economic Ballot Measures