In some states, the GOP and Dems unite

Marijuana, bottled water, the sales tax and candy produce bipartisan consensus

Published November 1, 2010 1:14PM (EDT)

In a campaign season marked by partisan rancor, Democratic and Republican leaders in key states have found common cause trying to defeat ballot measures they say misuse direct democracy to legalize marijuana and gut government finances.

In California, virtually every politician -- including the rivals in marquee races for governor and Senate -- has urged defeat of Proposition 19, legalizing recreational marijuana use. Polls ahead of Tuesday's vote suggest the measure is trailing but the outcome could be close.

In Colorado, there's bipartisan dread over three measures to ban borrowing for public works, cut the income tax and slash school district property taxes. The proposals would cost the state $2.1 billion in revenue and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs, opponents warn.

Similar fears are being voiced in Massachusetts, where a ballot measure would mark down the state sales tax from 6.25 to 3 percent. All three gubernatorial candidates oppose the measure, which would force the state to slash $2.5 billion in services, including aid to cities and towns, opponents say.

Tax- and budget-related ballot measures in several other states also could have sweeping fiscal impact.

In Washington state, voters have a chance to repeal new taxes on candy, soda and bottled water adopted by the legislature last year -- a move that would worsen the state's budget gap by eliminating a projected $352 million in revenue over five years. A related measure would reimpose a requirement for a two-thirds majority in the legislature to raise taxes. A third measure, by contrast, would boost revenues -- imposing a state income tax on any income above $200,000, or $400,000 for couples.

Indiana voters will decide whether to entrench property tax limits into the state constitution; doing so would make it difficult for future legislatures to undo them. Legislative analysts say the caps -- 1 percent of homes' assessed values, 2 percent on farmland, 3 percent on business property -- are likely to save homeowners $161 million next year, but they have forced municipalities statewide to cut jobs and services.

In all, 160 ballot measures in 37 states will be decided Tuesday. Many are routine or technical in nature, in contrast to California's Prop 19 to legalize recreational marijuana use, which has attracted attention worldwide.

If passed, the measure would allow adults age 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow 25-square-foot pot gardens for personal use. It would authorize county and city governments to regulate and tax commercial cultivation and sales.

The gubernatorial front-runners -- Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman -- oppose Prop 19, as do Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and her GOP rival, Carly Fiorina. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has weighed in for the Obama administration, vowing to "vigorously enforce" federal laws against marijuana possession and distribution even if Prop 19 passes.

Supporters of Prop 19 say the political leaders lack the courage to acknowledge that the war on drugs is flawed.

"The truth is marijuana prohibition has utterly failed," said Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Banning outright this widely available substance has only fueled a massive black market and enriched the increasingly brutal criminal syndicates that control it."

The initial impetus and funding to get Prop 19 on the ballot came from Richard Lee, who operates a medical marijuana dispensary and cafe in Oakland.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, there's ongoing litigation seeking to identify the forces behind three ballot measures that would, if passed, slash state revenue by an estimated $2.1 billion.

Among business leaders and politicians, alarm about the proposals is so intense that opponents have raised nearly $7 million to make sure they fail. The proponents' campaign appears to have largely fizzled, with minimal endorsements and only about $17,400 raised.

Colorado's independent Legislative Council has painted a gloomy picture if the measures succeed. It said lack of revenue would force the state to devote 92 percent of its budget on constitutionally mandated K-12 education funding, leaving little for higher education, prisons and human services.

Supporters of the tax-cutting measures maintain that the economy will grow because taxpayers will keep more of their money.

Similarly, backers of Massachusetts' Question 3 -- which would cut the sales tax by more than half -- say the measure would boost the economy and create jobs while forcing the state to live within its means.

Opponents have mounted a vigorous ad campaign, with teacher unions pumping more than $4 million into it as of mid-October.

The question has cropped up in the race for governor, with all three candidates saying it goes too far. Republican Charles Baker and independent Timothy Cahill say they support returning the sales tax rate to its previous level of 5 percent. Incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick said he also supports lowering the rate to 5 percent, when the state can afford it.

A brief look at some other noteworthy ballot items:

--California's Proposition 23 would suspend the state's landmark greenhouse gas emissions law until the unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent for a year. It is backed by out-of-state oil companies; foes include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and alternative-energy entrepreneurs.

--Measures in Oklahoma would declare English the state's "common and unifying language" and prohibit state courts from considering international law or Islamic law, known as sharia, when deciding cases.

--Measures in Arizona and South Dakota would legalize medical marijuana -- a step already taken by 14 other states.

--In the nation's smallest state, a measure would shorten its formal name to Rhode Island instead of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

--Arizona's ballot includes a measure that would ban affirmative action programs by state and local governments based on race, ethnicity and sex.

--Colorado voters will decide on an anti-abortion "personhood" amendment -- similar to one they rejected in 2008 -- that would give unborn fetuses human rights in the state constitution.

--In Illinois, where the two most recent former governors have been convicted on federal charges, a proposed constitutional amendment would give voters the power to recall future governors.



National Conference of State Legislatures:

By David Crary

MORE FROM David Crary

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2010 Elections