Americans for Tax Reform 2020 State Ballot Measure Guide

The fate of more than 120 statewide ballot measures will be decided by voters in 34 states from coast to coast on November 3, 2020. The initiatives and referenda that will be put to voters in the 2020 general election span a broad range of issues, including tax, budget, health care, labor, and energy policy.

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) has compiled the following list of 2020 ballot measures that will be especially consequential to taxpayers, and whose outcomes will affect national, regional, and state economies for better or worse.

ATR’s guide is available online at www.ATR.org/ballotguide, where it will be updated with post-election results.


ALASKA

An Act changing the oil and gas production tax for certain fields, units, and nonunitized reservoirs on the North Slope

Amendment/Initiative: Ballot Measure 1

Policy Area: Tax

This measure would: Increase taxes on oil production fields in the Alaska North Slope (ANS) through an alternative gross minimum tax or an additional production tax—whichever produces more tax revenue each month and at each field. The alternative gross minimum tax would be 10% tax on oil at the point of production, as long as oil is less than $50/barrel. However, if prices surpass the $50/barrel mark this tax could reach a maximum of 15% when oil is $70/barrel and higher. The additional production tax would be based on a more complicated equation—which calculates the difference between the average production tax value of oil per month and $50. Once that figure is found it is then multiplied by the volume of taxable oil produced by the producer each month and then that total is multiplied by 15 percent.

ATR Recommendation: Oppose

 

An Act Replacing the Political Party Primary with an Open Primary System and Ranked-Choice General Election, and Requiring Additional Campaign Finance Disclosures

Amendment/Initiative: Ballot Measure 2

Policy Area: Elections & Campaigns

This measure would: Require persons and entities to disclose personal information of contributors who give over $2,000. Overturn the current election system by replacing standard party primaries with open top-four primaries for state and federal offices, and by establishing rank-choice voting. If approved, this measure would cripple a state party’s ability to elect their own candidate to advance to the general election. Those who would like to donate to a political candidate might not do so if their personal information is exposed due to fear of public retaliation—chilling free speech. The likely result of these upheavals would be higher burdens for Alaska taxpayers.

ATR Recommendation: Oppose


ARIZONA

Income Tax Hike

Amendment/Initiative: Prop 208

Policy area: Tax

This measure would: Permanently increase Arizona’s top marginal individual income tax rate 77.7% – resulting in Arizona being home to one of the 10 highest individual income tax rates in the country – by imposing a new 3.5% “surcharge” on individuals earning more than $250,000 a year in taxable income and couples earning more than $500,000 a year. Contrary to many claims, this tax will not only affect the wealthy. It has been estimated that around 50% of those who would be impacted by this rate change would be small businesses, who also pay individual income taxes.

ATR recommendation: Oppose


ARKANSAS

Sales Tax Hike

Amendment/Initiative: Issue 1

Policy Area: Tax

This measure would: Permanently increase Arkansas’s sales tax rate by 0.5 percentage points or 8.33%, resulting in Arkansas having one of the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the country. In 2012, Arkansas voters approved a “temporary” sales tax increase of 0.5 percentage points, which, under current law, is supposed to expire in 2023. If approved, Issue 1 would make that tax hike permanent, which, contrary to many claims, is, in fact, a tax increase.

ATR recommendation: Oppose


CALIFORNIA

Split-Roll Property Tax Hike

Amendment/Initiative: Proposition 15

Policy area: Tax

This measure would: Joe Biden, Kamala, Harris, and the California Democratic Party have endorsed Prop. 15, which could raise taxes on California employers by as much as $12 billion annually by removing the Prop. 13 property tax limit for commercial properties.

If Proposition 15 is approved by voters in November, it would repeal Prop. 13’s property tax protection for commercial property worth more than $3 million by forcing it to be taxed at market value every year. Passage of Prop. 15 would mean billions of dollars in higher property tax bills for Golden State businesses at a time when many are already struggling amid the current recession.

California’s Proposition 13, passed by voters 42 years ago, limits the annual rise in the taxable value of a property, both personal and commercial, at 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is smaller. Transferred properties are reassessed at 1% of sale price. Prop. 15, if approved, will removed this protection for California businesses.

Proponents of Prop. 15 portray it as a tax hike on large commercial property owners only. Yet in reality, this tax hike would also hit small businesses who rent. As John Kabateck at the National Federation of Independent Business explains, “the majority of small business owners, upwards of 80%, rent their property. That cost is passed on directly from property owners.”

ATR recommendation: Oppose


COLORADO

Income Tax Cut

Amendment/Initiative: Proposition 116

Policy area: Tax

This measure would: Decrease the state income tax from 4.63% to 4.55%.

ATR recommendation: Support

 

Vote On Fees

Amendment/Initiative: Proposition 117

Policy area: Tax

This measure would: Subject fee increases to voter approval, as is already the case for all tax hikes. In 2019, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that business fees were not considered taxes and thus outside the purview of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), which subjects all proposed tax hikes to voter approval.

Proposition 117 looks to correct this loophole by requiring voter approval on fee hikes that generate more than 100 million in revenue over 5 years. Approval of Proposition 117 would close off an end-run around TABOR that has been costing Colorado taxpayers.

ATR recommendation: Support

 

Tobacco & E-Cigarette Tax Hike

Amendment/Initiative: Proposition EE

Policy area: Tax

This measure would: Raise the existing tax rates for cigarettes and other tobacco products, while creating a new tax for electronic cigarettes and other vaping products. This tax hike is projected to collect $276 million annually once fully phased in.

ATR recommendation: Oppose

 

Gallagher Amendment Repeal

Amendment/Initiative: Amendment B

Policy area: Tax

This measure would: Repeal the Gallagher Amendment. Enacted in 1982, the Gallagher Amendment limits property tax rates so that residential properties comprise 45% of total property taxes collections, with commercial properties paying 55%. Repeal of the Gallagher Amendment is projected to result in higher residential property tax bills. 

ATR recommendation: Oppose


FLORIDA

$15 Minimum Wage Initiative

Amendment/Initiative: Amendment 2

Policy area: Labor, regulation

This measure would: Mandate a $15-per-hour minimum wage. The wage increase would be implemented through incremental increases from 2020 to 2026. Once the $15 minimum wage level is reached in September of 2026, future minimum wage increases would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. A $15 minimum wage threatens to kill jobs and businesses, increase the cost of consumer goods, and labor costs for government (and thus, taxpayers).

ATR recommendation: Oppose

 

Top-Two Open Primaries for State Offices Initiative

Amendment/Initiative: Amendment 3

Policy area: Elections

This measure would: End the state’s current closed primary system, and have all candidates compete in one primary where the top two vote-getters advance to a general election face-off. This kind of primary is sometimes referred to as a “jungle primary.” This proposal is such a radical idea that both the Republican and Democratic parties oppose it. This dysfunctional system would likely result in greater burdens for Florida taxpayers.

ATR recommendation: Oppose

 

Extend "Save Our Homes" Portability Period Amendment

Amendment/Initiative: Amendment 5

Policy area: Taxes

This measure would: There is a 3% annual limit for an increase in the valuation of a homestead property. Currently, after moving to a new primary residence, a Florida resident has two years to transfer their homestead property benefit. Amendment 5 would increase the time period for this transfer to 3 years. This additional flexibility promises to help some taxpayers save on property taxes.

ATR recommendation: Support


ILLINOIS

Allow for Graduated Income Tax Amendment

Amendment/Initiative: SJR1

Policy Area: Tax

This measure would: Illinois currently has a flat tax, which is protected in the state constitution. This measure would repeal that constitutional requirement, and open the door for a graduated income tax – and significant tax increases. Proponents are the same politicians and special interests that have brought Illinois to the brink of bankruptcy. Now, instead of addressing the state’s spending problem, they want to replace the flat personal income tax rate with six graduated tax rates, with no barrier to pushing future increases on any income range.

ATR recommendation: Oppose


LOUISIANA

Expenditure Limit Growth Formula

Amendment/Initiative: Amendment 4

Policy area: Budget

This measure would: Replace the current expenditure limit formula in the state constitution with a more effective formula that was approved by the legislature earlier this year. The new limit would build upon the current limit, which ties spending growth to personal income growth, by also including growth of Louisiana’s GDP, state population, and changes to the regional inflation rate in the formula. Amendment 4 would also include an absolute spending cap of 5%.

ATR recommendation: Support


MARYLAND

Legislative Authority over State Budget Amendment

Amendment/Initiative: Question 1

Policy area: Budget

This measure would: Strip the governor of his budgetary power, and hand total budgetary control over to the state lawmakers. Contrary to many claims, this is not about balancing the state budget. Maryland already has a balanced budget requirement. This is instead an effort by the democrat-controlled legislature, who has a history of bankrupting the state, to not only strengthen their authority but to also override the legislative process so that they can fund other areas of the state that benefits their political control. If enacted, this amendment is bound to wreak havoc on the state budget as whoever is in power at the time will be able to misuse and reallocate funds to projects that may not be in the taxpayer’s best interest.

ATR recommendation: Oppose


MASSACHUSETTS

Ranked-Choice Voting Initiative 

Amendment/Initiative: Question 2 

Policy area: Elections & Campaigns   

This measure would: Question 2 would institute ranked-choice voting in Massachusetts primary and general election contests for state legislators, governor and other executive offices, federal congressional offices, and certain county offices. Massachusetts elections currently use a plurality voting system and semi-closed primaries.  

"Runoff elections would work fine, where there would be a second election day and the highest two vote-getters would advance to that,” explains Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “That allows the voters the ability — which ranked-choice, or instant-runoff voting, doesn't allow you — to have an understanding of who the final two [candidates] are to make the determinations.” 

ATR recommendation: Oppose 


MICHIGAN

Search Warrant for Electronic Data Amendment

Amendment/Initiative: Proposal 2

Policy area: Tech, criminal justice

This measure would: Amend the state constitution to require authorities get a search warrant to access a person’s electronic data and communications.

ATR recommendation: Support


NEVADA

“50 by 30” Renewable Energy Standards Initiative

Amendment/Initiative: Question 6

Policy area: Energy

This measure would: Mandate through a constitutional amendment that the state’s electric utilities generate half of the state’s energy through renewable energy sources by the year 2030. Nevada passed legislation last year that requires a similar level of renewable energy production. This policy will drive up energy costs and make life more unaffordable for Nevada families. Adding it to the constitution will only make it harder to reform in the future. As this question succeeded in 2018, it will be enacted if approved this year.

ATR recommendation: Oppose


OKLAHOMA

Criminal History in Sentencing and Sentence Modification Initiative

Amendment/Initiative: State Question 805

Policy area: Criminal justice

This measure would: End sentence enhancements for nonviolent felony offenders based on past nonviolent convictions. This reform would not impact the base sentence, meaning it would have no impact on whether an offender faces the maximum sentence for their crime. Studies show these kinds of sentencing enhancements do not improve public safety, but they do increase costs for taxpayers by imprisoning many nonviolent drug offenders for excessive periods of time.

ATR recommendation: Support


OREGON

Tobacco, E-Cig, and Vaping Tax Hikes

Amendment/Initiative: Measure 108

Policy area: Tax

This measure would: Measure 108 increases Oregon’s cigarette excise tax from $1.33 to $3.33 per pack (a more than 150% increase), taxes e-cigarettes and other nicotine vaping products at a rate of 65% of the wholesale price, and raises the tax cap for cigars. The cigarette excise tax hike alone is estimated to raise $160 million annually, according to the Legislative Revenue Office.

ATR recommendation: Oppose

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