Washington State became the second state in a row to reject labeling genetically modified foods, and a proposed end to Colorado’s flat income tax intended to boost education funding failed, as voters cast their ballots nationwide Tuesday.
In six states on Tuesday, voters considered 31 ballot questions that saw fierce campaigns and demanded voter attention, and in at least one case, broke spending records.
In New Jersey, voters approved raising the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and linking future increases to inflation, a practice already in place in 10 other states. New York voters, meanwhile, approved a large expansion in gambling in their state, giving their approval for as many as seven new casinos that supporters said would benefit upstate economies and local governments.
Splitting on a pair of tax questions, Colorado voters approved a 25 percent tax on marijuana sales, with much of the revenue earmarked for education or public safety spending, fulfilling a promise that dominated the campaign in favor of recreational marijuana that was decided in 2012.
But the failed vote on education funding, which would have raised nearly $1 billion for schools, was a blow to Democrats looking to replace the state’s flat income levy in historically tax-averse Colorado. The effort had drawn support from education reform advocates such as Bill and Melinda Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Hard-fought contests for legislative seats in a few states were also decided, as well as several congressional races to fill vacancies and judicial elections in New York.
The most expensive ballot-question effort waged was in Washington over a measure that would have made the state the first to require genetically modified food (known as GMOs) to be labeled as such. The effort drew millions in campaign funds from food activists and agri-business interests nationwide. Campaign spending topped $40 million, making it the most expensive ballot-question campaign in state history, outspending earlier fights over gay marriage and the state’s liquor business.
While supporters of the measure were optimistic heading into Tuesday’s vote, the results ended up being the second blow to efforts to label GMO foods. California voters rejected a similar measure in 2012.
Voters in Virginia delivered the governor’s mansion to Democrat Terry McAullife. And while there was relatively less drama for Virginia legislative elections, the results could have implications for party control in Richmond, especially with Democrats re-taking the lieutenant governor from the Republicans. The parties are split evenly in the Senate, and the outgoing lieutenant governor – Republican Bill Bolling – serves as tiebreaker when necessary. Three state senators were running for higher office, including Lt. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, and their fortunes could create domino effects.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie cruised to re-election New Jersey. But Democrats retained their control of majorities in Trenton, despite Christie’s landslide victory at the top of the ticket.
Here are some of the highest-profile ballot questions and results from Tuesday.
Two revenue measures could have amounted to the largest tax hike in state history.
- Amendment 66: The state’s flat income tax system would be replaced with two tiers, and the proceeds would be earmarked for education. It would collect nearly $1 billion, according to state estimates, and would require 43 percent of all state tax revenue to go toward education. REJECTED
- Proposition AA: If passed, legal recreational marijuana would be taxed twice: First, by way of a 15 percent tax on the wholesale price of retail marijuana – with the first $40 million set aside for education. Second would be a 10 percent sales tax levy, in addition to the state’s 2.9 percent sales tax, with proceeds earmarked for regulation, public health and police activities related to the legal pot market. APPROVED
- Governor: Republican Gov. Chris Christie vs. Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono. Christie held a comfortable lead in polls, as Stateline previously reported. WINNER: Chris Christie
- Minimum Wage: New Jersey voters could make their state the 11th to set a minimum wage that automatically increases with inflation. A constitutional amendment would set the rate at $8.25 per hour, up from the current $7.25, and ensure increases in the future. It also would require the state to increase its own minimum if the federal minimum (currently $7.25 per hour) ever exceeds it. APPROVED
A proposed constitutional amendment would allow up to seven new casinos to be built in the state, something that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and business interests have backed as a way to boost revenues and drive economic activity in upstate New York. The amendment doesn’t specify whether the state will tax privately run casinos or open its own. APPROVED
- Proposition 6: The amendment would take $2 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to pay for water infrastructure projects. The Texas Water Development Board, appointed by the governor, would have the power to direct funds to priority projects. APPROVED
- Proposition 5: Would make reverse mortgages available, allowing homeowners to draw on their home equity for cash or similarly fluid assets without having to sell the property. Unlike a traditional home equity loan, a reverse mortgage doesn’t need to be repaid until the homeowner sells the property. They’re available in many other states, but Texas has a history of keeping a tight lid on housing policy. (For years the state didn’t allow home equity loans.) APPROVED
- Governor: Democrat Terry McAuliffe vs. Republican Ken Cuccinelli. WINNER: Terry McAuliffe
- Lieutenant Governor: Republican E.W. Jackson vs. Democrat Ralph Northam WINNER: Ralph Northam
- GMO Labeling: The measure would make the state the first to require genetically modified food to be labeled as such. A similar effort failed in California in 2012. REJECTED
- State Senate Special: Republicans have an eye on moving closer to a firm majority in the state’s upper chamber, where they are in power but only with the help of two Democrats who caucus with them. The contest between Democratic state Sen. Nathan Schlicher and Republican state Rep. Jan Angel has attracted more than $2.5 million in campaign donations. TOO CLOSE TO CALL