Blue States Vote on a Taxpayer Bill of Rights

by John Fund
The Wall Street Journal
October 24, 2009

Portland, Maine

Most of the attention on the Nov. 3 off-year elections is on governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, which Republicans are hoping to sweep. But voters in two liberal states on opposite ends of the country will also take up measures to limit spending. The outcomes will give us a clear sense of the public mood toward runaway spending.

Maine and Washington are both more liberal and secular than the rest of the country. Barack Obama carried each state with identical 17-point margins, and both have powerful public employee unions that have driven up the cost of government to the point that a backlash has developed.

The voter-initiated measures on next month’s ballot are modeled after Colorado’s 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights (Tabor). They prohibit state spending from increasing faster than the growth of state population plus inflation in any given year. Extra revenue would be rebated back to the taxpayers, and if officials wanted to raise taxes beyond the limit they would have to seek a public referendum.

Tabor worked well in Colorado, keeping budgets down as the state saw economic growth well above the national average for more than a decade. However, an economic downturn in 2005 prompted 52% of Colorado voters to support a referendum that suspended Tabor for five years and allowed the state to retain an estimated $3.7 billion in additional revenue. But by turning down a companion measure to add $2.1 billion to the state’s debt burden, Colorado voters indicated their distrust of the political class.

There are still a lot of undecided voters, but right now it looks like Tabor will pass in both Maine and Washington. A poll from the marketing research firm Pan Atlantic SMS Group of Portland, Maine, earlier this month found that 52.8% of voters support passing Tabor while just 38.7% are opposed. In Washington state, a Rasmussen poll in September found that voters favor Tabor 61% to 31%.

John Fund’s article continues at WSJ.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A13

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