Taxpayers Foil State Revenue Schemes: Penny/Oz. Soda Tax, 500% Tobacco Tax Hike - And More

November 16, 2012 - 2:35 PM

Many conservatives are still trying to shake off a post-election hangover, but, there is a lot more to last week's election results than Pres. Obama's reelection and lost opportunities to pick up Congressional seats.

America's choices on ballot measures reveal more than a handful of silver linings indicating many voters remain passionate about low taxes and fiscal restraint when personalities are removed from the policies - even in states that supported the President.

Arizona put forth one of the strongest performances on fiscal issues. There, voters defeated a proposal to make permanent a "temporary" 2010 sales tax increase. Thanks to their rejection of the extension, taxpayers will save approximately $1 billion a year. Arizona also approved a limit on property valuations, which will help keep property taxes reasonable during the current economic slump.

Similarly, Oklahomans voted to place a 3 percent cap on future property tax increases, and for good measure eliminated the arcane intangible property tax on items such as patents and software.

In another victory for small government, Missouri taxpayers rejected a monstrous tobacco tax hike, which amounted to a nearly 530 percent increase. It is important to note that this was not just a victory for smokers. According to a recent NTU study, 41 of 59 state tobacco tax hikes from 2001-2006 were followed by additional tax hikes within 2 years.

Had Proposition B passed, Missourians would have been forced to make up the difference in the all but certain revenue shortfall. Additionally, with eight bordering states and the lowest tobacco tax rate in the nation, Missouri businesses benefit from out-of-state customers. Thanks to the rejection of Prop B, that will not change any time soon.

Missouri's tobacco tax measure wasn't the only "sin" tax to be rejected last Tuesday.

Voters in Richmond and El Monte, California foiled policymakers' attempts to align themselves with Michael Bloomberg by overwhelmingly repudiating a one-cent per ounce soda tax.

It's always encouraging to see the wheels fall off the "temperance" bandwagon, especially in traditionally liberal areas. Not only would these taxes have encouraged residents to buy groceries outside city limits, but lower-income taxpayers would have been hit the hardest by the tax.

Elsewhere around the country, voters weighed in on the President's healthcare law. Citizens in Alabama, Montana, and Wyoming spurned Obamacare's individual mandate, while Missourians refused to allow the creation of a health insurance exchange. Despite these measures being largely symbolic, they proved overreaching government policies have not become suddenly popular.

Blue states that favored strong fiscal measures were led by Washington State, which voted for the fifth time to institute a two-thirds vote threshold for tax hikes, in the midst of giving 55 percent of their vote to Barack Obama. Washington also approved charter schools and a reduction to the state's debt limit.

Additionally:

  • Michigan voted against a proposal to give constitutional backing to union collective bargaining,
  • New Jersey passed pension and health care reform for judges,
  • New Hampshire supported an income tax ban with 57 percent of the vote, though that was not enough to meet the supermajority needed for passage, and
  • Even California nixed a measure that would have disrupted commerce by requiring GMO (genetically modified) food labeling.

Staunch fiscal conservatives would also do well to remember that, in Congressional elections, the vast majority of the strongest taxpayer advocates survived. Fully, 34 of 36 National Taxpayers Union "Taxpayers' Friend" award winners earned reelection (among those races decided by publication date).

Despite the many victories, there were a handful of disappointments.

In a move that is unlikely to solve the state's 10-plus percent unemployment and stem the exodus of productive citizens, Californians voted for a massive sales and income tax increase when they approved Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to hike taxes more than $6 billion per year. But at the same time, they overwhelmingly rejected -- by a 3 to 1 margin -- an even bigger tax increase.

Adding to the frustration, tangible property tax exemptions for businesses failed in Florida and Arizona. Arkansas voters approved a sales tax increase, and the people of Portland, Oregon passed a $35 per person "arts" tax.

Most post-election analysis has been bleak and depressing for conservatives and those interested in limited government, but a close look at the nation's ballot issue votes indicates Americans are not enthralled with oppressive fiscal policy and micromanagement by government. This was true for both traditionally liberal and consistently conservative states.

Tax-fighters should keep the faith, since there are plenty of good signs to build on moving forward.

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