The Tax and Spend Spectator

The Other Referendum

How do Americans really feel about taxes?

By From the November 2012 issue

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MANY IN THE ESTABLISHMENT WILL READ their own favorite lessons from the entrails of the presidential election. But we don't have to guess what a Romney or Obama win should tell us about the policies the American people want. There are a number of key initiatives on ballots across the country that allow voters to provide unfiltered answers to questions on taxes and union power. A candidate can win or lose for many different reasons. Initiatives stand or fall on their own. Watch how California votes on one initiative to limit union power, and how Michigan votes on another to enshrine it in its constitution:

  • California Prop. 32, aka Paycheck Protection, would prohibit unions and corporations from automatically deducting money from workers' payroll checks for political purposes. Instead, unions and businesses would have to ask workers for political contributions. One notes that Big Labor has spent more than $30 million trying to kill Prop. 32. It would be a body blow to public sector union control of the state's politics.

  • Michigan Proposal 2, the so-called Protect our Jobs Amendment to the constitution, would allow government union contracts to overrule laws passed by the Michigan legislature. With just a couple exceptions, no present or future state law could constrain union contracts. Proposal 2 would even prohibit passage of a Right to Work law in the state.

AND HOW DO AMERICANS REALLY FEEL about taxes? Deep blue California votes on three tax hikes; Michigan votes on an amendment to require a two-thirds vote for future tax increases:

  • California Proposition 30 would impose the sales and income tax increases that have been Governor Jerry Brown's top priority since he took office. If passed, it would increase California's sales tax for four years, from 7.25 to 7.5 percent. It would also create, for seven years, four new high-income brackets for those with taxable incomes exceeding $250,000. These increases will soak California taxpayers to the tune of $6 to $9 billion each year.

  • California Proposition 38 would increase, for 12 years, personal income tax rates on earnings over $7,316: from a 0.4 percent increase for the lowest individual earners, to a 2.2 percent increase for individuals earning over $2.5 million. For the first four years, 60 percent of revenues would go to K-12 schools, 30 percent to repaying state debt, and 10 percent to early childhood programs. Thereafter, K-12 schools and early childhood would split the revenue 85-15.

    Prop. 38 would increase taxes by $10 billion in 2013-14 alone. Any bets on whether politicians would really allow this new tax to expire after 12 years of feeding the beast?

  • California Proposition 39 is a corporate tax hike that would raise more than $1 billion a year by taxing business income earned outside California. Should it pass, taxing companies outside their borders might become a favorite pastime for loser states watching their tax bases flee.

  • Michigan Proposal 5 is a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds "supermajority" vote for the legislature to pass any tax increase. California passed such a rule when it enacted Proposition 13 in 1978. Arizona and Nevada also have the requirement.

IN 1992, Bill Clinton misread his election as a green light for bigger government and missed the many initiative results that highlighted opposition to new spending and higher taxes--votes that foreshadowed the 1994 GOP sweep. Smart politicians will watch how voters speak to issue initiatives more closely than whether they vote for any one politician.

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About the Author

Grover G. Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform.