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Seven Right-Wing Ballot Initiatives That Could Ruin Your Government for Decades to Come

Anti-tax initiatives are dangerous -- it’s easy to get people who are hurting economically to vote for lower taxes, but hard to get them to think about long-term effects.

If you could create a political party that convinced a large number of people that by electing you they could eat all the ice-cream they want, and then sit on their butts watching TV all day and never put on an ounce, you’d have a pretty good chance at gaining power. That’s what the conservative movement has done in terms of taxes and spending. The idea of “limited government” is appealing in the abstract, but in the real world, people really like much of what the government does -- they want well-funded schools, safe food, a clean environment, good infrastructure and a whole lot more. Arguably, the conservative movement’s greatest achievement has been disconnecting the taxes we pay from the services we expect in the minds of a large chunk of the electorate.

Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman argues that the success of the Right’s crusade against taxes has resulted in “a fundamental mismatch between the benefits Americans expect to receive from the government and the revenues government collects.” Voters cast ballots for politicians who promise them tax cuts, but those same politicians know that if they propose draconian cuts, they won’t be re-elected. Large deficits are a natural and inevitable consequence of that.

Krugman’s “fundamental mismatch” will be put to the test with a string of anti-tax ballot initiatives in several states on Tuesday. What can be expected if they come to pass can be seen in California today, where a rule requiring a two-third super-majority for any law that results in a tax increase -- a rule that has given a conservative minority an effective veto -- is putting the once-Golden State deep and structurally into the red. Making the state even more ungovernable are the effects of the passage of Prop 13 30 years ago, which cut real estate tax revenues dramatically. Incredibly painful cuts are now being enacted to keep the state government afloat.

But voters will also decide on a handful of progressive measures on Tuesday that would undo some of the damage done by anti-tax crusaders in a couple of key states. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CPBB), “Some of the ballot measures would make it easier for states to balance their budgets without excessive cuts in areas like education and health care. Others would make it much harder.”

Here are the key tax ballot initiatives to watch, courtesy of CPBB:

First, conservative proposals to tie state governments’ hands and force deep cuts in public services:

* In California:

Proposition 26 would extend the two-thirds requirement, which now applies to proposed tax increases as well as the budget, to cover proposed increases in fees and other charges. (More info here.)

* In Colorado, three ballot questions would restrict state and local governments’ flexibility to meet major needs:

Proposition 101 would sharply reduce vehicle registration fees as well as telecommunications taxes and fees.

Amendment 60 would eliminate all property tax increases that voters have approved since 1992 and cut property taxes in half over the next decade.

Amendment 61 would prohibit all future state borrowing and require voter approval of local borrowing.

(More info on all three initiatives here.)

*In Washington State

Initiative 1107 would repeal several sales tax increases the legislature approved in the recent session in order to avoid deeper cuts to services. (More info here.)

Initiative 1053 would require a two-thirds legislative vote (or voter approval) to raise taxes or fees in the future. (Voters adopted a two-thirds requirement in 2007, but the legislature suspended it earlier this year to help it close the state’s budget gap through a combination of spending cuts and revenue measures.) (More info here.)

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