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Ballots Feature Bitter Medicine for Taxes, Schools, Politicians

October 27, 1990

Undated (AP) _ Angry voters have loaded state ballots with the most citizen initiatives in 76 years, aiming to slash taxes, clean the environment, improve schools and limit the terms of politicians.

Their often-snappy nicknames - ″Big Green,″ ″Son of Jarvis,″ the ″Two Percent Solution″ - belie the unusual stringency of many of the tax revolt, environmental and political term limitation proposals to be decided on Nov. 6.

″Citizens across the country are feeling anger toward the way government is performing, and they are expressing that anger through the initiative process,″ said John Keast, who monitors ballot measures for the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative research group in Washington, D.C.

In all, voters in 43 states and the District of Columbia will decide 236 ballot questions, according to the foundation. The majority were referred to the ballot by state legislators.

More tellingly, 67 are citizen-initiated ballot measures - the most since the Progressive Era in 1914 when a record 90 appeared on state ballots.

Voter wrath could be most keenly felt in Massachusetts, where passage of Question 3 would result in the largest voter-initiated state tax cut in history: $2 billion, or 15 percent of the state’s budget. Opponents argue it would bankrupt poor school districts, seriously damage others, and lead to tens of thousands of state layoffs. A poll last week for The Boston Globe and WBZ-TV showed 59 percent opposed to the rollback.

Taxing and spending limits appear on ballots in ten other states, including Nebraska, where a proposed ″Two Percent Solution″ would impose a 2 percent lid on state and local budget increases.

Colorado and California voters will decide whether to limit the length elected officials can serve. A proposed state ethics panel is also on the California ballot. Kansas City, Mo., residents may limit City Council terms.

Arizonans will decide whether their state legislators deserve a raise to $24,000 from $15,000.

Californians face their usual prodigious load of statewide measures: 28 in all, including questions ranging from saving ancient redwoods to raising alcohol taxes.

By far the most closely-watched initiative is Proposition 128, a sweeping environmental issue called ″Big Green″ by backers including Robin Williams, Sylvester Stallone and many other Hollywood stars. It would phase out pesticides known to cause cancer, ban oil development in state waters, ban chemicals that harm the ozone, and require a dramatic reduction in emissions of gases that contribute to global warming.

Important environmental issues are being considered in other states:

-Washington voters could require that state to set up boards mandating local land use planning;

-Oregonians may impose strict recycling codes and force the shutdown of the state’s only nuclear power plant;

-Missourians consider sweeping protections for Ozark mountain streams;

-New Yorkers decide on a $2 billion environment bond;

-South Dakotans may limit Black Hills mining and restrict garbage dumping;

-Arizona and Minnesota may dedicate portions of state lottery proceeds to preserving the environment.

Another potentially explosive California measure, dubbed ″Son of Jarvis″ in memory of Howard Jarvis, father of Proposition 13, would forbid any tax increase without a two-thirds legislative or electoral majority.

Among noteworthy local California issues, Santa Clara County will consider whether to finance a new stadium to lure the San Francisco Giants, Sacramento voters will decide on a city-county merger that would make it the nation’s seventh largest county, San Franciscans will consider a ″domestic partners″ measure allowing non-married live-in couples, including homosexuals, to register their relationships with city officials, while affluent Pacific Grove may float a $1.2 million bond for a butterfly habitat.

Meanwhile, the course of school reform could be on the line in several states.

The most crucial in the eyes of the nation’s educators is Oregon’s ″choice″ initiative allowing parents a $2,500 tax credit for educating their children in anywhere they wish, including private or parochial schools, or even at home.

The Bush administration applauds choice as a key to better schools. But teacher unions and others in the education establishment are fighting to keep the measure from passing, fearing it would unleash similar measures around the country to the detriment of public schools.

Nebraskans will decide whether to repeal a tax reform passed last year aimed at shifting the burden of school financing from the property tax by increasing sales and income taxes.

In Arizona, Proposition 103, the Classroom Improvement Initiative, would require the legislature to increase public school spending by $100 per pupil in each of the next 10 years. The pricetag has been estimated at up to $6 billion.

In Kansas, voters will settle a political tug of war by deciding a proposed amendment that would, in effect, give the state legislature near-total control over school governance, stripping the state board of education and board of regents of much of their independence.


-Oregon and Nevada take up abortion rights issues;

-Arkansas considers a proposed lottery;

-Staten Islanders decide whether to study a possible secession from New York City;

-Alaskans may recriminalize marijuana;

-Montanans may make their cigarette taxes the nation’s highest;

-Florida could require a three-day wait for handgun purchases;

-Arizona may end a 15-year tiff over a proposed Martin Luther King paid holiday;

-and Maine mulls a repeal of one of the nation’s toughest blue laws.


EDITOR’S NOTE - Lee Mitgang has followed ballot issues since 1978.

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