News Column

Marijuana, GMOs, Minimum Wage Loom Large on Local Ballots

November 5, 2013

Jake Grovum,

voting booths
Voters will decide some fiercely contested issues in off-year elections (file photo)

Nov. 05--Voters in nearly a dozen states head to the polls today in off-year elections that produced a few surprisingly fierce campaigns.

Two high-profile governor's mansions -- New Jersey and Virginia-- hang in the balance. In six other states, 31 ballot questions saw fierce campaigns that demanded voter attention and, in at least one case, broke spending records.

Hard-fought contests for legislative seats in a few states will also be decided, as well as several congressional races to fill vacancies and judicial elections in New York.

Likely the most expensive ballot-question effort is being waged in Washington state over a measure that would make the state the first to require genetically modified food (known as GMOs) to be labeled as such. The effort has drawn millions in campaign funds from food activists and agri-business interests nationwide. Campaign spending topped $40 million, making it the most expensive ballot-question campaign in state history, outspending earlier fights over gay marriage and the state's liquor business.

The campaign for the governor's mansion in Virginia between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli drew national interest and big money, given both candidates' ties to their party's fundraisers and base.

There will be relatively less drama for Virginia legislative elections, but the results could have implications for party control in Richmond, especially depending on the outcome of the lieutenant governor's race. The parties are split evenly in the Senate, and the lieutenant governor -- currently Republican Bill Bolling -- serves as tiebreaker when necessary. Three state senators are running for higher office, and their fortunes could create domino effects.

Here are some of the highest-profile issues on ballots today.


Two revenue measures could amount to the largest tax hike in state history if voters approve them.

Amendment 66: The state's flat income tax system would be replaced with two tiers, and the proceeds would be earmarked for education. It would collect nearly $1 billion, according to state estimates, and would require 43 percent of all state tax revenue to go toward education.

Proposition AA: If passed, legal recreational marijuana would be taxed twice: First, by way of a 15 percent tax on the wholesale price of retail marijuana -- with the first $40 million set aside for education. Second would be a 10 percent sales tax levy, in addition to the state's 2.9 percent sales tax, with proceeds earmarked for regulation, public health and police activities related to the legal pot market.

New Jersey:

Governor: Republican Gov. Chris Christie vs. Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono. Christie held a comfortable lead in polls, as Stateline previously reported, but partisans on either side were closely contesting seats in the state Senate, where Democrats hold a 24-16 edge.

Minimum Wage: New Jersey voters could make their state the 11th to set a minimum wage that automatically increases with inflation. A constitutional amendment would set the rate at $8.25 per hour, up from the current $7.25, and ensure increases in the future. It also would require the state to increase its own minimum if the federal minimum (currently $7.25 per hour) ever exceeds it.

New York:

A proposed constitutional amendment would allow up to seven new casinos to be built in the state, something that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and business interests have backed as a way to boost revenues and drive economic activity in upstate New York. The amendment doesn't specify whether the state will tax privately run casinos or open its own.


Proposition 6: The amendment would take $2 billion from the state's rainy day fund to pay for water infrastructure projects. The Texas Water Development Board, appointed by the governor, would have the power to direct funds to priority projects.

Proposition 5: Would make reverse mortgages available, allowing homeowners to draw on their home equity for cash or similarly fluid assets without having to sell the property. Unlike a traditional home equity loan, a reverse mortgage doesn't need to be repaid until the homeowner sells the property. They're available in many other states, but Texas has a history of keeping a tight lid on housing policy. (For years the state didn't allow home equity loans.)


Governor: Democrat Terry McAuliffe vs. Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

Lieutenant Governor: Republican E.W. Jackson vs. Democrat Ralph Northam

Washington State:

GMO Labeling: The measure would make the state the first to require genetically modified food to be labeled as such. A similar effort failed in California in 2012.

State Senate Special: Republicans have an eye on moving closer to a firm majority in the state's upper chamber, where they are in power but only with the help of two Democrats who caucus with them. The contest between Democratic state Sen. Nathan Schlicher and Republican state Rep. Jan Angel has attracted more than $2.5 million in campaign donations.



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Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: GMOs, marijuana taxes, governors and more on the election ballot

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