Turning Back the Tax Revolt

Voters reject “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” spending cap measures and tax cuts across the country, paving the way to funding progressive priorities.

Matt Singer

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and other Democrats have taken back America. Now what?

Isn’t it nice to get some good news? Finally, electoral victories are paving the way for real progressive success. Even better, ballot measure victories have even provided the beginnings of a progressive policy playbook. 

At the federal level, narrow victory margins and the continued presence of the Bush administration are likely to stymie progressive reforms. The states, however, are a different story. Democrats now control the trifecta” – Senate, House, and Governorship – in 15 states. Republicans, in comparison, hold only ten. And in a number of other states, Democratic majorities have Republican governors who campaigned on progressive values.

Even better news comes in the form of the apparent end of the tax revolt: voters rejected a number of so-called Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights” (TABOR) spending cap measures and tax cuts in states across the country. New York City developer-turned-libertarian financier Howard Rich worked with a handful of friends to try and qualify as many as 35 anti-government ballot initiatives. Only one proved successful. Voters also outright rejected a number of tax cuts, including an estate tax repeal that was rejected by more than 60 percent of Washington state voters.

The end of the tax revolt means an opportunity to fund progressive priorities, provided that revenue-enhancing strategies are thought through carefully in advance. So what policies are we likely to see pushed to the front burner in this new, more progressive era? In addition to more minimum wage and paid sick leave proposals, expect to see these issues jump to the front of the line:

  • Energy Independence: Washington became the most recent state to embrace energy independence by adopting a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to purchase a certain portion of their energy from clean sources. This creates jobs while fighting global warming – a win-win for everyone that is popular with voters.
  • Health Care for All Children: While some states – most notably Wisconsin and Oregon – are set on a path for health care for all, virtually any state can make significant progress by embracing health care for all children. State efforts would coincide with the federal re-upping of State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • Fix Elections: After stories reporting voting problems hit the wires in the early morning of Election Day, interest kicked up yet again in Vote by Mail as a sound, paper-trail-included alternative to the current plagued polling place method. Also catching progressives’ eyes is election-day voter registration, credited with turning out more young voters in states like Minnesota.
  • Expanded Prescription Drug Access: Improving Medicare Part D tops the Democratic agenda in D.C., but voters in Oregon proved that states need not wait for Washington when they approved an initiative to expand access to prescription drugs. State governments have significant ability to both increase access to and affordability of prescription drugs. 
  • Ethics Reform: 2006 was a banner year for anti-corruption efforts. New Hampshire Democrats took both chambers of the legislature, partly on the strength of their governor’s ethics push. In Montana, voters overwhelmingly approved a temporary lobbying ban by former government officials. States should also look at ending pay-to-play campaign contributions by government contractors, preventing self-interest from guiding decisions about whether and how to privatize government services.
  • Expanded Early Childhood Education: With victories for ballot measures to increase funding for early childhood education in both Arizona and Nebraska, expect this movement to gather steam – great news for the next generation that will benefit seriously from the move.

These measures are hardly a full progressive agenda, but combined, they are notable for their diversity and importance, tackling the issues that are on the minds of Americans: getting the economy to treat workers fairly, expanding health care access while reining in costs, and guaranteeing opportunity for the next generation.

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Matt Singer, Communications Director for the Progressive States Network, is a writer and activist in Montana.
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