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 November 30, 2006

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.

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

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH