Property tax-cut trend running out of steam?

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The property tax-cut express is running out of steam. Except for Arkansas and Massachusetts, or "Taxachusetts" as some call it, proposals to slash local real estate levies fared poorly in the Nov. 4 election.

Voters in at least seven states -- Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah -- flagged down major property tax-slashing measures. In most cases, the vote wasn't even close.

These measures, all but one of which were proposed in initiative petitions, were among 37 tax-related ballot questions in 18 states.

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Although unofficial returns show that at least 20 of the 37 were approved, many of them were largely noncontroversial, involving things like increased tax exemptions for elderly and disabled homeowners.

In contrast, most of the 16 tax changes spurned by the electorate were generally more far-reaching.

Nuclear construction and waste-transportation bans, legalized gambling, legislative reapportionment, and salaries of public officials were other major issues dealt with by voters in some of the 42 states and the District of Columbia with legislature-shaped or initiative-petition proposals.

A Monitor survey indicates that, while a substantial number of some 350 measures on various ballots were approved, it appears that well over half of them went down to defeat.

Referendum questions placed on ballots through initiative petitions generally fared better than other ballot questions. Of the 41 initiatives, at least 18 were approved.

One of them provides for a convention of elected delegates to frame a constitution for the District of Columbia as a step toward statehood for the nation's capital.

Major ballot issue decisions include: Taxation

Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved a local property tax rollback measure keying future levies to 2 1/2 percent of the combined full market value of all real estate within the community. Also passed, and by an even more lopsided margin, was a restriction on state approval of new measures which would increase municipal costs unless state-funded or enacted by a two-thirds majority of both legislative branches.

Arkansas voters put a major property tax relief measure on the books. Missouri placed a limit on state tax assessments and forbade local tax boosts unless authorized by voter referendum. Montana voters approved keying of the state income tax to growth in the economy.

North Dakota voted for a 6 1/2 percent oil extraction tax on gross value of petroleum at the wellhead.

Increased property tax deductions for elderly or disabled persons passed in Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Nevada voted repeal of its personal property tax on household furniture. Voters also approved exemption of food from the state's 3 percent sales tax.

In Utah a similar measure to exempt food from the 4 percent sales tax was rejected. Also rejected there was a move to empower the legislature to repeal personal property taxes, providing the state reimbursed local governments for lost revenue.

Oregon citizens said no to a proposed boost in the state's gasoline tax from 7 cents to 9 cents a gallon.

Ohio voters turned down sweeping tax changes aimed at shifting part of the burden from property tax to other levies. Voters there did approve a measure to permit classification of real estate into two categories, to be assessed at different levels of full market value.

Most of the property tax measures turned down were patterned after California's Proposition 13. Also rejected were spending limit measures in Massachusetts and Michigan which would have increased state funding of schools. Gambling

Lotteries were approved in Arizona, Colorado, and the District of Columbia.

Voters in Missouri, Texas, and West Virginia cleared the way for legalized bingo sponsored by charitable or fraternal groups.

New Jersey turned down a measure to permit pari-mutuel horse racing on Sundays and to empower the legislature to regulate prizes for "games of chance."

Nuclear Controls

Oregon banned construction of nuclear power plants until there are federally certified waste disposal facilities and their siting receives voter approval. Neighboring Washington voted to prohibit the importation and storage of radioactive wastes unless under sharing agreements with other states.

Proposals restricting various nuclear projects appear to have been rejected in Missouri, Montana, and South Dakota. Liquor

Michigan rejected a proposed lowering of the state's minimum drinking age from 21 to 19, with 68 percent voting no. State project funding

Bonds totaling $1.62 billion were approved by voters in seven states: Alaska, California, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington. The funds were raised for such projects as transportation systems, restoration of parks and coastal areas, improved prison and mental health facilities, energy conservation, and water supplies.

Some $219 million in bond authorizations were rejected in Alaska, California, Maine, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

North Dakota provided for tax-exempt revenue bonding to underwrite mortgages on single-family home construction.

Alaska turned down an initiative proposal to set up a special public corporation to embark on various development projects ordinarily the responsibility of state government. The private stock venture was pushed by outgoing US Sen. Mike Gravel. Government reforms

Illinois approved a one-third reduction in its 177-seat House of Representatives.

The way was cleared for South Carolina governors to serve two consecutive four-year terms. A similar measure was rejected in New Mexico.

Full disclosure of funds spent by lobbyists to influence legislation was mandated in Montana.

Utah provided for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run as a team instead of independently.

Rhode Island rejected creation of an impartial commission to recommend legislative pay raises. Lawmaker compensation has remained at $5 a day since 1900.

Arizona required elected officials to resign before running for another office.

Massachusetts repealed an $1,800 pay raise state lawmakers voted themselves a year ago.

Campaign-spending limits and disclosure were provided for in Minnesota. A proposed commission to handle future legislative and congressional districting in that state was defeated, as was a measure to establish the initiative petition procedure for passing statutes and amending the state constitution.

Virginia provided for post-session convening of the legislature to consider overriding gubernatorial vetoes. Human rights

Iowa, which several years ago ratified the federal Equal Rights Amendment, rejected a proposal for an ERA in the state constitution.

In Florida, the right to privacy was placed in the state constitution.

Massachusetts amended its constitution to outlaw discrimination of handicapped persons.

Oregon provided for guaranteed voting rights for mentally handicapped persons.

Women in Utah won the right to work in underground mines and the way was cleared for a work-release program for prison inmates. Environment

Montana voted down a proposed "bottle law" to ban the use of nonreturnable beer and soft drink bottle and cans in the state unless the industry came up with an effective litter control program.

South Dakota refused to outlaw the hunting of mourning doves. Oregon refused to ban the use of leghold traps. State constitutions

Iowa rejected the calling of a constitutional convention.

A proposed new constitution, including a four-year term for future governors instead of the current two, was spurned by Arkansas voters.

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