Voters in 44 states face ballot initiatives. Taxes and money-spending matters dominate lengthy list.
Boston — Will adult use of marijuana be legalized in Oregon? Is casino gambling on the way in Florida? Should English become the official state language for California? Is voter registration by mail an idea whose time has come in Massachusetts? These questions, brought to the ballot by citizen activists through petition, are among 239 proposals facing voters in next month's state elections.
Voters in all but six states -- Delaware, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin -- will find at least one proposal on their ballots. Rhode Islanders will have the longest ballot with 25 proposals, 14 of them involving changes in the state constitution.
Although the number and nature of the pending measures vary widely, taxes and money-spending matters are the single most dominant issue, as they were in 1980, 1982, and 1984.
Borrowing proposals totalling nearly $3.87 billion dollars, for various public improvement and construction projects are at issue in six states. These potential bond authorizations range from $1.5 billion for hazardous waste abatement and environmental protection in New York, to $2.6 million for human services facilities in Rhode Island.
Eleven of the 38 initiative-petition-launched ballot proposals relate directly to state or municipal revenue matters. Legalized gambling questions rank second in prevalence, with proposed state lotteries at issue in seven states.
Despite the frequent challenges that discourage, if not thwart, initiative sponsors, this lawmaking process on balance works quite well, those close to the scene generally agree.
It's a means of ``getting proposals before the voters that just couldn't make it through the legislative process without substantial modification,'' notes Sue Thomas, editor and publisher of Monthly Initiative Bulletin.
``Proponents can draft an initiative exactly as they want it to read. And once it has been approved by the state for circulation, it cannot be amended in any form. So you come out with a law that's exactly what you wanted,'' she explains.
Because initiatives don't have to go through the legislature as do other ballot questions, such citizen-spurred proposals are generally more far-reaching and often more controversial.
The initiative process, which had its roots in the progressive movement of the early 1900s, appears to be increasingly used by special interests to pursue their personal agendas rather than broad social issues.
While overall there are eight more questions on this year's statewide ballots, three fewer initiative petition questions have made it to the ballots than in 1984. Those close to the scene attribute this slight falling off in citizen-spurred proposals to stiff, often well-financed, opposition.
Unlike four years ago when eight initiatives sought to ban nuclear weapons, and 1984 when there were four such ballot questions, this year there are no such proposals. Similarly among the missing are measures to outlaw sale of beverages in ``no-deposit'' bottles or cans, an area of considerable ballot activity earlier this decade.
Other high-visibility and controversial ballot proposals would provide for quarantining carriers of the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) virus in California, mandate cleanup of all toxic waste sites in Massachusetts, and ban public funding of abortions in Arkansas and Oregon. Proposed constitutional changes to restrict the termination of unwanted pregnancies also are before voters in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Of the 11 tax-related initiative proposals, the most far reaching are in Colorado and Montana. One proposal in Montana would abolish all real estate and personal property taxes in the state, and another measure seeks to freeze property taxes at 1986 levels. Colorado tax-cutters are out to ban new or increased state and local taxes unless voters approve at a regular election.
A Massachusetts proposal seeks to cap state spending by restricting revenue increases to the average percentage growth in wages and salaries statewide over the previous three years.
Property tax curbs are proposed in California and Oregon. Reduction in the state sales tax to benefit renters and homeowners also is before Oregonians, as is a 5 percent sales and use tax on tangible goods to bankroll various state programs.
Washington state voters will decide whether to hike their sales tax by one-eighth of 1 percent to fund fish and wildlife projects.
State lottery proposals are on Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota ballots. Legalizing parimutuel horse and dog racing, on a local option basis, is proposed in Kansas. -- 30 --