Citizen-initiated legislation may be on the ballot in 19 states.
Boston — The citizen tax-cutters are at it again. Nearly two dozen proposals to limit or even slash taxes and to clamp a lid on government spending are being pushed through initiative petitions aimed at next November's election.
These proposals are among 155 initiative-petition measures - which embrace a broad range of objectives from capital punishment to the legal drinking age - in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Some of the 155 have already qualified for voter consideration, others await certification, and the rest are being circulated for signature support.
In Florida, supporters of a tax-cutting measure, considered by many even more far-reaching than California's 1978 Proposition 13, are battling to reverse a March state Supreme Court ruling that threw their measure off the ballot.
The ruling, now being appealed in the federal court by the petition's sponsors, Floridians For Tax Relief, is based on provisions in the state constitution limiting initiatives to a single topic.
The proposal, accompanied by the signatures of more than 300,000 voters, would place a cap on total state and local revenues. The cap would be keyed to the 1980-81 level, but would permit an annual increase of up to two-thirds the rate of inflation. Such funding limits could be exceeded only by majority vote of the electorate within the area involved.
Another initiative-rooted tax-cut proposal, which is destined to attract voter attention, would plug loopholes in California's Proposition 13.
Many of these proposed statutory or state constitutional changes are likely to fall by the wayside in the coming weeks, but the number reaching the ballot is generally expected to approach the 1982 record of 51.
Citizen groups and special-interest groups are continuing to use the initiative petition to enact legislation in which lawmakers have little or no interest.
Legislators and governors, too, are turning to this approach to circumvent political opposition, notes Sue Thomas of the National Center for Initiative Review based in Colorado.
In California, for example, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian is spearheading a petition drive to reapportion the state's congressional and legislative seats by creating a new bipartisan commission comprising retired appellate judges. If voters approve the measure, the first redistricting would come next year. Thus, the politically sensitive redistricting project would permanently be removed from the hands of the now Democratically controlled California Assembly and Senate.
In Michigan, a similar though not governor-initiated shift to an independent panel to handle state redistricting appears to be heading toward the November ballot.
Such initiative measures are among 64 now in the works in various states bent on restricting or shifting lawmaker authority, Ms. Thomas says. She adds: ''Close to 100 others would have impact on governments.''
A Republican-spurred initiative on California's June 5 ballot, for example, seeks to revamp legislative rules and diminish the power of the presiding officers in both lawmaking chambers.
With legislatures increasingly under siege by the initiative process, efforts to curb the availability of this approach have been afoot in several states this year. But none have succeeded. Meanwhile, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is working on a draft proposal to suggest ways to prevent usurption of lawmaker prerogatives and at the same time protect the use of the initiative.
''We are trying to develop a strategy for legislatures in their dealings with citizen groups, lobbyists, the media, the courts, and other branches of government,'' explains Candace Romig of the NCSL. That organization, comprising lawmakers from 50 states, is strongly opposed to measures such as the one on legislative rules, which is spurred by California government reformer Paul Gann.
''We view the use of initiatives for this purpose a dangerous precedent,'' Miss Romig asserts.
Another California initiative, this one intended for voter consideration in November, would make newly enacted state laws subject to repeal through a plebiscite.
Despite this legislative opposition, citizen groups in many states are pushing petitions to limit taxes. In Idaho, two initiatives to limit sales-tax exemptions and restrict use of the property tax-revenue to specific purposes are proposed.
Voter approval of all future tax increases would be mandated in Michigan; limiting state spending and holding property taxes to 1.5 percent of assessed valuation is sought in Nebraska; and a freeze of state property taxes is proposed in Nevada.
Among initiative proposals in Oregon are curbs on state and local spending, a reduction in revenue from the state personal income tax, and an increase in property-tax exemptions.
Washington State voters may be considering a Proposition 13-type measure to roll back property taxes.
But tax-cutters don't have the monopoly on initiative process. Several levy boosts are also being proposed, including imposition of a new 5 percent sales tax inMontana, an exemption of food from the sales tax in Idaho, and a hike in liquor taxes in Washington State.
Two states - Colorado and Montana - have proposals to raise the minimum drinking age to 21. Meanwhile, backers of an initiative in Washington State want to take the opposite direction, down to 18.
Proposals for a nuclear-weapons freeze or reduction are being sought through the initiative route in at least four states - California, Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Only in the latter, however, has the measure actually qualified for the November ballot.
At least 12 proposals to expand or institute legalized gambling are being sought through initiatives in seven states. The proposals include lotteries in Arkansas, Florida, and Oregon; casino gambling in Colorado, Florida, and Washington State; and parimutuel betting on horse or dog racing in Michigan.
Moves to ban use of public funds for abortion are under way through initiatives in California and Michigan.
School-prayer activists are aiming to take to the ballot with their cause in California.
Banning pornography on cable television is being sought through the Utah ballot.
Three ballot proposals to reinstate capital punishment in Oregon are in the works.
Among other initiatives proposed for next November's election are shifting Arizona's biennial state primary from September to June and providing for a presidential primary in the state, and registering Colorado voters through driver's licenses.
The District of Columbia and 23 states in the US allow initiative petitions.