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Direct Democracy: Two Wins, Four Losses

The red wave turned out to be more of a red trickle.

The red wave turned out to be more of a red trickle, as Republicans underperformed in their effort to secure strong majorities in the U.S. Congress, and GOP attempts to claim governorships in states such as Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania failed.

But voters also cast ballots on initiatives and referenda. The Southwest Public Policy Institute tracked all the measures in our region, and sadly, of the six we followed most closely, four produced disappointing outcomes. Herewith are our thoughts on the results of our region’s direct democracy in 2022.

We’ll start with the wins. Passage of Proposition 121 means that Colorado’s flat income tax will decline from 4.55 percent to 4.40 percent, retroactive to the start of the year. Amazingly, three states to the west, California’s deep-blue population declined to hike taxes on “personal income over $2 million” in order to fund “rebates and other incentives for zero-emission vehicle purchases and … charging stations,” as well as “wildfire prevention and suppression programs.” Good call, and downright essential for the state to revive its sagging economy. As the Tax Foundation put it, “It is true that taxes are but one factor in business decision-making. Other concerns also matter — such as access to raw materials or infrastructure or a skilled labor pool — but a simple, sensible tax system can positively impact business operations with regard to these resources.”

Now, the losses. Lieutenant governors are pointless politicians, and seven states either dispense with them entirely, or limit the sinecures to appointed members of the legislature. But via Proposition 131, Arizona’s voters created the office. The last thing the Grand Canyon State needs is another politician.

New Mexico, unfortunately, continued to make profoundly unwise policy decisions. Voters in the Land of Enchantment overwhelmingly backed a boost in “early childhood education funding by almost $150 million a year.” According to the Heritage Foundation, the “bulk of the scientifically rigorous evaluations of preschool programs yield consistently negative findings: Any benefits fade out over time.” From nearly nothing a decade and a half ago, New Mexico now spends vast sums on “early childhood education and care.” Yet there is no evidence that such a massive “investment” has benefited the state’s children.

New Mexicans doubled down by allowing “public investment to provide access to essential household services, including internet, energy, water, wastewater and other similar services.” Unemployment benefits, Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized housing — the Land of Enchantment is addicted to welfare. And all that “public investment” has fostered, not obviated, severe socioeconomic pathologies. More welfare will hurt, not help, the state.

Finally, Nevada’s voters altered “the state constitution by removing the language that allows for a different minimum wage between workers — based on whether a company offers benefits — enshrining a $12 minimum wage in the constitution.” This blunder was made despite the substantial evidence that “a higher minimum wage reduces employment for the least-skilled while having little to no effect on poverty rates.”

In sum, encouraging news on taxes in Colorado and California, but steps backward in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. Let’s hope voters choose better in 2024.

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