In 2020, voters across Missouri could decide a ballot initiative to consolidate St. Louis city and St. Louis County into a single political entity named The Metropolitan City of St. Louis. The new city would be the 10th largest city in the U.S., with a population around 1.3 million as of 2017. Residents of The Metropolitan City of St. Louis would elect a 33?member legislative council, with members elected from districts to four-year terms, an executive mayor, a prosecutor, and an assessor.
The ballot initiative would amend the Missouri Constitution, as St. Louis city and St. Louis County are inscribed in the state constitution. Changes to the Missouri Constitution require a statewide vote.
Better Together, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, proposed the ballot initiative. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson (D) and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger (D) spoke at Better Together’s news conference in favor of the plan. Ben Keathley, a council member for the city of Chesterfield in St. Louis County, said he was opposed to not having a local vote on consolidation. He stated, “If this is the thing we want to do, then we should be the ones choosing it. People all over the state of Missouri shouldn’t be picking the government for someone else.”
Voters in Missouri had addressed several ballot measures related to the consolidation of St. Louis and St. Louis County, including in 1930 and 1962. Both of the ballot measures were defeated.
In Missouri, the signature requirement totals for initiatives are based on the number of votes cast for governor in the state’s most recent gubernatorial election in six of the state’s eight congressional districts. This means the smallest possible requirement to get an initiated constitutional amendment placed on the ballot for November 3, 2020, is 160,199. Signatures for initiated amendments are due six months before the general election, which is May 3, 2020.
The Florida Changes to Energy Market Initiative (Initiative #18-10) is headed to the state supreme court for a ballot language review after sponsors submitted over 79,000 valid preliminary signatures. Citizens for Energy Choices, the sponsors of the measure, call it the Florida Energy Choice Initiative. The measure would give customers “the right to choose their electricity provider” and allow them to generate and sell electricity.
The measure would amend the state constitution to declare that it is the policy of the state of Florida that “its wholesale and retail electricity markets be fully competitive so that electricity customers are afforded meaningful choices among a wide variety of competing electricity providers.”
As of January 31, 2019, the Florida Division of Elections reported that Citizens for Energy Choices had submitted 79,132 valid preliminary signatures, triggering a court review of the initiative’s ballot language and compliance with the state’s single-subject rule. To qualify for the 2020 ballot, at least 766,200 signatures need to be collected and verified with a recommended submission deadline of January 1, 2020.
The initiative itself would not directly change the structure of the state’s electric-power retail market. Rather, the amendment would declare that the state’s policy is to establish an open and competitive market for electric-power; provide consumers of investor-owned utility companies with the right to choose providers on a competitive wholesale and retail electric market and to produce electricity for themselves; and require the Florida State Legislature to pass laws to implement the amendment.
According to reports available as of January 31, 2019, Citizens for Energy Choice reported $1.14 million in contributions, all from Coalition for Energy Choice, Inc. The committee reported $574,080.39 in total expenditures. Of the total expenditures, $546,500 was expended to Ballot Access LLC and Linjen Corp for signature gathering. The average cost of a successful initiative in Florida was $4.15 million in 2016 and $4.59 million in 2018. The average total cost for qualifying a statewide initiative or veto referendum for the ballot in 2018 across the country was between $1.1 million and $1.2 million. In 2016, the average cost was $1.03 million.
On its website, Citizens for Energy Choice argued, “Florida has the second-highest electricity usage in the country, so it can be a major expense for homes and businesses alike. But of America’s seven largest states, Florida is the only one that doesn’t allow consumers to choose their own electricity providers. With choice, Florida can save more than $5 billion every year. This economic advantage would help keep Florida a leader among the country’s most populous states. Enacting energy choice in Florida will lower energy bills for all Floridians, expand clean energy options, and improve the reliability of infrastructure.”
Opponents of the measure include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, and Florida Power and Light. Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Tom Feeney said, “We believe deregulation would have a detrimental impact on Florida’s businesses and citizens in the form of increased cost of electricity and market uncertainty. Deregulating Florida’s electric utility industry would create inefficient and uneven services throughout the state, causing major chaos when a natural disaster strikes.”
This Florida amendment contains very similar provisions to Nevada Question 3 of 2018, which supporters also referred to as the Energy Choice Initiative. The question needed to be approved at two successive general elections but was defeated at the second general election it faced in 2018. Nevada Question 3 was one of the top ten most expensive ballot initiatives in 2018 and was the measure with the highest cost-per vote– $100.85 was raised per vote for or against Nevada Question 3. In total, $33.4 million was raised in support of the measure and $63.9 million was raised in opposition to it.
Colorado Proposition 111, the Limits on Payday Loan Charges Initiative, was on the ballot in Colorado as a citizen-initiated state statute on November 6, 2018. It was approved by a vote of 77 percent to 23 percent. The measure limited the interest rate on short term loans—commonly known as payday loans—to a yearly rate of 36 percent and eliminated all other finance charges and fees associated with payday lending. It goes into effect on February 1, 2019.
Before the approval of Proposition 111, the maximum charges allowed for payday loans in Colorado were as follows:
a charge of up to 20 percent of the first $300 loaned,
a charge of 7.5 percent for any amount loaned above $300,
monthly maintenance fee up to $30 per month, and
an additional annual interest rate of 45 percent.
The Yes on Proposition 111 campaign, also known as Coloradans to Stop Predatory Payday Loans, led the campaign in support of the measure, raising $2.2 million in contributions. The group argued that “Payday lenders take advantage of Colorado communities and trap working families in a cycle of debt.” Opponents of the measure included The State Ballot Issue Committee (also known as 13 Issues) and Jon Caldara, head of the Independence Institute. Opponents argued, “This measure may eliminate the payday lending business in Colorado. Payday loans provide options for consumers who may not qualify for other types of credit.”
Legal status of payday lending by state:
Thirty-two states (shaded in light blue on this map) authorize payday lending without limits on APR. Two states, Maine, and Oregon, (shaded in dark blue on this map) authorize payday lending with limits on APR, but permit lenders to charge extra fees on top of interest.
Five cities in Los Angeles County—Glendora, Huntington Park, Manhattan Beach, Signal Hill, and West Hollywood—will hold elections on March 5, 2019. Vote-by-mail ballots are scheduled to be mailed to voters on Tuesday, February 5. Registered voters may apply for a vote-by-mail ballot between February 5 and February 26. All ballots must be received by the registrar-recorder/county clerk’s office or dropped off at a polling location by 8:00 p.m. on election day.
Voters will decide seven measures in different jurisdictions within Los Angeles County. One measure on the ballot in West Hollywood will decide whether a London Arts Club development project moves forward on property owned by actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The measure was put on the ballot by a veto referendum petition backed by Unite Here Local 11, which opposes the project. Voters will also decide on a marijuana tax, a hotel tax, a sales tax, the location of a new Costco store, and the consolidation of local and statewide elections. One measure concerning the private lease of a medical center is also on the ballot for certain local voters within Fresno County.
March 5 also features a Los Angeles Unified School District board member election to fill a vacancy and a Fresno County Board of Supervisors election.
The group, All for Transportation, that sponsored a transportation sales tax measure in Hillsborough County, Florida, has filed a motion requesting dismissal of a lawsuit against the measure.
Referendum 2 was approved in November 2018 by 57 percent of voters, authorizing the county to raise the sales tax rate from 7 percent to 8 percent for 30 years. The group All for Transportation led the initiative petition campaign to place the sales tax on the ballot, collecting 50,709 valid signatures. The 1 percent sales tax was designed to fund transportation improvements in the county, including projects to improve roads and to expand public transit.
On December 4, 2018, Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White filed a lawsuit challenging the transportation sales tax. White argued that the sales tax was unlawfully designed to create a non-elected oversight committee and to allocate funds without a vote of the county commission. On January 24, 2019, All for Transportation filed a motion in Hillsborough County Court requesting that the lawsuit be dismissed, stating that White did not have legal standing due to his official capacity as a commissioner.
Voters in Hillsborough County voted on two sales tax measures in November 2018, approving both of them. One was the All for Transportation sales tax citizen initiative. The other was put on the ballot by the county commissioners and increased the sales tax rate by an additional 0.5 percentage points to fund public school improvements and construction.
Two property tax measures and a bond issue are on the ballot in the Albuquerque Public Schools district for the mail-in election that concludes Tuesday.
Ballots for the mail-in election must be received by elections officials by 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 5. They may be mailed to or dropped off at the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office, or they may be dropped off at the county clerk’s office warehouse.
District officials estimated that approval of all three measures would provide $900 million in funding over the next six years.
Question 1 asks voters if they wish to renew the capital improvements property tax for the district at the existing rate of $2 for every $1,000 in property value. Funds for this measure are earmarked for maintaining public school facilities and purchasing equipment and technology.
Question 2 asks voters if they wish to increase the public school buildings property tax from $3.83 to $4.83 per $1,000 in residential property value and to $5.34 per $1,000 in non-residential property value. Funds from the tax are earmarked for constructing, furnishing, and making payments on buildings and for technology and equipment purchases.
Question 3 asks voters if the district should be authorized to issue up to $200 million in bonds at a tax rate of $1 per $1,000 in residential property value. Funds would be earmarked for buildings, school grounds, technology, and matching funds for capital outlay projects.
If all three measures are approved, taxpayers will see a total increase of $2 per $1,000 in assessed property value. If all three measures are defeated, taxpayers will see a decrease in their property tax rate of $2 per $1,000 in assessed property value.
After a temporary injunction delayed implementation of new occupancy limits for vacation home rentals (VHRs) in South Lake Tahoe, California, the city has agreed to continue to delay the occupancy limits that were approved under Measure T.
Voters passed Measure T with 50.42 percent approval on November 6, 2018. The measure was designed to place restrictions on vacation home rentals in the city’s residential zones. On December 18, 2018, the South Lake Tahoe Property Owner’s Group filed a lawsuit against the city to block implementation of the measure. Judge Thomas A. Smith of El Dorado County placed a temporary injunction on one of the measure’s provisions, a rule that would have limited occupancy of VHRs to 12 occupants. The injunction ended on January 24, 2019; however, the city reached an agreement with the plaintiffs to continue to delay the occupancy rules while Measure T is under judicial review.
Measure T was designed to allow vacation home rentals in the city’s commercial zones and to eliminate VHRs in residential zones unless they are operated by a permanent resident by December 31, 2021.
Voters in Maine won’t decide any citizen-initiated statutes in 2019, making this year the first since 2013 to not feature initiated statutes. The deadline to file the 63,067 required signatures for citizen-initiated statutes was January 24, 2019. According to the secretary of state’s office, no signatures were filed for ballot initiatives.
There were three ballot initiatives that signatures could have been filed for—the Physician-Assisted Death Initiative, the Paid Sick Leave Initiative, and the Criminalization of Female Genital Mutilation Initiative. Each of these ballot initiatives is still eligible to appear on the ballot for November 3, 2020.
Maine Death with Dignity, which is leading the campaign in support of the Physician-Assisted Death Initiative, decided to aim to get its initiative placed on the ballot for the presidential election on November 3, 2020, instead of 2019. Backers of the Paid Sick Leave Initiative are also considering the 2020 ballot. Both of the campaigns have begun collecting signatures.
Between 1995 and 2017, an average of one citizen-initiated statute appeared on the ballot in odd-numbered years. Citizens could still propose a veto referendum, known as a people’s veto in Maine, against legislation passed in 2019, which could end up on the ballot in 2019 or 2020, depending on when signatures are submitted. Proponents of veto referendums are allowed to gather signatures for 90 days after the adjournment of the legislative session at which the targeted law was passed.
The lack of citizen-initiated statutes on the ballot in 2019 doesn’t mean Maine voters won’t have ballot measures to consider. There hasn’t been a single year in Maine without at least one ballot measure since 1956. The Maine State Legislature can refer statewide ballot measures, in the form of constitutional amendments and state statutes, to the ballot. In Maine, the most common type of referred statute is the bond issue. Between 1995 and 2017, an average of three to four bond issues appeared on the ballot in Maine in odd-numbered years.
On January 22, 2019, an agreement was announced to end the six-day Los Angeles teachers’ strike. The agreement summary said the teachers’ union, school district, and Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) would endorse and advocate for a 2020 ballot initiative to amend California’s property tax structure.
The ballot initiative, which qualified for the election on November 3, 2020, in October 2018, would require commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on their market value. As of 2019, California Proposition 13, passed in 1978, requires properties to be taxed based on their purchase price, with annual increases equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. The ballot initiative would continue to tax residential properties based on purchase price, leading to a tax system referred to as split roll.
The California Legislative Analyst estimated that the initiative’s changes would generate between $6.5 and $10.5 billion in additional revenue each year. Some of that revenue—about $500 million, according to the legislative analyst—would be used to supplement decreases in income tax revenue, as state law allows businesses to deduct property tax payments from their income taxes. The ballot initiative would require 40 percent of the remaining $6.0–$10.0 billion to be distributed to school districts and community colleges.
UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said, “We’ve all got a lot of work to do to make sure that that ballot initiative passes.” The UTLA is on the steering committee of the Schools and Communities First campaign, which is sponsoring the ballot initiative. The union’s political arm has contributed $350,000 to the campaign, as of the most recent campaign finance reports through September 30, 2018. Schools and Communities First had raised $3.71 million. Veronica Carrizales of California Calls, which supports the ballot initiative, said the campaign hopes to raise $45 million.
California Business Roundtable president Rob Lapsley, who opposes the ballot initiative, said the teachers’ strike “was all to start a campaign for split roll. It is not about the kids.” Lapsley said opponents of the ballot initiative are prepared to raise at least $100 million.
In California, ballot initiatives can be withdrawn after qualifying for the ballot. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), speaking about the ballot initiative, said, “My desire is to use this as an exercise in bringing the parties together to see if we can compromise on a more comprehensive tax package.” If negotiations do occur, the various parties involved would have until 131 days before the general election, which is June 25, 2020, to reach a deal.
House Majority Leader Jon Echols (R-90) and Jason Dunnington (D-88) filed House Bill 1269 on January 17, 2019. The bill would make State Question 780 retroactive for those convicted before the measure became effective for crimes that were changed from a felony to a misdemeanor by SQ 780.
State Question 780 was on the ballot in Oklahoma on November 8, 2016, as an initiated state statute. It was approved by a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent.
State Question 780 changed certain non-violent drug- and theft-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, which come with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000. SQ 780 was designed to reduce the number and duration of state prison sentences for those crimes. State Question 781, the companion initiative to SQ 780, was also approved. It allocated prison cost savings brought about by SQ 780 to counties in proportion to their population to be claimed by privately-run rehabilitative organizations that provide drug and mental health treatment, job training, and education programs. Both measures went into effect in July 2017.
Jason Dunnington (D) said, “We have Oklahomans that are labeled as felons, and their crimes would be legal or a much lesser crime today. These folks are disenfranchised, and their families are suffering. This legislation seeks to heal these wounds and continue Oklahoma down the road of responsible criminal justice reform.”
Ryan Gentzler, the director of Open Justice Oklahoma, estimated that House Bill 1269 would make between 2,500 and 3,000 people eligible for reduced criminal sentences right away.
The bill is scheduled to be read for the first time on February 4, 2019.