Atlanta voters approve measure to reauthorize 1% sales tax to fund water and sewer projects

Voters in Atlanta, Georgia, approved a measure Tuesday reauthorizing the city to levy the 1% Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST). With 89 precincts reporting, the vote was 71% in favor to 29% against.

Going into the election, the city levied a 1% sales tax that was set to expire on September 30, 2020. This measure was designed to allow the city of Atlanta to renew the 1% sales tax for four years in order to raise $750 million to fund water and sewer projects. The measure was put on the ballot through a vote of the Atlanta City Council.

The city of Atlanta said the MOST tax is “a 1-cent tax that applies to most goods purchased in the City of Atlanta. These funds allow visitors and business people who use the city’s water and sewer infrastructure but do not pay city water/sewer bills to help pay for upgrading and maintenance of the infrastructure. … The city estimates that Atlanta’s already high water/sewer rates would have to increase by 25 to 30 percent without the MOST.”

The original 1% sales tax was in place from October 1, 2004, through September 30, 2008, and was used to partially fund Atlanta water and sewer projects. Voters approved measures to renew the tax for additional four-year periods in 2008, 2012, and 2016.

Voters approve $130 million bond issue for Fort Wayne, Indiana, Community Schools

In Allen County, Indiana, voters approved a $130 million bond issue for the Fort Wayne Community Schools district, which is the second-largest school district in the state. The measure was approved 74 percent to 26 percent on June 2.

The ballot measure allowed the school district to issue bonds to fund repairs and renovations to 37 buildings. It was estimated to increase the property tax rate by $148.60 per $100,000 in assessed value, replacing expiring debt service property taxes.

The measure, known as REPAIR FWCS 2020, was the third measure in a series of three public votes concerning Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) School Basic Renewal/Restoration and Safety Projects. The first phase of the school renovations (known as REPAIR FWCS) was approved by voters in May of 2012. The second phase of the school renovations (known as REPAIR Phase 2) was approved by voters in May of 2016.

Kansas City, MO, voters approve a ballot measure to increase the sales tax for fire department operations

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Kansas City Question 1 was approved on June 2. The measure received 55 percent of the vote. Question 1 was designed to increase the sales tax by 0.25 percentage points, bringing the total city-levied sales tax to 3.25 percent (in addition to county and state sales taxes). Under Question 1, revenue from the sales tax increase will be used for Kansas City Fire Department operations.

Question 1 was put on the ballot through a 10-2 vote of the Kansas City Council on January 23, 2020.

Voters in the West Ada School District, Idaho, rejected a ballot measure to renew a $14 million property tax levy

Voters in West Ada School District, located in Ada and Canyon Counties, Idaho, rejected a ballot measure to renew a $14 million per year supplemental property tax levy for the period between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022. According to results released on June 2, 54 percent of voters rejected the ballot measure.

The two-year supplemental levy has been renewed four times since 2012. The renewal would not have increased the total levy raised by the school district. At the time of the election, the existing total levy rate was $351 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

This measure was put on the ballot for the May 19 election, but the absentee ballot return deadline was delayed to June 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which meant results weren’t available until Tuesday.

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Philadelphia voters approve two charter amendment ballot measures

Voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, approved two amendments to the city’s charter on June 2.

Question 1 created a Philadelphia Department of Labor, along with a Board of Labor Standards, to administer and enforce citywide labor laws and collective bargaining agreements. According to election night results, Question 1 had 80 percent of the vote.

Question 2 changed the city’s charter to state that appointed officers and employees can volunteer for statewide candidates. Before Question 2, the city’s charter said that appointed officers and employees could not take part in the management or affairs of a political campaign but did not specify how that relates to non-managerial volunteer activity. Question 2 was approved by 65 percent of voters.

Both Question 1 and Question 2 were placed on the ballot through a unanimous vote of the Philadelphia City Council.

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Second version of California split roll tax initiative qualifies for November ballot

On May 29, the office of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that enough signatures were deemed valid for the second version of a ballot initiative to require commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on their market value. In California, the proposal to assess taxes on commercial and industrial properties at market value, while continuing to assess taxes on residential properties based on purchase price, is known as split roll.

Proposition 13 (1978) requires that residential, commercial, and industrial properties be taxed based on their purchase price. The tax is limited to no more than 1 percent of the purchase price (at the time of purchase), with an annual adjustment equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, market values in California tend to increase faster than 2 percent per year, meaning the taxable value of commercial and industrial properties is often lower than the market value.

The first version of the split-roll tax ballot initiative qualified for the November 2020 ballot in October 2018. In August 2019, the campaign Schools and Communities First, which is behind the proposal, announced that signatures would be collected for a revised version of the ballot initiative. Tyler Law, a campaign spokesperson, said that the campaign would not withdraw the qualified initiative from the ballot until the revised initiative qualifies. Law said, “The committee’s got the money. We’re going to get it on the ballot.”

About 1.75 million signatures were filed for the second version on April 2, 2020. At least 997,139 (57.02 percent) of the signatures needed to be valid. Based on a random sample of submitted signatures, 74.60 percent were projected to be valid.

Both versions of the ballot initiative would create a process in the state constitution for distributing revenue from the revised tax on commercial and industrial properties. First, the revenue would be distributed to (a) the state to supplement decreases in revenue from the state’s personal income tax and corporation tax due to increased tax deductions and (b) counties to cover the costs of implementing the measure. Second, 60 percent of the remaining funds would be distributed to local governments and special districts, and 40 percent would be distributed to school districts and community colleges (via a new Local School and Community College Property Tax Fund).

Whereas the first version would have taxed property whose business owners have $2.00 million or more in holdings in California and operate on a majority of the property, the second version eliminated the majority-operation requirement and increased the threshold to $3.00 million.

The second version also redefined the exception for small businesses. The first version would have continued to tax businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees based on purchase price. The second version would likewise define small businesses as those with 50 or fewer full-time employees but would also require businesses to be independently owned and operated and own real estate in California to be exempted from the change.

Other changes involve replacing the state’s existing funding distribution formula for schools and colleges with a new formula for distributing the revenue from the ballot initiative. The second version would also give retail centers, whose occupants are 50 percent or more small businesses, more time before being taxed at market value.

Since the campaign Schools and Communities First will withdraw the first version of the ballot initiative, the qualification won’t change the number of measures on the ballot in California. As of May 31, six citizen-initiated measures have qualified for the ballot (excluding the first version of the split roll tax initiative). Three more ballot initiatives are pending signature verification. The verification deadline is June 25, 2020. June 25 is also the last day that the California State Legislature can place measures on the November ballot.

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Missouri Medicaid Expansion Initiative certified for the ballot

On May 22, 2020, the Missouri Secretary of State issued a statement certifying the Missouri Medicaid Expansion Initiative for the ballot. This qualified the initiative for the November ballot unless the governor called for it to go on the August ballot by the May 26 deadline. On May 26, Governor Mike Parson (R) announced that the amendment will appear on the August 4 primary election ballot.

The initiative would amend the state constitution to do the following:

  • expand Medicaid eligibility in Missouri to adults who are between the ages of 19 and 65 and whose income is at or below 133% of the federal poverty level, which would effectively expand Medicaid to those with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level under the Affordable Care Act;
  • prohibit any additional restrictions or requirements for the expanded population to qualify for Medicaid coverage than for other populations that qualify for Medicaid coverage; and
  • require the state to seek maximum federal funding of Medicaid expansion.

In Missouri, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated constitutional amendment for the ballot is equal to 8% of the votes cast for governor in the previous gubernatorial election in six of the eight state congressional districts. Healthcare for Missouri submitted 341,440 signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State on May 1, 2020. The secretary of state used a random sample method, which projected enough valid signatures in congressional districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7, to qualify the measure for the ballot. In those six districts, a total of 172,015 valid signatures were required; 258,686 signatures were projected to be valid.

Medicaid is a government program that provides medical insurance to groups of people with income below certain levels and individuals with disabilities. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, provided for the expansion of Medicaid to cover all individuals earning incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NFIB v. Sebelius that the federal government could not withhold funds from states that refused to expand Medicaid. The ruling had the practical effect of making Medicaid expansion optional for states. In 2018, the federal government financed 94% of the costs of state Medicaid expansion. For 2020 and subsequent years, the federal government was set to cover 90% of the costs.

Voters in Oklahoma will also decide a Medicaid expansion initiative in November.

As of 2019, a total of 36 states and Washington, D.C., had expanded or voted to expand Medicaid, while 14 states had not.

In 2017, voters in Maine approved a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid. The measure was the first time a citizen initiative to expand Medicaid appeared on any statewide ballot.

In November 2018, voters in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, and Utah decided ballot initiatives concerning Medicaid expansion and the funding of expanded Medicaid coverage. The Idaho and Utah measures were approved by voters and later altered by the states’ legislatures. The measure in Nebraska was approved, and the measure in Montana was defeated. In January 2018, voters in Oregon approved Measure 101, thereby upholding 2017 legislation to provide funding for the state’s portion of costs for expanded Medicaid coverage through a tax on healthcare insurance and the revenue of certain hospitals.

Federal judge requires Ohio to accept electronic signatures from initiative campaigns seeking to place minimum wage and voting changes on the ballot

On May 19, U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus ordered Ohio to accept electronic signatures from the campaigns sponsoring the Minimum Wage Increase Initiative and the Voting Requirements Initiative. The judge also extended the signature deadline from July 1 to July 31. The judge’s order only applies to the ballot measure campaigns that sued the state, including several local marijuana decriminalization initiative campaigns.

On March 30, 2020, Ohioans for Raise the Wage and Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas asking for the July 1 signature deadline to be extended, the number of signatures required to be reduced, and permission to gather signatures online. On April 28, Judge David C. Young dismissed the case arguing that since the petition requirements for initiatives are in the Ohio Constitution “the ability to change those requirements is reserved only to the people.” He added that there is no exception for public health emergencies. Following the case dismal, the campaigns brought their case to the federal court.

U.S. District Judge Sargus argued in his opinion that “these unique historical circumstances of a global pandemic and the impact of Ohio’s Stay-at-Home Orders, the State’s strict enforcement of the signature requirements for local initiatives and constitutional amendments severely burden Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights.” The ruling did not change the number of signatures required or the state’s distribution requirement.

Ohio filed an appeal of the ruling on May 20. If the decision is not reversed, Ohioans for Raise the Wage and Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections have until July 31 to collect 443,958 valid signatures.

The Minimum Wage Initiative would incrementally increase the state’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by January 1, 2025. After 2025, the minimum wage would be tied to inflation. The first increase would be on January 1, 2021, to $9.60 per hour.

The Voting Requirements Initiative would remove the requirement that voters must be registered 30 days prior to an election; require absentee ballots requested by military personnel or voters outside of the U.S. be sent 46 days before the election; automatically register citizens at motor vehicle departments unless the citizen refuses registration via a written statement; allow voter registration at polling locations; and require 28 days of early voting.

Ballotpedia has identified 11 lawsuits in nine states seeking changes or suspensions of ballot measure requirements. The topics of the lawsuits include:
• the number of signatures required,
• notary requirements for remote signatures,
• the ability to collect signatures electronically, and
• the extension of signature deadlines.

Before March 2020, no states allowed the use of electronic signatures for statewide initiative and referendum petitions. While some states allowed remote signatures through petition sheets printed, signed, and mailed, no states allowed remote signature gathering through email before the coronavirus pandemic.

On April 29, 2020, Massachusetts became the first state to allow campaigns to collect electronic signatures for statewide citizen-initiatives for the 2020 cycle after four campaigns filed a lawsuit and the secretary of the commonwealth agreed to a settlement.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed an executive order on May 17 that authorized the Colorado Secretary of State to establish temporary rules allowing for remote petition signature gathering to be signed through mail and email. The rules were expected to be finalized by the Secretary of State in early June. Prior to the order, petition circulators were required to witness each act of signing in person. The order also removed individual initiative signature deadlines of six months after ballot language finalization and instead required that signatures for all initiatives are due by August 3, 2020.

The Washington, D.C., Council passed a bill on May 5 that allowed remote signature gathering for initiative campaigns through email.

On May 13, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a request made by four ballot initiative campaigns to allow them to gather signatures through E-Qual, which is the state’s online signature collection platform, during the coronavirus pandemic.

On April 30, Missoula District Judge John Larson rejected a request by Montana ballot initiative petitioners to allow them to use electronic signatures. Judge Larson ruled that the State’s “compelling interest in maintaining the integrity and security of its election process outweighs any burden on [the] Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”

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Portland voters approve income tax to fund homeless services and gas tax renewal

Voters in the Portland Metro area in Oregon approved Measure 26-210 on Tuesday, authorizing an income surtax and business tax to fund homeless services. The measure authorizes a 1% tax on household income above $200,000 and individual income above $150,000 and a 1% profit tax on businesses with gross receipts higher than $5 million. The income tax was designed to be on resident and non-resident income earned within the Metro area.

Metro officials estimated the combined revenue of the income and business taxes to be $248 million per year. The tax would take effect in 2021 and expire in 2030. Measure 26-210 required that the revenue raised by the income and business taxes be divided according to the proportion expected to be received from the three counties that make up Portland Metro. Multnomah County was set to receive 45.3% of the revenue, Washington County was set to receive 33.3%, and Clackamas County was set to receive 21.3%. A 20-member oversight committee will be formed to conduct and publish annual financial audits.

Vote totals available as of Wednesday afternoon showed voters approving Measure 26-210 by a vote of 63% to 37%. Voters in Multnomah county approved the measure by a vote of 77% in favor to 23% opposed. Voters in Washington County approved the measure by a vote of 52% in favor to 48% opposed. Voters in Clackamas county rejected the measure by a vote of 53% opposed to 47% in favor. Here Together Coalition led the campaign in support of Measure 26-210. Alliance for an Affordable Metro led the campaign in opposition to Measure 26-210.

Portland voters also approved Measure 26-209 to authorize the renewal of the city’s gas tax for four years at a rate of $0.10 per gallon and dedicate revenues to infrastructure repairs. City officials estimated the gas tax would raise $74.5 million over four years. The $0.10 gas tax was first approved in 2016. Vote totals available as of Wednesday afternoon showed voters approving Measure 26-209 by a vote of 77% to 23%. The measure was approved in each county.

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Puerto Rico to vote on statehood referendum at November general election

Puerto Rico will vote on a statehood referendum at the general election on November 3, 2020. The ballot measure will ask, “Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted into the Union as a state?” Congress has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico and would decide if and how to respond to the election results.

Should the ballot measure be approved, the governor would appoint a seven-member commission to represent Puerto Rico in matters and negotiations related to achieving statehood. The commission would develop a transition plan, which the governor would approve or reject, and present the plan to Congress and the President.

According to Senate Bill 1467, which placed the referendum on the ballot, voting “No” on the referendum would mean that a seven-member commission would be appointed to negotiate with the federal government for the free association or independence of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has voted on five political status referendums since developing a territorial government in the 1950s. This year’s referendum is the first to give voters just two options—“Yes” and “No.” In 1967 and 1993, voters were asked to choose between maintaining the territory’s current status, statehood, and independence. In 1998, voters were given two additional options—free association and none of the above. In 2012, the political status referendum was a two-part measure. First, voters were asked whether to maintain the territory’s current status. Since 54.3 percent voted “No,” votes were counted for a second question, which asked about statehood. Turnout decreased 24.2 percent between the first and second questions, meaning about a quarter of voters who voted on the first question left the second question blank. Puerto Rico voted on a referendum again in 2017, with the statehood option receiving 97.2 percent of the vote. The Popular Democratic Party (PDP), which had the second most members in the Puerto Rico Legislature, boycotted the referendum. Turnout was 22.9 percent.

In Puerto Rico, there are three political parties with elected members in the territorial Legislature. The New Progressive Party (NPP), which controls both chambers and the governor’s office, is pro-statehood. The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) is associated with the pro-commonwealth position, which supports maintaining Puerto Rico’s current territorial status with changes. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) supports independence from the U.S.

Placing a referendum on the general election ballot required the vote of the Puerto Rico Legislature. Both chambers passed a bill for the referendum, with support from NPP members. Members of PDP and PIP opposed the bill. Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced (NPP) signed the bill on May 16, 2020.