Tax Planning

Voters defeat most state tax measures on midterm ballots

Key Points
  • In the last 15 years, voters have approved about half of tax measures on ballots. But this year, more measures were defeated. 
  • Vanessa Williamson, a fellow in governance studies at Brookings Institution, says the slew of tax measure rejections could be due to this particular election's high number of key races.
  • Most measures that did not pass would have increased taxes.
TJ Smith fixes an 'I Voted' sticker on his shirt after casting his ballot at a polling station during early voting for the mid-term elections in the Lakeview Terrace neighborhood of Los Angeles, California on November 4, 2018.
Robin Beck | AFP | Getty Images

When it came to tax measures on the ballot, midterm election voters were quick to say, "no."

In the last 15 years, voters have approved about half of tax measures on ballots, said Vanessa Williamson, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. This year, there were a lot more "no's" than typical, she said, perhaps due to this particular election's overwhelming controversy and high number of key races.

"When in doubt, many people vote 'no,'" she said.

Most rejected measures would have increased taxes. Corporations also fought to protect personal interests in some cases, Williamson said. For example, in Washington state, oil and gas companies successfully lobbied to prevent a carbon fee on the ballot from passing.

But it's worth noting that even if your state measures failed, experts say that the broader midterm results could influence changes to the federal tax code and other elements of your personal finances.

Here's how some of the big tax issues fared, according to the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of Brookings and the Urban Institute. (The outcome of some measures is still up in the air, as states process mailed ballots and finalize election results.)

Tesoro Oil Refinery, Anacortes, Washington.
Kevin Schafer | CNBC

Carbon fee

Washington: [DEFEATED] Initiative 1631, what would have been the country's first carbon fee, did not pass. The measure would have imposed $15 per metric ton of carbon emissions in 2020, with a $2 annual increase until the state met its emissions target.

A customer prepares to pump gasoline into his car at a gas station on May 10, 2017 in San Anselmo, California. 
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Gas and transportation taxes

California: [DEFEATED] Voters had a choice to repeal Proposition 6, which imposed a 12-cent per gallon tax increase last year. The measure did not pass, so that tax increase will stay in place.

Colorado: [DEFEATED] Centennial State voters could weigh in on two options to fund transportation projects with Proposition 109 and 110, using either money from the general fund or a sales tax increase, respectively. However, neither passed.

Missouri: [DEFEATED] Proposition D would have increased the state's per-gallon tax over four years from 17.3 cents to 27.3 cents. However, it did not pass.

Michigan voters decide in November whether to allow recreational marijuana, after officials certified there are enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. 
Ted S. Warren | AP 

Marijuana taxes

Michigan: [APPROVED] Marijuana was legalized in the Great Lakes State with the approval of Proposal 1, which sets up a 10 percent excise tax on purchases.

North Dakota: [DEFEATED] Measure 3, which did not pass, would have legalized cannabis in the state.

Jim R. Bounds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tobacco taxes

Montana: [DEFEATED] I-185 would have increased state tax on cigarettes by $2 per pack, to a total $3.70, but did not pass. Montana planned to use the revenue to expand Medicaid funding.

South Dakota: [DEFEATED] Mount Rushmore State voters did not approve Measure 25, which would have increased taxes on cigarettes by $1 per pack, to $2.53 total. The money would have been used to decrease tuition at technical colleges, among other initiatives.

Getty Images

Income taxes

Colorado: [DEFEATED] Voters weighed in on a measure that, among other provisions, would have shifted their 4.63 percent flat income tax to a four-bracket system. Amendment 73 did not pass.

Maine: [DEFEATED] Question 1 was set to levy additional taxes on residents' income above the Social Security contribution and benefits base ($128,400 in 2018), but it did not garner enough votes. The state planned to use the tax revenue to create the first universal home health-care program in the U.S., for elderly and disabled residents.

John Ewing | Portland Press Herald | Getty Images

Tax restrictions

Arizona: [APPROVED] Grand Canyon State voters said "yes" to Proposition 126, which will bar new or higher sales taxes on services. According to the Tax Policy Center, "this initiative would solidify exemptions on mostly high-end services such as gym memberships, car washes, and digital products like Netflix, that are absent from Arizona's sales tax base but which other states have recently taxed."

Florida: [APPROVED] Amendment 5 passed, which means the state will now require a two-thirds "legislative supermajority" to pass any tax increases.

Oregon: [DEFEATED] Voters decided against Measure 104, which would have required a supermajority vote for bills involving tax deductions, credits, and exemptions.

Nevada: [APPROVED] Silver State voters said "yes" to Question 2, which will exempt feminine hygiene products such as tampons from state and local taxes.

North Carolina: [APPROVED] Under the newly approved Income Tax Amendment, the state's maximum allowable tax income rate will fall from 10 percent to 7 percent. Currently, North Carolina has a flat tax rate of 5.499 percent.

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