PRESS RELEASE from the National
For Immediate Release Nov 7, 2008
For Further Information, Contact:
Peter J. Sepp
Despite Opting for "Change," Voters Proved Cautious on Fiscal Issues,
Taxpayer Group's Analysis Finds
(Alexandria, VA) -- Spin-meisters of both parties are already
arguing about what kind of "change" Americans voted for on Tuesday, but
according to a post-election analysis from the 362,000-member National
Taxpayers Union (NTU), voters often chose prudent stability -- not
radical change - when it came to matters affecting their pocketbooks.
"Security was a big issue in this election, but for millions of
voters it was security of a different kind - financial security," said
NTU Vice President for Policy and Communications Pete Sepp. "In many
ballot measure contests, Americans rejected higher taxes, opted to keep
existing tax limits in place, and imposed accountability measures on
elected officials. Furthermore, in Congressional races there may be
less evidence of a stampede toward bigger government than many pundits
would have us believe."
To illustrate Sepp's latter contention, NTU reviewed data from its
annual Rating of Congress, a scorecard of Senators and Representatives
based on every roll call vote affecting fiscal policy (the most recent
Rating, for 2007, utilized 609 votes). The 12 Republican incumbent
House Members who have lost their seats scored an average of 64 percent
on last year's Rating, five points below the overall GOP
average for the House. The theoretical median score for the 12
losers was 65 percent, ten points below the overall GOP median
for the House. Depending upon the final outcome of several Senate
contests, this trend could hold for the upper chamber of Congress as
"Statistics can lead to many conclusions, but this data seems to fit
with at least one outcome from the election," Sepp observed. "House
Republicans who thought they could save their seats by keeping a
distance from fiscally conservative principles were generally not
rewarded at the polls."
At the state and local level, election results likewise revealed no
sudden enthusiasm for a new wave of tax-and-spend policies. Measures to
abolish the income tax in Massachusetts and reduce income tax rates in
North Dakota were soundly defeated, but in Colorado voters upheld the
strictest tax and expenditure limit in the country. Known as the
Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR), the law holds the growth of taxes
and spending to the annual change in inflation and population, refunds
excesses to taxpayers, and requires voter approval for higher taxes.
NTU and its allies faced at least a 20 to 1 funding disadvantage
against teacher unions and several business interests who backed a
measure to gut TABOR, but prevailed when voters rejected the harmful
changes to TABOR by a 55 percent-45 percent margin. Among other
- Arizonans defeated a proposal to require consent from a majority
of registered voters in an affected locality -- not just a majority of
those showing up at the polls -- to enact a tax hike. However, they
passed a measure that will permanently ban the imposition of any
transfer tax on property such as homes.
- Minnesotans gave the nod to a 3/8-cent sales tax increase for
outdoors and arts programs, but Coloradans nixed a 2/10-cent sales tax
hike for aid to the developmentally disabled.
- In Florida, citizens gave a thumbs-down to a plan that would have
provided cities and counties greater latitude to propose local-option
sales taxes. More than halfway across the country, Nevadans said "no"
to allowing the state to make changes to sales and use tax laws without
prior voter consent.
- Taxes that officials thought were easier to "sell" proved not to
be. In Maine, a measure to repeal taxes on alcoholic and other
beverages that helped fund the state's health care program passed by a
2 to 1 margin. A major hike in Colorado's severance taxes on oil and
natural gas, designed to stoke resentment over energy firms' profits,
failed overwhelmingly at the polls.
- Although bond issues on state ballots tended to pass, there were
some notable close calls for high- speed rail in California, for
libraries in New Mexico, and for water sanitation in Maine. A $5
billion plan for renewable energy projects actually lost by a wide
margin in California.
- Government accountability measures did well across the country.
Arizonans stopped a 33 percent salary hike for legislators, South
Dakotans rejected higher travel reimbursements for state lawmakers, and
New Mexicans turned down an amendment to allow incumbent County
Commissioners to vote themselves a pay raise. Coloradans have (in a
close vote) ended "pay for play" in state contracting.
- The concept of term limits continued to demonstrate remarkable
popularity. Louisianans voted to allow caps on the tenure of commission
and board members, South Dakotans decided to keep term limits for their
state lawmakers, and residents of Memphis, Tennessee imposed
length-of-service restrictions on their Mayor and City Council. All
three measures were decided by margins of 2 to 1 or more.
- Although NTU was still gathering information from its allies
across the country, it appeared that many local-level tax increases
were not passing. Meals taxes in Loudoun County, Virginia and Durham
County, North Carolina were demolished, and special property taxes for
emergency services in Alabama's Chilton and Tallapoosa Counties failed.
Voters in five out of six Massachusetts municipalities rejected
measures that would have overridden a strong property tax limit known
as Proposition 2-1/2.
- Numerous areas decided on proposals to raise taxes for mass
transit, and the results were uneven. In Seattle, Washington and in the
Santa Fe, New Mexico region, voters approved higher taxes for light-
and commuter-rail programs, but in North Kansas City and St. Louis,
Missouri, citizens turned down similar plans. A proposal to boost taxes
for San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit system was narrowly losing.
"It's been said that the 2008 election will prove transformational
in our history, but whatever happens next, voters have still brought a
solid piece of the past with them," Sepp concluded. "Americans'
traditional concern over how much money government should be able to
take from their wallets is alive and kicking at the polls, and will
remain so in future elections."
NTU is a non-profit, non-partisan citizen group founded in 1969 to
work for lower taxes, smaller government, and more accountability from
elected officials. Note: To view additional analyses of candidates
and ballot measures, visit www.ntu.org.