In addition to selecting who gets to go to, or stay in, Washington, D.C., voters across the country on Nov. 3 will decide on a variety of ballot measures.
This coming Election Day, citizens in 32 states will decide the fate of 120 statewide initiatives. There also are measures on the ballots in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
And yes, there are plenty of tax questions that will be decided.
Ballotpedia, the Wisconsin-based nonprofit that's been tracking election data since 2007, says this year voters in 12 states will decide 19 tax-related ballot measures.
In addition, there are additional local ballot questions, some of which no doubt also will address taxes at that level. For example, here in Austin there's Proposition A, a transportation proposal that will be funded, if my neighbors and I say "yes," by increased real estate taxes.
To keep things relatively simple — if that's even remotely possible when taxes and voting are connected! — this post is going to take a look at some the more interesting, controversial and contentious tax-related referenda
So here goes. Let's get ready to vote!
Property tax proposals: When we talk property tax initiatives, we always have to remember the granddaddy of them all, California's Proposition 13. This was the original property tax limitation measure that Golden State voters approved in the summer of 1978.
In 2020, Golden State voters are being asked to modify that 42-year-old measure.
On Nov. 3, California voters will decide the fate of Proposition 15. It would amend Prop 13 so that commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, would be taxed on their market values instead of their purchase prices. Residential properties, under the state's split roll system, would continue to be taxed based on assessments of was paid to buy them. State analysts estimate that Proposition 15 would generate between $6.5 billion and $11.5 billion, with the revenue going to local governments and schools.
California voters also will decide on Prop 19, which would allow the transfer of tax assessments from a property owner's old home to their new residence within the state. It also would increase the number of times that tax assessments can be transferred from one to three for persons over 55 years old or with severe disabilities. Also, the measure would mandate that inherited homes that are not used as principal residences be reassessed at market value when transferred.
Income tax changes: Most states collect some type of personal income tax. Voters in some of them will be making decisions on how and how much of a cut their states get from their earnings.
Illinois voters will be deciding whether to change their state tax method. Currently, they pay a flat 4.95 percent rate. If the constitutional amendment on this year's Illinois ballot is approved, an income tax with graduated rates that increase as income rises would replace the one rate. The state's Democratic-led General Assembly last year approved a plan that would take effect Jan. 1, 2021, if the amendment is approved by voters.
Individual and joint filers would pay 4.75 percent on their first $10,000 in income, 4.9 percent on income of $10,001 to $100,000 and the current 4.95 percent rate on earnings of $100,001 to $250,000. The rates would continue to go up, based on your filing status and earnings, hitting 7.75 percent, 7.85 percent and topping out at 7.99 percent for individuals making more than $750,000 and married couples earning more than $1 million.
Colorado changed its individual income tax system from graduated rates to a flat one in 1987. This election year, voters there will decide on Proposition 116, which would lower the state tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.55 percent. I suspect I know how this vote will go.
And in Arizona, Proposition 208 would let the Grand Canyon State add a 3.5 percent tax on top of its existing 4.5 percent individual income tax rate to the taxes owed by Arizonans earning more than $250,000 as single filers or $500,000 if married filing jointly. The higher-earner surtax money would go toward teacher and classroom support staff salaries, teacher mentoring and retention programs, career and technical education programs and the Arizona Teachers Academy.
Smokers et al would pay more: Tobacco is always a popular tax target, whether it's a tax created by a legislature or approved directly by voters.
Colorado's Proposition EE would raise taxes on most tobacco products in the state. The tax on cigarettes would go from 84 cents per pack to $2.64 per pack. Most other tobacco products' tax rate could go from 40 percent of the manufacturer's list price to 62 percent of the manufacturer's list price. In addition, e-cigarettes and other nicotine products would see their taxes go to the 62 percent level. The new tobacco tax money would go to education and housing projects, as well as the state's general fund.
One tobacco group, however, would see a tax reduction under EE. Items that are designated by the federal Food and Drug Administration as modified-risk tobacco products (MRTPs), that is, they have lower certain health risks compared to smoking cigarettes, would fall from a 40 percent tax of the manufacturer's list price to 35 percent, before rising again to 41 percent in 2027.
Getting more from gambling operations: Another so-called vice that also often gets hit with special taxes are those connected to gambling.
That would be the case this election in Nebraska, where Initiative 431 would impose an annual 20 percent tax on the gross gambling revenue of licensed gaming operators. The revenue, if the proposal passes, would be distributed to the Cornhusker State's Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund, the General Fund, the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund and to the counties where gambling is authorized at licensed racetracks.
Transportation taxes, too: While the jammed roads around Texas' state capital are, as I mentioned earlier, the subject of a local transportation ballot referendum, paying for ways to get around also has found its way to the polls in other states this year.
Arkansas' Issue 1 would, if approved, keep the state's technically temporary 0.5 percent sales tax add-on, which makes the overall tax rate 6.5 percent, in place permanently. The continued collections are dedicated to state and local highway, road and bridge projects.
If Issue 1 fails, the sales tax that was OK'ed by voters in 2012 would expire as scheduled in 2023.
Finally, heading back west where we started, there's California's Proposition 22. If it passes, it would allow app-based ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to continue to consider their workers as independent contractors, rather than full-time employees as mandated under a recently enacted state law.
While Prop 22 technically isn't a tax ballot measure, it would affect it would affect how these specific gig workers handle their personal taxes. So that earns it a place in this tax ballot measures post.
Check initiatives and vote: As this quick overview shows, depending on where you live your vote could make a difference in some of the taxes you pay.
Because of that very literal tax connection, I'm deeming all the Nov. 3 ballots across the United States as this week's early Tax Form Tuesday official documents.
If you haven't yet voted, you can find out what's on your ballot by contacting your local elections office, as well as political groups representing all sides, about the measures on which you'll be asked to decide.
Some other good places to check out are a couple of sample ballot search options.
In addition to tracking voter initiatives, Ballotpedia has a sample ballot lookup tool. Just type in the address where you are registered to vote, click View My Ballot and voila!
Then there's U.S. Vote Foundation's search tool, which will take you to your state's aforementioned local elections office website. From there, you can find your sample ballot.
Regardless of how you find information about your electoral choices, get it and know why and how you'll vote before you head to your election site. Your decision likely will determine how much or how much more (or less) you'll pay your state and local governments for years to come.