Congress may not be up for grabs, but Election Day 2013 still comes with high stakes for progressive economic policy ideas. On Tuesday, voters in Colorado, New Jersey, and a small Washington town are getting an up-or-down vote on some proposals that would improve lives both today and decades from now. Here’s a rundown of the three ballot initiatives:
Colorado’s Amendment 66 would raise income taxes and commit $1 billion in new revenue to public schools.
The Idea: Colorado ranked close to the bottom in per-pupil spending in 2010, and progressives in the state think they’ve found a way to change that. Colorado’s current income tax system has just one bracket, with a rate of 4.6 percent. If Amendment 66 passes, the state would move to a two-tiered system that charges a 5 percent rate on the first $75,000 in income and a 5.9 percent rate on anything more that a person earns in taxable income. The move to a progressive tax system would bring in about a billion dollars. Amendment 66 would use that money to “raise per-pupil funding and backfill school budgets” damaged by the recession, according to the Associated Press, as well as to increase funding to low-income school districts, among other changes to the state’s school funding law.
The Odds: More than half a dozen newspapers in the state, including the Denver Post, have endorsed Amendment 66, compared to just two editorial boards that have come out in opposition, according to Ballotpedia.org. Harder indicators of the measure’s chances are tough to come by, and a poll commissioned by opponents of the measure found around 50 percent opposition. “Polling on the tax measure is scant, and voter turnout is projected to be low,” writes the Associated Press. Amendment 66 is sharing the ballot with Proposition AA, a tax on recreational marijuana, which could influence turnout on Tuesday.
New Jersey’s Question 2 would raise the minimum wage and keep it rising.
The Idea: New Jersey’s minimum hourly wage now sits at $7.25, which is the lowest allowed by federal law. Question 2 would not only raise the state’s wage floor by a dollar, but also hitch it to the cost of living. New Jersey would be the eleventh state to move to an automatic inflation adjustment system for setting wages. The $8.25 hourly minimum included in the ballot measure would still be far below what the minimum wage ought to be in order to keep pace with the past: Adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage would have to be over $10 per hour to provide the same purchasing power that it did 35 years ago. But New Jersey voters would be adding momentum to the fight for better wage laws after a summer full of low-wage worker strikes and congressional calls for a wage hike, and raising the standard of living provided by jobs that are disproportionately held by women and people of color.
The Odds: The good news is that polling shows overwhelming support for the law among New Jersey voters. Two polls from late September showed 65 percent and 76 percent support for Question 2. The bad news is that it’s not clear who will show up to vote. Conservative firebrand Gov. Chris Christie (R) is expected to cruise to reelection on Tuesday, and Christie opposes minimum wage laws. He even vetoed a previous attempt to raise the wage floor and tie future minimums to inflation.
SeaTac, Washington’s Proposition 1 would mean a $15 minimum wage for one of the country’s busiest airports.
The Idea: The town of SeaTac (population 27,667) draws its name from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which sits within city limits. Washington’s minimum wage law is the most generous in the nation, and SeaTac’s ballot measure would go even further. If voters there pass Proposition 1 on Tuesday, the 6,500 people who work in the town and airport would see their minimum hourly pay jump from $9.19 to $15. Most of those jobs are at the airport. Whereas airport jobs like baggage handlers or wheelchair attendants used to provide a stable path to the middle class, they now pay poverty wages thanks to outsourcing and the pursuit of profits via minimized labor costs. As the industry has targeted airport workers for cost-cutting, it’s continued to pay multi-million-dollar bonuses to executives.
The Odds: There does not appear to be any public polling available on the measure. The Times reports that typical off-year election turnout in SeaTac is 7,000. Supporters hope SeaTac’s effort could turn the tide and provide “a potential model for raising wages and mobilizing workers in other parts of the country,” according to the New York Times. The measure has drawn massive campaign spending from both sides to the tiny town — $94 per voter, by one count.