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Voters turn out to decide taxes, term limits, tuition.

As voters in New Jersey and Virginia went to the polls to pick governors and state legislators for another term, voters in other states were drawn there by ballot questions ranging from term limits to tax limits.

Wins and losses in November elections around the country:

In New Jersey, even though the Republicans won the gubernatorial slot and held their majority in both houses of the Legislature, Democrats snatched three more seats in the Senate and six in the House. The party division now stands at 24 R, 16 D in the Senate, 53 R, 27 D in the House.

The GOP did better in Virginia, electing Republican George Allen after three Democratic governors. In the Democratic-ruled House (Senate members were not up), new numbers put the GOP within three seats of potentially organizing the legislature. Republicans gained six seats, putting them at 47 against the Democrats' 52. The House also has one independent member.

Democrats control the Pennsylvania Senate by virtue of the lieutenant governor's participation in procedural matters as president of the body. But the chamber is deadlocked at 25-25 after a special election in November. However, the Republicans are continuing to challenge the election in state and federal courts.

Democrats gained control of the Pennsylvania Senate for the first time in 12 years last November when a Republican switched parties and tied the body. Senator Robert Mellow became president pro tem on Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mark Single's tie-breaking vote. Republicans gained a seat this summer in another special election when Senator Jim Greenwood went to Congress. In Michigan, the deadlocked House will lose two Democrats in January when they take their new jobs as the mayors of Pontiac and Lansing, temporarily shifting the Republicans to a two-seat majority. Under state law, the governor cannot call special elections to fill the vacancies until they actually occur, so the seats can't be filled until March at the earliest. And he can wait until the general election in November if he chooses. Michigan is knee deep in reinventing and refinancing K-12 education after the Legislature cut some $6.9 billion in property tax for schools. Republican Governor John Engler might be tempted to keep the GOP advantage in the House as long as possible.

Maine voters by a 2-1 margin imposed on their legislators and other state officials the most severe term limits in any state so far. The restrictions become effective with the 1996 elections and apply to individuals presently serving in those positions. Out of 186 members, 83 will not be eligible for re-election in 1996. The limits for legislators and constitutional officers are no more than eight consecutive years in the same position.

The Maine proposal brings states with legislative term limits to 16.

Tuition vouchers went down in California by more than a 2-1 margin, a message to voucher supporters who viewed the measure as a test case. Voters rejected the argument that Proposition 174--which would have provided $2,600 vouchers for either public or private school tuition--would improve schools by making them compete for students.

Voters didn't say no to all taxes in November. Californians approved extension of a 0.5 percent sales tax to fund police and firefighters. Voters in Washington supported new state taxes and fees passed by the Legislature during the 1993 session by turning down a ballot initiative that would have repealed them. However, Washington voters narrowly passed a second tax limitation question. An initiative to limit state spending increases by the inflation rate and population growth squeaked through by a narrow margin.

Texas voters also spoke out on taxes, saying they want final approval of any proposal to enact a state income tax and that if such a tax were enacted it must be limited to education and property tax relief. Before the November vote, the Legislature could have approved an income tax by a simple majority. Texas is one of only nine states without an income tax.

Oregon voters refused by a 3 to 1 margin to ratify a proposal for a 5 percent state sales tax approved by the legislature during the 1993 session. The tax would have raised about $1 billion a year for public schools. It was the ninth time since 1933 that Oregon voters have said no to a sales tax.

In the first statewide test of a 1992 tax limitation, Colorado voters decisively turned down a proposal to continue a 0.2 percent sales tax on car rentals, restaurant meals, ski lift tickets, hotel and motel lodging, and other recreational activities. The tourist tax would have continued to raise $12.5 million to $13.1 million to promote tourism, including advertising and funding for tourist information centers. The vote leaves Colorado without funding for its tourism department.

Washington state's harsh punishment provision passed overwhelmingly. The "Three Strikes You're Out" initiative requires mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole for criminals convicted of three felonies. (See State Legislatures, November 1993.)

Texas voters resoundingly approved propositions to deny bail to violent and sex offenders and to spend $1 billion to build new prisons.

In a 74 percent turnout, Puerto Ricans rejected statehood and voted by a narrow margin to remain a U.S. commonwealth.

"The people spoke and I will obey them," said Governor Pedro Rossello, who spearheaded the strongest statehood campaign this century. But he added: "This is a struggle that will go on."

As a commonwealth, Puerto Rico elects a non-voting representative to Congress and has no vote for president. Statehood would have allowed it to elect at least six congressmen, as well as two senators.
COPYRIGHT 1994 National Conference of State Legislatures
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Title Annotation:On First Reading; Nov. 1993 elections
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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