More on the State of Things

by John Hood

Given the reelection of Barack Obama and Democratic victories in U.S. Senate races, it shouldn’t be surprising that Democrats also had some success in down-ballot races. Despite strong Republican challenges, Democrats retained control of the governorships in New Hampshire, Montana, and Washington. The sole GOP win here came in the biggest prize of the night, North Carolina. Republicans now hold a 30-19-1 edge in governorships nationwide.

At the legislative level, Democrats captured the New York state senate, the Oregon state senate, the Colorado house, the New Hampshire house, and both chambers in Minnesota. The Maine results are taking a while to post, but it appears Democrats will take back both chambers there, as well. On the other hand, Republicans captured the Alaska senate, Wisconsin senate, and probably both chambers in Arkansas, which had been the last southern state to retain its traditionally Democratic legislature.

Overall, Republicans will continue to hold more state legislative chambers than Democrats do, as well as a majority of state legislative seats nationwide. Somewhat improbably, the GOP has become the majority party in the states despite its inability to recruit, nominate, and elect good candidates for the U.S. Senate and its popular-vote losses in five of the past six presidential elections. A generation ago, it was the Democrats who dominated state government and the U.S. House but struggled to elect presidents. What a role reversal.

Several folks here have already noted that marijuana decriminalization and same-sex marriage fared well on state ballot measures. On tax and spending measures, fiscal conservatives had a fair night. While California passed Governor Jerry Brown’s package of income- and sales-tax increases and Arkansas approve a sales-tax hike dedicated to transportation, voters said no to an extended sales-tax hike in Arizona and a cigarette-tax hike in Missouri. Oklahoma voters said yes to a cap on property taxes and voted to end the intangibles tax, while Oregon voters banned new real-estate taxes and New Hampshire voters wrote its no-income-tax policy into the state constitution. Attempts to impose new tax or spending limitations failed in Michigan and Florida, but Washington voters reaffirmed the legislature’s supermajority requirement to raise taxes. These mixed results illustrate that it is easier to protect conservative budget reforms than to augment or expand them, that California is falling further off the deep end, and that sales taxes are the easiest tax for states to raise, particularly if tied to specific programs that even fiscally conservative voters believe to be useful, such as transportation investment.

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