In California this month, voters narrowly rejected an increase in the state's cigarette tax. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This month, in my former state of residence California, voters narrowly rejected an increase in the state’s cigarette tax by voting down Proposition 29; an act that, for some, seemed out of touch with voter concerns about balancing their state budget. Others contend that the measure went down in flames because voters have lost faith in their government’s ability to manage their state’s budget. In fact, California voters have rejected every ballot effort to raise taxes since 2004. California’s general assembly should follow suit and begin to limit spending, as well.

My home state of Missouri has defeated increasing cigarette taxes twice by statewide ballot.  While each state’s ballot initiative process is different, ultimately certifying ballot measures correctly requires sound legal planning to survive likely legal attacks.

Case in point: This week, the Missouri State Supreme Court heard a number of state constitutional arguments that could impact our state’s ballot initiative process.  At the core of these debates are fundamental rights provided in the Missouri Constitution, “the people reserve power to propose and enact or reject laws and amendments to the constitution by the initiative, independent of the general assembly, and also reserve power to approve or reject by referendum any act of the general assembly, except as hereinafter provided.” Today, in 26 states citizens can place a measure on a statewide ballot through either a referendum or initiative process.

In difficult economic times, it is not surprising to see voter anxiety over taxes that may not help to balance their state’s budget.  Voters tend to avoid risk if they suspect that they may not benefit from the returns of a new or increased tax. Business owners who are concerned about the impact of government regulation and spending will limit investment and expansion.  If there ever is a state in which citizens should have the right to revolt it is Illinois, Missouri’s neighbor to the east. Illinois has placed such tight restrictions on their ballot initiative process that many policy experts refuse to recognize it as an initiative process state.

Recently Citizens in Charge commissioned a nationwide poll to determine public support for initiative and referendum. Hands down, across the country there was widespread support for the initiative and referendum process. People favor it by more by more than two-thirds.

Next week, as we celebrate our country’s birthday, we should consider the value that more than half of our states’ constitutions provide through the initiative and referendum process. If you vote in a state that offers a ballot initiative or referendum process, cast your vote. If you reside in a state that does not or that places extreme limits on this privilege, consider getting involved with the issue. Contact your legislator, write an op-ed for your local paper, and look into joining your local state think tank. The national coalition of free-market think tanks State Policy Network has more than 100 active members. Many of them are producing excellent policy studies while educating elected officials, voters and the media.

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