California Gig Worker, Massachusetts Car Repair Measures Win

Big-money campaigns led to a victory for rideshare companies in California and a defeat for car companies in Massachusetts, where some of the most high-spending ballot initiative efforts of the 2020 general election prevailed.

About $200 million was spent California to urge voters to permanently classify app-based rideshare and delivery drivers as independent contractors. That campaign was backed byUber Technologies Inc.,Lyft Inc., DoorDash Inc., and other gig economy platforms.

Across the country, national car parts chainsAutoZone Inc. andAdvance Auto Parts Inc. succeeded in passing a Massachusetts measure that allows any car repair shop—rather than just dealerships—access to an automobile’s diagnostic platform. That includes access to data typically transmitted wirelessly from cars to the dealership (Question 1).

Massachusetts Voters Give Repair Shops Access To Cars’ Wireless Data

In Florida, voters decided in favor of gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2026 (Amendment 2). In Arizona, votes were still being tallied on a measure to raise income taxes on the state’s highest earners to fund teachers’ salaries (Proposition 208).

High-dollar ballot measure campaigns show how much companies and individuals are willing to spend to sway voters, whose natural inclination is usually to vote “no” on new laws. All told, more than$1 billion was raised for 120 ballot measures across the country.

“Smart, strategic spending on the ‘yes’ side can make a difference,” said Kenneth Miller, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Billion-Dollar Ballots: Record Spending on Rideshare, Flat Tax

In Massachusetts, the auto-parts industry battled with auto companiesGeneral Motors Co.,Toyota Motor North America Inc., andFord Motor Co., raising more than $24 million in favor of the measure. Opponents raised roughly the same amount: $26.5 million.

Arizona’s campaign to increase taxes on those making more than $250,000 per year raised around $17 million from education groups, according to the state’selections funds portal. Orlando, Fla., personal injury attorney John Morgan gave $4.2 million toward the minimum wage hike.

But generous donors didn’t spell automatic success. After $31 million was spent on a campaign to bring affirmative action back to California’s state government, the measure (Proposition 16) was trailing, with vote-counting not yet complete enough to call. The proposition sought to reverse a 1996 ban on race- and gender-based advantages in college admissions, state hiring, and government contracting.

“My feeling about the initiative process is that you can’t win without money, but you can’t win with only money, either,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. California ballot measure committees raised over $768 million for 12 measures this election.

Supporters of the affirmative action measure raised 30 times more than opponents did, relying on the backing of some of the state’s richest residents, companies, and out-of-state donors like George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center.

The state is still tabulating results for California’s proposal (Proposition 15) to remove a cap on commercial property taxes. In the early count, the opposition was slightly ahead.

It also could take several days to be certain about the fate of Illinois’ ballot proposal to change the state’s flat tax to a graduated tax system, though in the early count, it was trailing.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker put up his own money to try raise revenue by taxing residents at different rates according to income.

Illinois Expects Delays Counting Flat-Tax Ballot Measure

California voters rejected a labor union-backed initiative to require kidney dialysis doctors on site during a clinic’s hours of operation afterDaVita Inc.,Fresenius Medical Care North America, and other opponents spent $105 million opposing the measure (Proposition 23). Votersalso defeated an initiative to expand cities’ rent-control authority (Proposition 21).

More Legal Cannabis

Five statesapproved marijuana legalization measures, adding to the 44 states that already allow it for medical or recreational purposes:

  • Arizona voters approved a ballot question (Proposition 207 ) to legalize recreational pot for people ages 21 and older with a 16% excise tax on retail sales. It also proposed a process to expunge drug offenses related to marijuana.
  • Montana approved two measures. One (Initiative 190 ) to legalize recreational marijuana with a 20% tax and let people convicted of marijuana offenses apply for resentencing or records expungement, and the other (Constitutional Initiative 118) to let the Legislature set the age for buying, using, and possessing marijuana at 21.
  • New Jersey said yes to a proposal (Public Question No. 1) to legalize recreational cannabis for people ages 21 and older and subject it to state sales tax, though the Legislature could allow local taxes.
  • South Dakota voters passed two measures (Constitutional Amendment A andInitiated Measure 26 to legalize recreational and medical cannabis, respectively.
  • Mississippi voters passed a measure (Initiative 65) to legalize medical marijuana and rejected an alternative added by legislators to let lawmakers regulate a more restrictive program.

Other Measures

Massachusetts voters shot down a proposal to create a new process for choosing political leaders. Under the measure, voters would have ranked their preferred candidates for statewide offices, state legislative offices, federal congressional offices, and other offices rather than picking a single choice (Question 2).

Virginia voters agreed to create a state redistricting commission to draw the lines of congressional districts after the 2020 Census is complete (Question 1).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Sacramento, Calif. at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at [email protected]; Heather Rothman at [email protected]

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