Voters around the country got the opportunity Nov. 7 to decide on several statewide and local ballot measures important to counties. In all, there were 22 statewide measures on the ballot, a record low number. Voters approved 16 of those, defeated three and voted to “advise repealing” three in Washington state.
In Ohio, voters in 12 counties said “yes” to raising their taxes to help better fund human service departments dealing with the rising number of children left behind when their parents are addicted to opioids.
“In Ohio, 52 percent of the funding for child protective services comes from the local level, 38 percent is federal and about 10 percent is state,” said Suzanne Dulaney, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
“Thus, Ohio ranks 50th in the nation for state share of expenditures for children services,” she noted. “This local pressure often requires counties to place property taxes on the ballot to alleviate pressure on the general fund. Exacerbating this problem is the opiate epidemic.”
“Approximately 50 percent of the children in county custody in 2015 were there because of parental drug use,” Dulaney said. “We saw a 10 percent increase in one year alone between 2016 and 2017. Not only do we have more children in custody, but they stay in custody longer and have lots of multi-system needs. Caseload projections for the future are shocking. By 2020, it is anticipated we will have 46 percent more children in county care than 2016.”
Statewide in Ohio, a victim’s right bill, Marsy’s Law, also passed. The initiative is designed to repeal a section of the state constitution addressing the rights of crime victims and replace the section with Marsy’s Law. In 2016, Marsy’s Law amendments were approved in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. In Montana, the new law has led to increased workloads and financial burdens to counties, according to news reports. The state constitutional amendment was named after Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. The initiatives are backed by her brother, a philanthropist.
Property tax amendment in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, the Homestead Exclusion Amendment passed by a 6 percent margin; it will allow the state’s General Assembly to increase the amount of assessed value that local taxing authorities may exclude for local homestead exemptions. Currently, only one-half of a homestead property’s assessed value may be excluded from property taxes.
Medicaid expansion in Maine?
In Maine, voters became the first in the nation to use the ballot box to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, voting for the expansion by a nearly 9 percent margin. The measure would cover people with incomes equal to or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Maine Gov. Paul LePage has said he would not implement it unless the legislature funds the state’s share of an expansion. Also in Maine, 72 percent of voters also said “yes” to a $105 million transportation bond issue and an amendment on public pension unfunded liabilities from experience losses.
Maine voters gave the thumbs down to locating a casino in York County voting 83 percent to 17 percent. York County itself did not take a public position on the question.
Property tax exemptions pass in Texas
In Texas, voters passed two measures affecting local governments:
Authorizes tax exemption for property of partially disabled veterans received as donations
Authorizes property tax exemption for surviving spouses of first responders killed in line of duty.
Washington state voters repeal taxes
Thanks to Initiative 960, approved in 2007, three advisory questions for tax-related bills passed during the 2017 legislative session were referred to the ballot in Washington state. A majority voted in favor of repealing increases in commercial fishing fees, changes to sales, use tax, business and occupation tax, and the state property tax. But a spokesman for the Washington State Association of Counties said it’s “highly unlikely” the legislature will repeal.