The Tuesday Count: Minimum wage on the ballot in Alaska, Nebraska and possibly Arkansas
Edited by Ryan Byrne
Given Alaska's 2014 ballot measures, the Alaska Centennial Commission's choice of “North to the Future” as the state's official motto seems especially appropriate. Alaska's 2014 ballot is composed of four nationally contentious and prominent issues, including marijuana and the minimum wage, as well as a heated veto referendum on taxing oil firms known as Ballot Measure 1. Today's primary election features Ballot Measure 1, which is an attempt to repeal a bill - one that was championed by Gov. Sean Parnell (R) - which granted tax breaks to oil companies.
Like Alaskans, Nebraskans will also vote on increasing their state's minimum wage in November. Labeled Initiative 425 by the Nebraska Secretary of State, the initiative would increase the state's hourly minimum wage to $9.00 by 2016. Voters in Arkansas may likewise vote on raising the minimum wage after supporters submitted signatures to get their initiative on the ballot.
At the local level, a number of California measures, including the Berkeley Sugary Beverages and Soda Tax Question and the Santa Barbara County Fracking Ban Initiative, are being contested in the courts. Most of the lawsuits are related to the ballot questions' texts, summaries or official arguments and rebuttals.
Election in Alaska
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) is taking heat from his former boss, Sarah Palin (R), for replacing Alaska's former oil tax system, known as Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES), with the More Alaska Production Act (MAPA). Palin, who was governor at the time, signed the law that created ACES in 2007. MAPA, which was implemented as a result of the passage of Senate Bill 21, grants tax breaks to oil companies. Supporters of MAPA, who will be voting "no" on the referendum, say the new system is necessary to incentivize oil companies to continue drilling in Alaska. Opponents, who will be voting "yes" on the referendum, argue the new system is "a failed policy that gets you no money." Kevin Banks, former director of the DNR’s Division of Oil and Gas, said he is voting "yes" to repeal MAPA. He stated the measure is about "political influence," and the old tax structure had little influence on how oil companies made investment decisions. Palin offered the harshest criticism, saying, "For years outside Big Oil tried to tell us, ‘Hush now, little Alaskans, just trust us to do right by you.’ We won’t be suckered again by multimillion-dollar P.R. campaigns and crony capitalists wanting us to fall for scaremongering." Gov. Parnell, while not directly responding to Palin, said he argues "facts rather than slogans." US Sen. Mark Begich (D) stayed out of the debate.
While the "Vote Yes" campaign has raised $487,202, the "Vote No" campaign, backed by BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, has received $14,217,435. Despite the massive difference in campaign contributions and spending, polls have shown that the measure could go either way.
Certification in Nebraska
Following the loss of a bill in the Nebraska Senate, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist (NP-7) decided to put the issue of increasing the state's minimum wage before voters. The Minimum Wage Increase Initiative, or Initiative 425, would incrementally increase the state's hourly minimum wage to $9 by January 1, 2016. While Nebraska has had a state minimum wage since 1967, the wage has never been higher than the federal minimum wage. Currently, both the state and federal minimum wages are $7.25.
Better Wages Nebraska, formed by Sen. Nordquist and Sen. Danielle Conrad (NP-46), is leading the campaign in support of the initiative. On July 3, 2014, the group submitted 134,899 signatures to the secretary of state's office. A total of 80,386 valid signatures were required for certification. On August 15, 2014, Secretary of State John Gale (R) said his office verified 89,817 signatures as valid. That's 9,431, or 10.5 percent, more signatures than were needed in order to qualify the measure for the November 4, 2014, ballot.
Chuck Hassebrook (D), the Democratic nominee in the 2014 governor's race, supports the initiative. Gov. Dave Heineman (R), the incumbent governor, announced his neutrality, saying, "It's probably time that we've had [sic] an adjustment in the minimum wage, so it's going to be up to the people." Pete Ricketts (R), the Republican candidate for governor, opposes the proposed minimum wage increase.
The debate over the initiative is heated, and is only going to get more contentious. Supporters argue that a full-time worker can't survive on a minimum wage income. They believe an increase would reduce poverty and employee turnover, increase worker productivity, stimulate consumer spending and help the economy. They contend that parents making minimum wage cannot provide certain opportunities for their children that other higher-income parents can, thus perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Opponents, like the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, say an increase in the minimum wage would decrease employment, shrink the state's gross domestic product, cause inflation and discourage people from investing their time in acquiring new skills and education.
There's no formal campaign committee opposing the initiative yet. The supporting campaign, on the other hand, has been seeking contributions for months, and has received $833,887 so far. The campaign's biggest donor is Richard Holland, whose contributions alone amount to a little less than 50 percent of the campaign's funds. Other major donors include the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest and Nebraska State Education Association.
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- Two remaining proposed Arkansas initiatives submit additional signatures: Two Arkansas ballot initiatives were given 30 additional days to collect signatures after passing an initial count on July 18, 2014. Let Arkansas Decide, the organization supporting the Alcoholic Beverage Initiative, submitted 41,492 additional signatures to the Arkansas Secretary of State on August 15, 2014. At least 17,133 of those signatures must be deemed valid in order for the initiative to make the November 4, 2014, ballot. The Minimum Wage Initiative fell short by 15,107 valid signatures after the first round of signature counting in July. After an additional month of petition circulating, supporters turned in an additional 69,070 signatures on August 18. The two initiatives will join three legislatively-referred constitutional amendments on the general election ballot if certified by the secretary of state's office.
- New York's proposed redistricting amendment heading to court: Critics of New York's Proposal 1, also known as the Independent Redistricting Amendment, say the ballot question should not label the proposed redistricting commission as "independent." Rather, the commission would be "bipartisan." Groups, such as Common Cause, NYPIRG and EffectiveNY, suggested an alternative ballot question for Proposal 1. Blair Horner, NYPIRG's legislative director, argued, "What rankles the most in the way that the Board of Elections drafted the language is the description of the new proposed redistricting commission as being independent. It's not, and they chose to use that word for a reason." On August 19, 2014, Common Cause announced that they will be taking the proposal to court over the use of "independent" in the measure's text.
- Mississippi medical group calling for public smoking ban: The Mississippi State Medical Association, which represents 4,700 physicians, is calling on the Mississippi Legislature to place a legislative referral banning public smoking on the 2015 ballot. Rather than seek a public smoking ban via an indirect initiated constitutional amendment, the group plans to submit signatures directly to legislators. While the legislature has voted on smoking bans before, they have defeated all proposals. Dr. Steve Demetropoulos of Pascagoula, former president of the association, said they hope to submit between 50,000 and 100,000 signatures to legislators.
As the November 4, 2014, election in California solidifies, courts see a flurry of lawsuits as last-ditch efforts to mold local ballots:
Local ballot measures form a key element of California politics. Hundreds of measures are decided every year and implement key changes in the lives of California residents on a huge range of issues, including taxes, development, fracking, labor laws and marijuana. City and county elections offices are busy finalizing what ballot measures - both citizen-initiated measures and lawmaker-referred measures - will appear before voters. Activists and key players with high stakes in the results of certain measures have a small window to try to shape the ballots to their advantage, and, to that end, many have filed lawsuits surrounding different ballot issues. Some lawsuits seek to determine whether the targeted measure should be on the ballot at all. In addition, since many voters are introduced to these measures on election day, without any further information than what is provided on the ballots, many lawsuits are filed each year seeking to change the ballot question, ballot summary and official arguments in favor and against various contentious measures. Since many measures succeed or fail based on slight variations in the language voters see on the ballot, these court cases have a significant impact on local laws.
Here are some key examples of lawsuits that have already had an impact on November election ballots:
- An initiative to drastically reform the Ventura County public pension system was completely removed from the ballot due to a lawsuit claiming the measure was incompatible with state law.
- An initiative seeking to require voter approval for any city subsidization of the construction of any professional sports arena was also kept from voters due to elections law violations and signature petition technicalities.
Many other lawsuits were recently filed surrounding the following important ballot measures and could affect the results at the polls or preclude a voter decision entirely:
- Santa Barbara County Fracking Ban Initiative, Measure P: This measure was expected to draw lawsuits from all sides, especially opponents in the oil and gas industry. The first shot was fired by supporters of the measure, however. Although plaintiffs called a truce for the time being, supporters of this initiative filed a lawsuit seeking to remove certain language from the official arguments in opposition featured on the sample ballot. The lawsuit claimed the opposition's argument, which alleged the measure would stop all oil production, was blatantly false. Moreover, on August 8, 2014, staff in the office of the county counsel drew up a plan of action to deal with expected lawsuits from landowners and the oil industry, especially in the event of approval from voters in November. Some opponents of the initiative have even used the prospect of expensive litigation as an argument to vote against the measure.
- Berkeley Soda tax, Measure D: Supporters see a lawsuit filed against Measure D, which seeks to tax sugary beverages, as the first attack from "Big Soda." The lawsuit contends that by choosing to use the phrase “high-calorie, sugary drinks” instead of the more neutral “sugar-sweetened beverages" in the official ballot language, the city council was creating an illegal bias in favor of the measure.
- Berkeley Zoning Ordinance Amendment, Measure R: Supporters of an initiative to alter the laws governing the zoning and operation of businesses in downtown Berkeley, convinced the fate of their initiative could depend on the ballot language voters see, have proceeded to court, arguing that Mayor Tom Bates provided an inaccurate and biased ballot question. They argue that he picked and chose the items of the initiative that would least appeal to voters. Bates insists his summary, which is limited by law to 75 words, was unbiased and accurate. A judge will ultimately decide what elements of the 28-page initiative voters should see in order to make the most informed decision.
- Newport Beach Development Amendment, Measure Y: Two residents, worried about a possible influx of traffic caused by a proposed charter amendment, argued to a judge that the ballot language provided by the Orange County elections officials is misleading, inaccurate and biased in favor of the measure. Plaintiffs requested that the courts remove the proposed ballot language and replace it with a more neutral summary that accurately highlights the measure's potential affects on the area's traffic congestion. Among other changes to zoning and construction restrictions, the measure seeks to allow the construction of 500 new housing units and more than 550,000 square feet of office and commercial space.
Many other measures will need to survive court battles before election day. The city of Santa Monica alone features two measures - an airport development initiative and a tax referendum - that have triggered lawsuits. To see which important local measures in your county could be subject to a judicial ruling, continue to follow Ballotpedia's coverage of the November 4, 2014, election.
| 2014 ballot measures|
|Tuesday Count • 2014 Scorecard|
- Ballotpedia's Tuesday Count for 2014
- 2014 ballot measures
- Local ballot measure elections in 2014
- Potential 2014 ballot measures
- New York Times, "Oil Industry’s Taxes Create Odd Wedge for Alaskan Voters," August 17, 2014
- Nebraska Secretary of State, "Initiative Petition," accessed July 2, 2014
- The Republic, "Group backing minimum wage hike submits additional signatures to qualify for Arkansas ballot," August 18, 2014
- Alaska Dispatch News, "Former oil and gas commissioner: Why I'm voting Yes to repeal SB21," August 21, 2014
- State of Alaska, "Campaign Disclosure: Forms," accessed August 13, 2014
- NPR, "Will Alaskans Vote To Repeal State's Tax Cut On Oil Production?," August 13, 2014
- Nebraska Watchdog, "Will minimum wage increase go on Nebraska ballot?," April 7, 2014
- Nebraska Legislature, "Revised Statutes of Nebraska: Reissue of Volume 3B 2010," accessed August 19, 2014
- United States Department of Labor, "Changes in Basic Minimum Wages in Non-Farm Employment Under State Law: Selected Years 1968 to 2013," accessed August 18, 2014
- Omaha World Herald, "Petition drive to raise Nebraska's minimum wage has more than 130,000 signatures," July 4, 2014
- The Republic, "Nebraska officials say 80,386 signatures needed to put minimum wage increase on ballot," July 7, 2014
- New York Times, "Nebraska: Minimum Wage Increase to Be on Ballot," August 15, 2014
- Omaha Metro-World, "Chuck Hassebrook says 'it's time' for Nebraska to make a change," August 2, 2014
- KETV 7, "Governor says minimum wage likely to pass," July 9, 2014
- Columbus Telegram, "Ricketts says higher minimum wage would harm state," June 10, 2014
- Nebraskans for Better Wages, "Why Raise the Minimum Wage?," accessed July 2, 2014
- Omaha World‑Herald, "Midlands Voices: Raising minimum wage can help families, economy," June 22, 2014
- Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, "Case Against Raising the State Minimum Wage," accessed July 11, 2014
- Fremont Tribune, "Skills, not a minimum wage, fight poverty," July 23, 2014
- Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, "Nebraskans for Better Wages B-1," accessed May 26, 2014
- The Republic, "Arkansas alcohol, minimum wage ballot measures fall short of signatures; given 30 more days," July 18, 2014
- THV 11, "Group submits petitions to expand alcohol sales," August 15, 2014
- ArkansasMatters.com, "Arkansas Minimum Wage Act Turns in Additional Signatures," August 19, 2014
- Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, "Ballot wording draws concerns," August 7, 2014
- The Epoch Times, "Common Cause Challenges New York Redistricting Plan," August 19, 2014
- The Times-Picayune, "Mississippi medical association pushes for referendum to ban smoking in public places," August 16, 2014
- Santa Barbara Independent, "Measure P Lawsuits Commence," August 14, 2014
- Berkeleyside.com, "Lawsuit filed over Berkeley ‘soda tax’ ballot," August 15, 2014
- Inside Bay Area, "Berkeley: Downtown Initiative ballot question heads to court," August 6, 2014
- Orange County Register, "Lawsuit filed over Newport Beach ballot measure," August 15, 2014