Republicans, Independents back ballot initiatives

An unlikely coalition of Independent, Green and Republican party candidates are trying to revive a proposal rejected by voters two years ago: allow ballot initiatives.

In a press conference Wednesday, they presented a survey conducted by Pulse Opinion Research that found 65 percent of the 500 state voters surveyed favor allowing ballot initiatives, with 14 percent opposed and 20 percent are not sure.

“This is an idea, a concept, that is supported all across the political spectrum, by every income group, by every group no matter how you want to slice it up. And it seems to me that it’s time for our elected officials to recognize that,” said Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge Foundation.

Two years ago, voters rejected calling for a constitutional convention — a move that could have allowed the state’s constitution to be amended to allow ballot initiatives. The proposal was opposed by a coalition of organized labor and citizen activists, who argued that initiative drives can be dominated by special-interest advertising.

This year, the group is asking state lawmakers to pass a law that allows residents to petition their initiatives onto the ballot. However, there is little support in the legislature to pass a law allowing citizen initiative, which are now permitted in 26 states.

Citizens for Ballot Initiative

John Woodcock:

John J. Woodcock III, leader of the Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative and a former Democratic state representative, conceded the effort was a long shot.

“It’s a power struggle,” he said. “Does the legislature want to share power with the people? The answer is obvious. It’s no.”

Woodcock said no statewide or legislative Democratic candidates have offered their support, while the Republican candidates running for statewide office and Congress have endorsed it.

Jeff Wright and Jerry Farrell Jr., the Republican nominees for treasurer and secretary of the state, attended Wednesday’s rally, as did Independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Marsh.

“Just give the people the right to vote on the issues,” Wright said, adding that ballot initiatives could help pass limitations for state spending, saying the state has a spending problem. “That’s what’s going to keep us from completely going into bankruptcy.”

But Tom Foley, the GOP candidate for governor, offered only conditional support.

“I favor initiatives and referenda in concept,” Foley said in an emailed statement. “I am generally in favor of anything that encourages greater voter involvement and improves government’s responsiveness to the will of the voters, but it should carry safeguards to ensure it cannot be used in a way that would have unintended consequences.”

In some states, critics say, citizen initiatives have placed on the ballot tax-cutting proposals that are seductive, yet fiscally irresponsible. A legislature must adopt a balanced budget, offsetting tax cuts with reductions in spending. But referenda often ask to slash taxes, without specifying cuts.

Colorado passed a Taxpayer Bill of Rights 20 years ago limiting tax and spending increases and this year their voters will have the opportunity to cut the income and property tax in half, an estimated cost to the state of $1.6 billion from lost revenue. Massachusetts voters will decide whether to cut their sales tax in half this November.

Voters in the Bay State rejected a previous effort to abolish the income tax, a move that leading business groups had opposed, saying it would bring fiscal chaos. All the gubernatorial candidates have opposed the sales-tax cut as financially irresponsible.

In other states, ballot initiatives could end up generating new money for the state. In Washington, residents will vote on whether to launch an income tax for the first time on individuals earning over $200,000, which is expected to net $1 billion a year.

Nationwide, 146 ballot initiatives have qualified for November’s election, reports the National Conference of State Legislatures.