Tag Archives: ballot question
When it comes to spending priorities, citizens are often entirely dependent on the stewardship of elected officials and public employees. Most people agree things like roads, fire departments, law enforcement, and schools are core functions of government. And most people are willing to pay taxes to support these services. Yet these are the first things threatened with cuts when politicians would like a tax increase. Politicians threaten to reduce library services rather than sell the city golf course (which consistently loses money. This is why initiative and referendum are often used by citizens when they don’t like the priorities of politicians.
Stavros Mendros has filed paperwork to begin the referendum process and call for a people’s vote.
AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of concerned Mainers, including three Republican lawmakers, has launched a petition drive for a people’s veto of a controversial bill that extends General Assistance benefits to some immigrants for up to two years.
Mendros is not opposed to immigration but sees the need for prioritizing spending.
“I’m disappointed in the Legislature to come up with $300 million and not take people off of wait-lists. Waiting for nursing homes, our nursing homes are closing down waiting to be properly reimbursed,” Mendros said.
Petitioners want voters to have a say on a new city streetcar project.
Land use and zoning are not always issues that can be addressed through the initiative process. Leaving these decisions in the hands of city officials can create issues where some developments get preferential treatment and variances while others are held strictly to the letter of the law. In Colorado activists are using the initiative process to take those decisions away from municipal officials.
Boulder, Colorado citizens have proposed two charter amendments that would require public approval of projects that do not conform with existing land use regulations.
“Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” would require the city to develop measurements for levels of service in a variety of areas, including police, fire, libraries, parks, human services and transportation, and to not approve new development that does not pay for or otherwise provide for that level of service to be maintained. New development would be defined as any project that increases the floor area of a building or site, or any change in use of an existing building.
“Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote on Land-Use Regulation Changes” would require a vote on land-use changes if 10 percent of the registered voters in a neighborhood asked for one. Land-use changes that would subject to a vote would include exemptions to height, density and the occupancy limit, reductions in parking and setbacks, and zoning changes. Land-use changes that affect multiple neighborhoods would require separate elections in each neighborhood.
Another land use ballot question will be voted on in Aspen Colorado on May 5, 2015. It’s intent is similar, a voter approval requirement for zoning variances.
Text of the Amendment:
QUESTION NO. 1
Shall Article XIII of the Home Rule Charter of the City of Aspen be amended by the addition of the following?
Section 13.14 – Voter authorization of certain land use approvals.
(a) Any land use approval granted by the City of Aspen, or an amendment to a previous land use approval, including those granted as a result of litigation, on land within the zone districts listed in paragraph (b), that exceeds the zoning limitations for allowable floor area or maximum height (including height restricted by view planes), or which reduces the requirements for the amount of off-street parking spaces or affordable housing, shall not be effective unless subsequently approved by a majority of all City electors voting thereon.
(b) Except as set forth herein below, the provisions of paragraph (a) shall apply to all properties east of Castle Creek within the following zone districts on January 1, 2015: Commercial Core (CC) zone district, Commercial (C-1) zone district, Service/Commercial/Industrial (S/C/I) zone district, Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zone district, Mixed Use (MU) zone district, Lodge (L) zone district, Commercial Lodge (CL) zone district, Lodge Overlay (LO) zone district, Lodge Preservation Overlay (LP) zone district.
(c) Although within the zone districts set forth in paragraph (b), the following shall be exempt from the provisions of paragraph (a): single-family and duplex homes, replacement of non-conforming structures, and variations necessary to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Federal Telecommunications Act (FTA), to implement energy efficiency measures, to meet applicable building and fire codes, or an amendment to a previous land use approval that reduces height or floor area or increases the amount of parking or affordable housing.
(d) The approval of the electorate required by this Section shall take place at the next available previously scheduled state or county election, the next general municipal election or a special election set by the Council, whichever is earlier.
(e) The City of Aspen shall amend the Land Use Regulations to be consistent with this Home Rule Charter Amendment.
A ballot title is what you read when you vote on a ballot question. Ballot titles like push polls can result in huge differences in how voters perceive an issue at the moment when they must make a choice. In the case of recall, millage, or referendum most state statutes give fairly strict guidelines on how the question must appear on the ballot. Shall X be approved? Shall John Doe be recalled from office for XYZ?
However when it comes to the initiative process writing a ballot title can be much more subjective. The law is different in every state and ballot titles are most commonly written in one of three ways:
State or local elections official or their agent, this might be the Attorney General, Secretary of State, or city clerk.
Legislative body, the legislature, city council, or county commission.
Proponents of the initiative, the group circulating petitions to call for an election on a particular initiative.
Problems occur when a ballot title appears biased. When the ballot title appears to make a yes or no vote sound more appealing, or is outright deceptive in explanation of the issue, people on the other side of the issue will justifiably take offense. In many cases this results in expensive lawsuits and people without deep pockets are at a huge disadvantage. Groups may spend tens of thousands of dollars only to have courts rule against them despite obvious bias.
This week a judge in Mississippi ruled that the legislature had crafted a ballot title that was deceptive.
“Judge Winston Kidd ruled in favor of Adrian Shipman, a mother of two in the Oxford Public Schools, that the legislature’s alternative language was too confusing and too similar to the original citizen’s initiative language. Kidd has ordered that language to be changed. The new alternative language, which was not immediately available, would follow a suggestion offered by Better Schools, Better Jobs, the group that worked to put the initiative on the ballot for this November.“
The easiest remedy to this issue is to let voters read the entire measure on the ballot, but often lengthy legislation makes this impractical (I consider lengthy legislation a problem on its own).
The municipal initiative and referendum processes are two of the best tools available to push back against crony capitalism. Votes on controversial city spending should be common practice. Unfortunately citizens often need to organize and spend big money to defend against city councils working with developers and construction companies getting special taxpayer funded projects. Voters deserve a say when their city council attempts to put them on hook for millions by bonding projects like streetcars and trolleys.
Last summer voters shut down a city attempt establish a new streetcar taxing district in Kansas City, Missouri. While not an example of referendum this is a great case for allowing citizens to vote on the funding plans for these projects. We can see who spends money to support streetcar expansion:
“The pro-streetcar campaign, called Connect KC, raised more than $387,000, with large contributions from the downtown Marriott, Burns & McDonnell and other major construction and engineering firms, law firms and development boosters.” Now citizens are petitioning to prevent the city from spending tax money to expand the streetcar system.
In San Antonio, Texas citizens have taken a proactive approach and petitioned to amend the city charter prohibiting the city from starting a streetcar project without voter approval.