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On The Ballot Tuesday: Marijuana, Gambling, GMOs And More

A car with a giant apple on top promotes a "yes" vote on Initiative 522 in Washington state, which would require genetically modified foods to be labeled as such.
Ted S. Warren
A car with a giant apple on top promotes a "yes" vote on Initiative 522 in Washington state, which would require genetically modified foods to be labeled as such.

Aside from the two high-profile governors' races, there's plenty of political action to be found on statewide ballots Tuesday.

A total of 31 ballot measures, concerning issues ranging from education to gambling to marijuana, will go before voters in six states — Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Washington.

That's down slightly from the average of about 42 measures in nine states in odd-numbered years, according to Ballotpedia.

Some of the ballot measures are more interesting than others — and may have broader national implications. Here are five to keep an eye on:

Colorado: School Financing

Amendment 66 would raise income taxes by $950 million per year to provide the necessary funding for the implementation of a new public school financing system.

The main campaign supporting the tax hike recently received a combined $2 million in contributions from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. Groups supporting the measure have raised more than $10.4 million, while organizations in opposition have together raised less than $40,000.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and some of the state's top teachers unions also back the initiative. Duncan said that "if voters pass Amendment 66, Colorado will become the educational model for every state to follow."

Republicans and other tax opponents argue the measure will hurt families and small businesses, and that a funding boost won't guarantee a more effective education system.

Colorado: Marijuana Tax

One year after Colorado voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana use, they must now decide if they want to tax it.

Proposition AA would impose a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales to help fund the construction of new schools and an additional 10 percent sales tax, which will pay for regulation and enforcement. If the measure passes, the state's fiscal analysts project it could bring in $70 million annually.

The proposition has the support of Hickenlooper, the state's Republican attorney general and many members of the legal-marijuana industry. But some marijuana advocates are against the measure, arguing that pot should be taxed at a lower rate, similar to alcohol.

Washington state also legalized the recreational use of marijuana last year and included language placing a 25 percent excise tax on all pot sales in its ballot measure.

Washington: Genetically Modified Food Labeling

If voters approve Initiative 522, Washington would become the first state in the country to require manufacturers to clearly label food made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Some major food and beverage companies have fought hard against the ballot initiative. The "No on 522" campaign has raised $22 million, the most money ever in favor of or in opposition to a ballot measure in the state. Half of that has come from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group whose members include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle. Supporters of the initiative have raised about $8.4 million.

Most prominent Republicans in the state have joined with the packaged foods industry in opposition to the initiative, while Democrats generally favor it.

A similar measure appeared on the ballot in California last year, but voters narrowly shot it down.

New Jersey: Minimum Wage Increase

New Jersey voters appear poised to adopt a constitutional amendment that raises the minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 per hour and increases it annually based on the rate of inflation.

Currently, just four other states have adopted a constitutional provision regarding the minimum wage, while 10 states have policies in place that raise it automatically. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but President Obama called for an increase to $9 earlier this year.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage in January, opposes the measure, as do a coalition of business groups. Meanwhile, Christie's opponent in Tuesday's gubernatorial election, Barbara Buono, newly minted Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and labor unions have thrown their support behind it.

New York: Gambling

Six ballot measures will be up for a vote in New York on Tuesday, including a constitutional amendment the Legislature approved that would allow for the construction of up to seven new casinos in the state.

The only gambling currently permitted in New York takes place at casinos owned by the Oneida Indian Nation and "racinos," which are combinations of horse race tracks and casinos.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a top supporter of the measure, which has also won the backing of business and labor groups. The gambling industry has spent tens of millions of dollars over the past several years lobbying the state to expand the number of casinos there.

Advocates argue the plan will spur economic growth, provide more school funding and allow local governments to lower property taxes. But some opponents are skeptical of its economic potential, while others worry about the social problems casinos could bring.

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Adam Wollner
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