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State Net Capitol Journal: Pot Taxes, Gambling & GMOs Bound For November Ballots

Compiled by Korey Clark 

As of this writing, voters in six states will weigh a total of 31 ballot measures on Nov. 5, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many of them are relatively minor, but a few are drawing plenty of attention and campaign cash.
In Colorado voters will decide whether to impose a double-levy on newly legalized recreational marijuana sales in the state (Proposition AA). The pair of taxes would potentially generate a revenue windfall for the state and local governments, with the first $40 million from a 15 percent tax on the wholesale price of retail sales going toward education and a 10 percent sales tax — on top of the state's 2.9 percent sales tax — going toward marijuana regulation, public health and law enforcement activities. But opponents, who call the measure the biggest tax increase in the state's history, say it will drive up the cost of the drug and drive down legal sales. 
Anti-tax sentiment runs deep in Colorado, which passed a Taxpayer Bill of Rights in 1992 that, among other things, requires any tax hike to be approved by a popular vote. Thad Tecza, a political science professor at the University of Colorado, said that conservative tradition has only been bolstered by the recalls last month of two state lawmakers over their support of gun control legislation this year, which could make it tough going for the marijuana tax measure and a separate tax proposal bound for the ballot that would alter the state's income tax system to provide more money for education. 
"Both of these, there's going to be lots of money spent in favor of them, and not a lot of money opposed to them," he said. "But the general mood of the state is anti-tax." 
Lots of money is being spent on both sides of a ballot measure in Washington State to determine whether genetically modified foods, or GMOs, should have to be labeled. Recent campaign finance filings showed contributions for I-522 were nearing the $24 million mark, already making it the second most expensive ballot measure campaign in the state's history, topping even the ballot battle over same-sex marriage in 2012. 
The fight is similar to one that took place last year in California, where voters rejected a GMO measure backed by environmentalists and liberal organizations and fiercely opposed by agricultural and food-business interests. 
"It's really a proxy battle over genetically modified food, generally," said Mark A. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Washington. 
Opponents of GMO labeling tend to view such proposals as watersheds: If one state requires labeling, others will follow. So the opposition in Washington is highly motivated; they've raised more than two-thirds of the total reported in connection with I-522. 
But a survey conducted last month by The Elway Poll showed I-522 leading by a 3 to 1 margin. The measure was supported by strong majorities in every demographic category, including the state's most likely voters — those having voted in at least three of the last four elections — who favored it by a margin of 64 percent to 24 percent. 
Support for the measure could also be aided by voter turnout. There are few other high-profile measures on the ballot to draw voters to the polls in conservative parts of the state, while voters in liberal-leaning Seattle will also decide a closely contested mayoral race. 
Voters in New York will weigh a constitutional amendment (Proposal 1) that would allow the state to "authorize and regulate" up to seven casinos, the product of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) desire to lure more tourists to the state, especially Upstate. Whether those casinos would be privately owned or run by the state isn't spelled out in the amendment, but supporters say either way they would create jobs and generate revenue that could be used to provide additional funding for schools or lower property taxes. But the proposal raises familiar concerns among gambling opponents. 
"With their flashing lights, free-flowing alcoholic drinks, all-night hours and generally intoxicating atmosphere," said a statement from the New York State Catholic Conference, "casinos are more likely than other gambling options to lead to bad decisions and catastrophic losses." 
A Siena College poll conducted last month showed support for a constitutional amendment expanding gambling in the state varied among registered voters depending on how the question was phrased. When asked "Do you support or oppose passing an amendment to the state constitution to allow non-Indian, Las Vegas style casinos to be built in New York?," 46 percent said they supported it, and 46 percent said they opposed it. But when asked specifically what the ballot question states — whether an amendment should be approved to "allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated" — 55 percent supported it and 42 percent opposed it. 
A Brooklyn attorney has filed suit in the state's Supreme Court alleging the ballot measure's language is biased in favor of its passage and violates the State Constitution's prohibition against the use of public money to aid a "private undertaking." 
"The Constitution is pretty clear that you can't use public money to sway or influence a vote," said the attorney, Eric J. Snyder. 

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