With the eyes of the nation glued to the presidential race, it’s easy to overlook important ballot measures across the country to build an equitable economy and inclusive democracy. These measures give millions of Americans a chance to choose policies and investments that advance shared prosperity in cities, states, and the nation — so remember to vote up and down the ballot on Election Day.
Here are six ways to say yes to economic equity and opportunity, no matter who wins the White House and Congress.
1. Improve wages and job quality.
In states and cities across the political spectrum, voters will decide whether to raise the floor on wages and improve job quality and security. Washington’s Initiative 1433 would raise the state minimum wage from $9.47/hr to $13.50/hr by 2020 and require employers to offer paid sick time of one hour for every 40 hours worked. The measure would increase wages for 730,000 workers and add $2.5 billion to the state economy. Arizona’s Prop 206 would boost that state’s minimum wage from $8.05/hr to $12/hr by 2020, and $9 for tipped workers (a step in the right direction, though not enough), and give workers the right to paid sick leave. Polls show both measures leading by wide margins.
Colorado’s Amendment 70 and Maine’s Question 4 would increase state minimum wages to $12/hr by 2020. A California proposal to boost the minimum wage to $15/hr was certified for the November ballot but withdrawn when Governor Jerry Brown signed the increase into law. Flagstaff, Arizona, has a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15/hr. And in San Jose, California, a measure crafted by the local AFL-CIO Labor Council, “Opportunity to Work,” would require businesses with 35 or more employees to offer more hours to current part-time workers before hiring new employees. Only two other cities — SeaTac, Washington, and San Francisco — have similar requirements.
2. Foster economic inclusion and wealth building.
In Detroit, voters will have the opportunity to mandate community benefits agreements (CBAs) for major developments in the city. The Community Benefits Agreement Ordinance put forward by Rise Together Detroit would require a legally binding CBA for any project worth more than $15 million or seeking more than $300,000 in public investments (like tax abatements or below-market land prices). This innovative approach is intended to guarantee that public investments in Detroit’s development deliver substantial public benefits — like quality jobs, small business opportunities, and investments in education and affordable housing.
Meanwhile, voters in two states will consider large-scale government investments to strengthen cradle-to-career pipelines. Oregon’s Measure 98 would mandate funding for programs in dropout prevention, career-focused technology education, and college readiness. The measure is designed to boost high school graduation rates, particularly among low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities, while addressing the serious shortage of skilled workers facing employers in the state. In California, Prop 55 would continue a temporary income tax on the state’s wealthiest residents — about 1.5 percent of Californians — and generate $4 to $9 billion annually for K-12 schools and communities. PolicyLink supports the measure.
South Dakota has two competing ballot proposals on predatory lending and wealth stripping in low-income communities. Measure 21, backed by bipartisan leaders and South Dakotans for Responsible Lending, would stop the worst abuses in payday and auto lending. It caps total interest, fees, and charges at 36 percent annually; imposes criminal misdemeanor charges for violations; and prevents lenders from collecting on loans and fees that exceed the limit. The other measure, state constitution Amendment U, was drafted by payday lenders in a thinly veiled attempt to block reform. It would limit the interest rate to 18 percent “unless borrowers agree to a higher rate.” This would effectively allow lenders to continue charging whatever they want and bar lawmakers from capping rates in the future.
3. Build strong, stable neighborhoods with high-quality affordable housing.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, where income inequality, housing prices, and displacement are soaring, a half-dozen cities will vote on proposals to stabilize rents and protect tenant rights. Oakland Measure JJ would require landlords to petition the Rent Board for increases that exceed the rate of inflation. It also would extend protections against unjustified evictions to 12,000 more units and guarantee access to translation services for tenant hearings and appeals. The city’s Measure KK, a $600 million infrastructure bond, includes $100 million for anti-displacement and affordable housing preservation projects plus funds to fix crumbling streets, libraries, parks, and public safety facilities. PolicyLink, based in Oakland, supports both measures.
Elsewhere around the Bay, Richmond, San Mateo, and Burlingame will vote on policies to limit rent increases and protect tenants from eviction without cause. The cities of Alameda and Mountain View face dueling rent-stabilization proposals — one backed by renters’ groups with stronger tenant protections, and a weaker measure backed by the city council.
Affordable housing, of course, is an issue nationwide. In Baltimore, Question J would establish a trust fund to finance the preservation and construction of affordable housing and the creation of community land trusts. In Portland, Oregon, Measure 26-179 asks voters to approve a $258.4 million bond over 20 years to preserve, rehabilitate, and build affordable housing for low-income families, seniors, people with disabilities, homeless people, and veterans.
In Rhode Island, Ballot Question 7 seeks voter approval for a $50 million bond to build and rehabilitate more than 800 affordable housing units and revitalize foreclosed properties. Backed by Governor Gina Raimondo, the measure would leverage $160 million in federal and private investment and create 1,700 jobs. “Everyone in our state should have a roof over their heads,” she said at the launch of the Yes on 7 campaign. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also a smart investment in the future of our state and our economy.”
4. Invest in infrastructure that connects all residents to opportunity.
Investments to improve mobility and expand transportation options are on the ballot in more than two dozen cities. The biggest project is in Los Angeles County, where Measure M would increase the sales tax by a half-cent to expand rail and rapid transit, improve streets and connections for walkers, and build bike paths. The tax is expected to generate $120 billion over 40 years. Atlanta voters also will consider a half-cent hike in sales tax to support a major transit expansion, including new light rail, revamped bus routes, better bus circulation, and additional transit stations. Seattle will vote on a 25-year, $54 billion plan to regionalize the current system of light rail, commuter rail, and bus service. And in the San Francisco Bay Area, three counties will vote on a $3.5 billion bond package to rebuild, repair, and modernize the 44-year-old BART system. Together, these investments would create more than one million jobs in the coming decades.
Job creation and equitable growth are goals of Rhode Island’s Green Economy Bond, Ballot Question 6. It would invest $35 million in clean water infrastructure, a network of bike paths, and cleanup and development of contaminated lands.
5. Protect voting rights and fair elections.
With voting rights under assault across the country and unlimited corporate campaign spending in the wake of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, several ballot proposals are pushing back. Under Initiative 735, Washington would become the 18th state to call for a U.S. constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and empowering governments to regulate campaign spending. California Prop 59 would advise the state’s elected officials to work on reversing Citizens United.
Alaska Ballot Measure 1 would streamline voter registration by allowing residents to sign up to vote on the same form they use to apply for the state’s oil-fund dividend. The dividend is wildly popular, and about 70,000 Alaskans who are eligible for it are not registered to vote.
In San Francisco, Prop F would allow youth to vote in municipal and school board elections starting at age 17. Prop N would open up voting in school board elections to immigrants who have or care for children living in the city.
6. Eliminate a major barrier to participation by reversing policies of mass incarceration.
More than two million people, 60 percent of them people of color, are locked behind bars in the United States, with devastating consequences for families and communities. California Prop 57, supported by PolicyLink, would expand parole access for nonviolent offenders, empower judges rather than prosecutors to decide whether juveniles should be tried as adults, and create incentives for rehabilitation and education programs.
For California voters, PolicyLink created a state-specific ballot guide, available online here.