Spotlight Exclusives

Ballot Initiatives Result in Medicaid Expansion, Minimum Wage Hikes

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

Voters in 37 states voted on 132 statewide ballot measures on Tuesday, a number of which impact economic opportunity issues such as Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage.

Some of the key results in the poverty and opportunity space:

Medicaid expansion: In South Dakota, voters approved an initiative that would extend coverage to over 40,000 people in the state, raising the income cutoff from $10,590 a year to about $32,000. South Dakota was one of the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid since the Affordable Care Act increased how many low-income Americans could qualify.

In other health care-related measures, Oregon’s Measure 111 — to add language to the state constitution to “ensure” that every resident “has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right” — was still too close to call. The initiative would make Oregon the first state to enshrine health care as a fundamental right, but it doesn’t define “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care” or specify how such care would be provided or paid for.

In Arizona,  voters approved Proposition 209 to limit the interest rates for health care-related debt and shield some personal holdings from debt collection.

Minimum wage: While Congress hasn’t raised the federal minimum wage since 2009, voters in Nevada and Nebraska approved minimum wage hikes in their states. The Nevada measure raises the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2024, while the Nebraska initiative increases it to $15 by 2026.

In Washington, D.C., voters approved a measure to increase the minimum wage of tipped employees to the same level as non-tipped employees in 2027.

Free school lunches: In Colorado, voters easily approved a proposition to create a program that would offer free meals to all public-school students and help schools pay for them. Taxpayers making more than $300,0000 will pay more taxes so that school districts could opt in to serve meals for free to all students. Districts would have to participate in some federal programs first to get as many federal dollars as possible, but the state would cover all costs the federal programs don’t. The measure will also fund pay increases for frontline school cafeteria workers, helping schools dealing with staff shortages.

Early childhood education: New Mexico voters passed a ballot measure that makes the state the first in the country to guarantee a constitutional right to early childhood education. The measure authorizes lawmakers to draw new money from a state sovereign wealth fund to provide dedicated funding for universal preschool and child care, and to support home-visiting programs for new parents.

Slavery provisions: Voters in a number of states where slavery or involuntary servitude remains legal as a punishment for people who are convicted of crimes—AlabamaOregonTennessee, and Vermont— approved ballot measures to ban the practices outright. One practical result of passage could be to open avenues for incarcerated persons in those states to challenge forced prison labor.

In Louisiana, however, a similar measure failed, though advocates say confusing language in the initiative’s text may be to blame.

Free tuition for undocumented students: proposition on the Arizona ballot to guarantee in-state college tuition to undocumented students was still too close to call. The ballot measure would allow all students who attended high school in the state for at least two years to qualify for in-state tuition and financial aid regardless of legal status, repealing a proposition that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2006. The status quo requires undocumented students to pay three times as much as legal in-state residents to attend Arizona colleges and universities.

Broadband access: Alabama approved a constitutional amendment to allow state and local governments to provide federal and state-designated broadband funds to public and private companies seeking to expand broadband infrastructure, requiring only a public meeting by the locality to determine funding decisions.

 Property tax relief for disabled homeowners: Several states took up initiatives to consider providing exemptions and changes to the tax structure for people living with permanent disabilities and disabled veterans. Voters in Arizona passed Proposition 130 to set property tax exemption amounts and qualifications to be considered an exempted category, such as widow(er)s, people with permanent disabilities, and disabled veterans.

Louisiana passed Amendment 2 to provide a minimum exemption of $10,000 and up to a full exemption of homestead property tax for disabled veterans and their spouses, depending on their level of disability. Voters also approved Amendment 8, which would remove the requirement of permanently disabled homeowners to annually recertify for tax exemptions.


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