Election 2012: It’s Not Just for President

Major issues dominate state election ballots; first in a series

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 174.

That’s the number of ballot measures voters will be deciding next Tuesday across 38 states.

So as voters choose our country’s next president and determine whether the Senate remains in Democratic control and the House under Republican watch, they will also vote on gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, raising cigarette taxes, adopting a state constitutional amendment that bucks national health-care form (aka Obamacare) and a slew of local concerns.

Today, CSP Daily News begins a specialelection report looking at the key measures that will affect convenience store and retail petroleum operators.

Health-Care Revolt

Three states--Alabama, Florida and Montana--are posing ballot initiatives that would prohibit mandatory participation in any healthcare system, a direct salvo against the federal Affordable Health Care Act signed into law by President Obama in March 2010.

The fight is one that goes to the heart of states’ rights vs. federal powers. GOP-led legislatures in these three states ultimately are hoping for a Republican sweep in the national elections. While the states’ measures vary in language, their objective is clear. TheFlorida Health Care Amendment, for example, aims to prevent laws or rules from compelling any person or employer to purchase, obtain or otherwise provide for health-care coverage.

In Missouri, the question has taken on a somewhat different angle. The referendum would specifically prohibit establishment of a health-insurance exchange unless it is created by a legislative act, a ballot initiative or veto referendum. According to the text of the bill, the proposal looks to block creation of a health-care exchange by the Missouri governor.

Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a federally imposed individual mandate provision. So in some ways these ballot initiatives are more a symbolic protest. However, these measures, if passed, could take on greater salience if the GOP sweeps the executive and legislative branches and cedes at least some health-care authority to the states.

Rocky Mountain High

Four states--Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington--are considering legalizing marijuana, and, perhaps surprisingly, the proposals are given at least an even shot of passing. The ballot questions would regulate quantity and distribution. That said, there is speculation that legalization could spawn a new business opportunity for mainstream tobacco companies.

The Massachusetts proposal would permit use of medical marijuana and is backed by such groups as the ACLU and the Committee for Compassionate Medicine.

Colorado, Oregon and Washington differ; their measures would permit the commercial sale of small amounts of marijuana to anyone 21 and older. Colorado, for example, proposes legalizing the commercial sale of up to 1.0 ounce of marijuana. Oregon’s ballot question would establish a seven-person cannabis commission to regulate the commercial sale and cultivation of marijuana through state-licensed stores.

From Weed to Tobacco

Missourians will vote on Proposition B, which proposes to raise the state tax by 73 cents per pack of cigarettes. Surprisingly, the major tobacco manufacturers, notably Altria and Reynolds American, are standing on the sidelines.

There is good reason for their position. The proposal also would repeal a costly loophole known as the Allocable Share Release, which has given smaller tobacco-makers a price advantage in Missouri since 1998.

Missouri was one of 46 states that signed what's known as the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998, resolving claims against several tobacco companies over the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. Companies that signed the agreement are held to several provisions, including a payment of roughly $150 million per year toward Missouri Medicare to cover such illnesses.

However, many tobacco manufacturers were not in existence in 1998. While such companies are required to contribute a portion of their annual revenue into a fund to help cover tobacco-related ailments, due to the Allocable Share Release, these manufacturers are refunded such contributions at the end of each year.

In North Dakota, locals will vote on a measure that sounds far more Draconian than it is. The North Dakota Smoking Ban Initiative, if passed, would ban smoking in all indoor workplaces and is sponsored by Smoke-Free North Dakota.

While such smoking bans are common across much of the country, this measure does contain one particularly controversial feature. In addition to prohibiting smoking, it would also ban electronic smoking devices--e-cigarettes--in public places.

Label This

Californians will vote on Proposition 37, the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative.

If approved, the measure will require labeling on raw and processed foods made from plants or animals with genetic material. Food-makers largely oppose the measure saying it will create additional bureaucracies, enormous costs and is hard to clearly define. Natural-food advocates say the measure will allow consumers to better know what they are eating.