California's "Big Green" environmental initiative, an unprecedented offensive against agricultural and industrial pollutants, was trailing more than 2 to 1 at the polls last night after a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign by agricultural and business interests.
With 20 percent of precincts reporting, 68 percent of voters rejected Proposition 128, which would have eliminated dozens of farm pesticides and limited common industrial gases. The measure, which environmentalists hoped would serve as a national model, was initially favored by a wide margin.
Environmental concerns fared little better in New York, where the ballot included a $2 billion bond issue to buy land threatened by development and to establish recycling programs. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, 51 percent of the voters were rejecting the measure.
In an election marked by anger against entrenched politicians, voters appeared to be sending a mixed message.
In Colorado, exit polls indicated that voters had approved an initiative limiting terms to 12 years for U.S. senators and representatives and to eight years for elected state officials. The portion of the measure limiting terms for members of Congress is expected to face a court challenge on constitutional grounds.
In California, Proposition 140, an initiative to place lifetime limits of eight years on state senators and state elected officials, maintained a lead of 60 percent to 40 percent, with 20 percent of precincts reporting. A less stringent term-limiting measure that also would have provided public campaign financing was losing, 57.8 percent to 42.2 percent.
But in Massachusetts, where the ballot included a radical tax-cut proposal that would have reduced the state's budget by nearly 15 percent and forced dramatic cutbacks in public services, voters blinked. With 33 percent of precincts reporting, the measure was trailing 399,760 to 261,295 and appeared headed for defeat.
Recent gains by abortion-rights forces nationwide appeared to be affirmed by the outcome of ballot questions in two states. A measure that would have outlawed abortions except in cases of rape, incest or risk to a woman's life was losing in Oregon by 2 to 1, according to CNN, while exit polls indicated that Nevada voters were backing a measure that would protect the state's 17-year-old abortion-rights law against tampering by state lawmakers.
In the aftermath of Earth Day and amid renewed interest in the environment, initiatives on both coasts were considered important tests of the public's commitment to the issue.
The Big Green initiative, California's Proposition 128, was closely watched by industry and environmentalists nationwide as a test of how far the public is willing to go to protect natural resources and public health from pollution.
It called for a prohibition on all food pesticides known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. It also contained provisions to phase out chemicals that deplete the atmosphere's protective ozone layer, limit emissions of "greenhouse gases" believed to cause global warming, protect old-growth redwood trees, virtually ban oil drilling within three miles of shore and levy a 25-cents-a-barrel tax on oil companies to pay for a $500 million fund for oil spill prevention and cleanup.
The initiative inspired a massive lobbying campaign by the chemical, oil, timber and farm industries. They spent an estimated $16 million to deliver the message that Big Green's provisions were too costly and were unnecessary because of existing environmental programs. More liberal political opponents of the referendum sympathized with its general goals but criticized it for going too far.
New York voters had an opportunity to send a message on the environment in the form of the referendum on the $2 billion bond issue that would go toward state land acquisition, recycling, closing landfills, and sewage treatment.
The measure had the backing of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) and major environmental groups, but the state's deteriorating fiscal condition eroded its prospects in recent months. Moreover, many upstate residents feared that large land purchases by the state would jeopardize development plans in the Adirondacks.
About $800 million of the bond issue would go toward buying land, much of it in watersheds considered crucial to protecting New York City's drinking water supplies. Recent surveys have suggested that many voters were unfamiliar with details of the referendum.
Massachusetts voters apparently turned down what would have amounted to the largest voter-initiated tax cut in history. The referendum would have cut taxes by $2 billion annually, nearly 15 percent of the state's budget. Critics warned that it would devastate schools, police and other essential services.
The battle over abortion centered on referendum questions in Oregon and Nevada, states that have traditionally shown strong support for abortion rights.
The Nevada referendum, backed by abortion-rights forces, would affirm a 17-year-old state law that grants women the right to terminate pregnancy during the first 24 weeks. Advocates sought the measure to head off attempts by state lawmakers to repeal or modify the law.
Oregon voters were considering two antiabortion measures. The most stringent, Measure 8, was aimed at banning abortions except in cases of rape or incest or when a woman's life was at risk, while Measure 10 was designed to require doctors to notify a parent before performing an abortion on a minor.
California voters had two chances to express anti-incumbent sentiment on initiatives. Proposition 140 would establish lifetime limits of eight years in office for state senators, six years for Assembly members and eight years for other elected state officials. A less stringent measure -- Proposition 131 -- would cap service of state legislators at 12 consecutive years and state officials at eight consecutive years. It also would provide some public funds for campaign financing.