Even as they reelected a president who proudly proclaims his credentials as a tax cutter, American voters Tuesday showed their willingness to approve ballot measures that call for higher taxes to fund more government spending on everything from research to railroads and the environment to veterans' benefits.
Tuesday's election also turned out to be a losing proposition for gambling interests, a winner for bar patrons in South Carolina, a good day for minimum-wage workers in Florida and Nevada and a bad day for bears in Alaska, where voters refused to ban the use of bait to help hunters snare their prey.
Residents of Berkeley, Calif., rejected a proposal to legalize prostitution. In Alaska, voters declined to decriminalize marijuana, although the 43 percent yes vote prompted drug-legalization advocates to promise they will try again.
Ballot proposals to fund new government ventures did well overall, as voters in 34 states made decisions about a wide range of referendums and initiatives -- from California's ambitious $3 billion program of state-sponsored embryonic stem cell research to West Virginia's plan to send bonus checks to veterans who were involved in the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Even in places where the people are worried about the economy, most of the bond issues on the ballots were passing," said Elizabeth Garrett of the University of Southern California's Initiative and Referendum Institute. "And when people in South Dakota and Maine were given a chance to reduce their local tax burden, they voted no."
Voters in Washington rejected a proposed tax cut because it was part of a plan to increase gambling on Indian reservations and use some of the revenue to offset taxes.
Jennie Drage Bowser of the National Conference of State Legislatures said 18 of the 21 bond issues on state ballots Tuesday were approved. Most were designed to fund stadiums, highways and other infrastructure projects. Utah voters agreed to a $150 million bond issue to pay for environmental conservation projects.
But proposals for increased public spending on education, which usually do well on the ballot, met with mixed results. Voters in Washington and Arkansas rejected tax increases for education funding. But Oklahomans established a new state lottery to pay for education, and North Carolinians agreed to dedicate money raised from civil fines to the schools. In fast-growing Nevada, where school districts are struggling to keep up with burgeoning enrollment, voters directed the Legislature to fund kindergarten-through-12th-grade education before turning to any other item in the state budget.
Florida and Nevada voters approved initiatives to increase the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, a dollar more than the federally mandated level.
The issue of tort reform, a perennial among ballot measures, produced mixed results. Nevada and Florida passed measures to limit damage awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases, but Wyoming voters rejected the same idea.
Nevadans, on the other hand, turned down a plan to punish attorneys who file "frivolous" lawsuits. Californians agreed to make it more difficult to file a suit for unfair business practices, and Coloradans declined to repeal a recently imposed damage limit on suits against home builders.
Garrett, of USC, said the outcome of gambling proposals ran counter to recent years, when voters were generally willing to expand the opportunity to place a bet. This year, though, anti-gambling forces prevailed in Michigan, Nebraska, California and Washington.
South Carolina's voters bet on lower bar prices by repealing a law requiring that liquor be sold only from mini-bottles. Proponents said the use of standard-size bottles would cut the cost-per-shot for bartenders and their patrons.
Californians' agreement to spend $3 billion on a stem cell research fund circumvents Bush administration limits on federal funding for such efforts. Placed on the ballot by relatives of disease sufferers, Hollywood A-list fundraisers and venture capitalists, Proposition 71 passed with 59 percent of the vote. The campaign became a battle of film stars, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the late Christopher Reeve promoting the plan, and Mel Gibson leading the opposition.
The measure authorizes the use of tax-free bonds to pay for research that scientists hope could lead to cures for major diseases.
Schwarzenegger also prevailed with voters in endorsing a measure that limits lawsuits against businesses accused of consumer fraud and in opposing a measure that would have required businesses with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance to their employees and pay for 80 percent of it. While proponents said the measure would extend health care coverage to 1.4 million of the state's 5.3 million residents who lack insurance, Schwarzenegger opposed the proposition as bad for businesses. It was voted down by 51 percent of the vote.
But the popular governor, who was also in sync with voters on rejecting higher phone taxes to pay for emergency medical services, had a few losses. Voters approved a tax on residents with annual incomes over $1 million to pay for mental health services and voted to borrow money to improve children's hospitals. Schwarzenegger was against both measures.
Proposition 66, which would have eased California's "three strikes and you're out" sentencing law, was one of the most hotly contested in the state. In the early fall, when polls showed voters approving the measure, Schwarzenegger spent about $2 million from his own campaign funds to fight it. The proposition would have amended what is considered the nation's harshest sentencing law by requiring a prison term of 25 years to life only if the third felony offense was violent or "serious" as defined by the criminal code. In the end, however, Proposition 66 lost by a small margin.
Voters in 34 states considered about 160 ballot measures this year, a slightly smaller number than two years ago because some legislatures have made the referendum process more difficult, experts said. Across the nation, they agreed most strongly on one idea: Eleven states approved bans on same-sex marriage.
One new proposal in Arizona on Tuesday could spread in coming elections.
Voters agreed to tough restrictions on illegal immigrants who seek to use government services, a measure opposed by many top state officials and business leaders.
Advocates said they will now try to put similar proposals on other state ballots around the nation.