Utah school vouchers top ballot proposals

/ Source: The Associated Press

School vouchers for Utah children, state-sponsored stem cell research in New Jersey and funding health care for uninsured children in Oregon by hiking cigarette taxes were among the proposals on ballots across the nation Tuesday.

Utah voters were considering the country’s first statewide school voucher program open to all children, not just those from low- or middle-income families. The program would grant $500 to $3,000, depending on family income, for each child sent to private school.

The hotly disputed voucher law won approval by one vote in the Republican-controlled Legislature in February but was suspended before taking effect when opponents gathered more than 120,000 signatures to force a referendum. Experts said a green light in Utah could lead to similar programs in Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and elsewhere.

The referendum is the first statewide vote on vouchers in the country since 2000. There have been 10 state referendums on various voucher programs since 1972, according to the National School Boards Association. Each time, vouchers or tuition tax credits were voted down by an average margin of better than two to one.

Among the other items on ballots Tuesday:

  • In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine was asking residents to allow the state to borrow $450 million over 10 years to finance stem cell research. The Roman Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups opposed the measure.
  • Oregon voters were determining whether to raise the cigarette tax by 84.5 cents a pack — to $2.02 — to fund health insurance for about 100,000 children now lacking coverage. Tobacco companies opposing the measure outspent supporters by a 4-1 margin, contributing nearly $12 million.
  • In Texas, cycling champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong led an effort that asked residents to authorize up to $3 billion in bonds over 10 years to create a cancer research center.
  • Voters in the northeast Ohio city of Streetsboro, where a 19-year-old fell short of reaching a runoff in the mayoral primary last May, were deciding whether to raise the legal age to run for mayor or council from 18 to 23.
  • In Denver, voters were asked whether to make the private use and possession of marijuana the city’s lowest law enforcement priority. Elected officials and police said it would have little effect since state and federal law supersede local law decriminalizing the drug. In 2005, Denver passed an initiative making possession of small amounts of marijuana legal. It’s had little effect. Police and prosecutors continue to follow state law, which marijuana proponents tried but failed to change through a vote last year.
  • Residents of Hailey, Idaho, a former mining town with about 3,500 registered voters, were deciding whether to relax marijuana restrictions. The broadest proposal, which would run afoul of state and federal laws, aims to legalize possession outright for adults, while three others are meant to shift law enforcement’s focus to other offenses.
  • The Passamaquoddy Indians were asking approval to operate a racetrack casino with up to 1,500 slot machines in the hard-up town of Calais, Maine.