by Rob Moore, Ohio Capital Journal
July 13, 2023
One thing that has been on my mind as Ohio considers increasing its threshold for constitutional amendments is the impact such a change will have on the economy.
Issue 1 is the constitutional amendment put forth by Republican legislators with the goal of making a statewide vote on abortion rights more difficult. The amendment would raise the threshold required to pass constitutional amendments in Ohio from a simple majority to 60%.
A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch addressed all the constitutional amendments that have been approved by voters since 1913, the first year the public was allowed to vote on constitutional amendments.
Below are examples of constitutional amendments that got more than 50% of the vote but less than 60%, thus would not pass under the new law.
One example is bonds for environmental conservation, low-income housing, and development and public building upgrades. Statewide bonds have been a tool for promoting new initiatives that promote environmental and housing goals in the state. This means that Issue 1 would have made it harder to pass legislation that protects the environment and ensures availability of affordable housing.
Another example is a Depression-era vote that limited local property taxes. Increasing the constitutional amendment threshold to 60% would have made it harder to put new limits on property taxes. This would have hurt low-income Ohioans as property taxation is a regressive form of taxation that falls heavily on renters who are passed on property taxes from homeowners.
Ohio’s initiative to legalize casino gambling was another amendment that passed with greater than 50% of the vote but less than 60% of the vote. In 2022, casino gambling topped $1 billion in total revenue. This means an entire industry in the economy would not exist if the threshold for constitutional amendments had been 60% at the time of the vote.
Another amendment that crossed the 50% threshold but not a 60% threshold is one that prohibited groups from using the constitution to create a monopoly for their financial benefit. This means that a 60% threshold would have still left on the table the ability for groups to carve out monopolies for themselves using the constitution.
Another important economic policy change that happened with a majority but not 60% of voters is the vote to increase the minimum wage. Ohio’s minimum wage could be dollars lower than it is now if a 60% threshold was needed to pass an amendment.
The 60% threshold vote is nakedly political, but it would also shape Ohio’s economy for years to come. There are a range of opinions someone could reasonably have about these policies that were passed by a majority vote but not 60% of voters. Anyone would have to admit, though, that this change would be substantial.
Why are policymakers spoiling for a change to make the constitution more difficult to amend? Likely because their opinions are out of step with the voters. Many policymakers didn’t want to increase the minimum wage in the past while the public did: that’s why they needed a constitutional amendment to do it. And that is likely what they are facing today as well: a public that disagrees with their legislature on key issues and a legislature afraid they will lose to the public in a vote.
Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured image via Franklin County Board of Elections.