Voters Defeat School Vouchers Program, Stem Cell Proposal And Insurance Measure

Wednesday, November 7th 2007, 7:04 am
By: News On 6

Cost-conscious voters rejected school vouchers for Utah students, state-sponsored stem cell research in New Jersey and higher cigarette taxes in Oregon to fund health care for uninsured children.

Texans, meanwhile, authorized up to $3 billion in bonds over 10 years to create a cancer research center, one of the few closely watched ballot measures across the nation that voters approved Tuesday.

New Jersey voters had not killed a statewide ballot measure since 1990. The rejection was a defeat for Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who campaigned heavily for the plan to borrow $450 million over 10 years to finance stem cell research.

``The public understands the state has serious financial issues that must be addressed first,'' Corzine spokeswoman Lili Stainton said.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski also blamed money after voters opted not to raise the cigarette tax by 84.5 cents a pack to $2.02 to fund health insurance for about 100,000 children lacking coverage.

Tobacco companies opposing the measure outspent supporters by a 4-1 margin, contributing nearly $12 million.

``What happened was, the tobacco industry bought the election,'' the Democratic governor told The Associated Press.

Utah voters killed the nation's first statewide school voucher program open to all children, not just those from low or middle-income families.

It was the first voucher election in the U.S. since 2000, when voters in Michigan and California rejected efforts to subsidize private schools. There have been 11 state referendums on various voucher programs since 1972, all of them unsuccessful, according to the National School Boards Association.

Utah, with a conservative electorate, a Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature, was seen nationally as a key test of voter sentiment for vouchers. But opponents, with millions of dollars from a national teachers union, persuaded residents to say no. Experts had said a green light in Utah could have led to similar programs in Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and elsewhere.

The program would have granted $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.

The New Jersey measure had been one of the nation's most ambitious public efforts to fund stem cell research.

Corzine, a multimillionaire, spent $200,000 of his own money on TV ads for it. He argued the funding would help find cures for conditions such as spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, sickle cell anemia and multiple sclerosis while also luring leading scientists and research firms to the state.

But the measure was opposed by anti-abortion activists, conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church because it would pay for research that destroys human embryos and would increase state debt.

New Jersey already had approved spending $270 million to build stem cell research facilities.

Several states are competing in the research. California previously approved spending $3 billion on stem cell research, Connecticut has a $100 million program, Illinois spent $10 million and Maryland awarded $15 million in grants.

The bonds for a cancer research center in Texas handed champion cyclist Lance Armstrong a major political victory on Tuesday. Some fiscal conservatives opposed the proposal.

``From the bottom of my heart I can tell you this: I have never been prouder to call myself a Texan,'' Armstrong, a testicular cancer survivor, told a cheering crowd. ``We know that if we keep fighting we can bring an end to cancer.''

Among the other measures on ballots Tuesday:

_ Voters in Streetsboro, Ohio, where a 19-year-old fell short of reaching a runoff in the May mayoral primary, raised the legal age to run for mayor or council from 18 to 23.

_ Voters in Hailey, Idaho, approved three measures to legalize medical marijuana, make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest police priority and legalize industrial hemp. They rejected an initiative that would have legalized marijuana and required the city to regulate sales.

_ Voters rejected a proposal by the Passamaquoddy Indians to operate a racetrack casino with up to 1,500 slot machines in the town of Calais, Maine, where downturns in the seafood and paper industries have made the economy the worst in the state.