Arkansans strongly backed all three of the constitutional amendments that made this year’s ballot, which were measures requiring voters to show ID at the polls, raise the state minimum wage standards to $11 an hour and turning the Natural State’s low-key gaming operations into a high-stakes, tax revenue-generating gambling enterprise.
With most precincts reporting, the votes cast “for” Issues No. 2, 4 and 5 on the mid-term ballot were enough to push all three ballot initiatives toward victories late Tuesday night, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office.
Issue 2, a constitutional proposal that would require voters to present a photo ID at the ballot box, garnered nearly 80% of the 590,000 votes that were cast “for” the measure that Republican lawmakers proposed as a necessary electoral safeguard.
However, the ballot issue was essentially made moot after the Arkansas Supreme Court on Oct. 11 reversed a decision by the Pulaski County Circuit Court in favor of plaintiff Barry Haas. That court ruling – which upheld the constitutionality of voter ID legislation passed by the state General Assembly in 2017 – forced Arkansas voters to show up with a photo identification at the polls Tuesday to vote on the same.
MINIMUM WAGE HIKE
Similarly, returns showed that Arkansans overwhelmingly supported Issue 5, which would increase the state minimum wage in Arkansas for most workers in the state from $8.50 per hour to $11 per hour by 2021. Several Arkansas business owners that supported the minimum wage hike cheered Tuesday’s approval of Issue 5, which had nearly 69% or 421,000 of the 617,000 votes cast by 11 p.m.
“I’ve seen firsthand how paying fair wages is good for business. It’s why I support raising Arkansas’ minimum wage,” Capi Peck, Owner of Trio’s Restaurant in Little Rock. “Our low turnover is invaluable from a bottom line and customer service perspective. Increasing the minimum wage will give needed raises to workers who will then have more to spend as customers.”
Added Meg Sebastian, CEO of Sebastian Tech Solutions in Jonesboro: “As one of the few defense contractors here in Jonesboro, my goal is to bring jobs here by building a defense and technology sector in Jonesboro. If we want Arkansas to have more STEM jobs and encourage companies to invest and reinvest in our state for the long term, we need to have a strong, productive workforce – and raising the minimum wage is a key building block.”
Jeremy Horpedahl, assistant professor of Economics and Arkansas Center for Research in Economics Scholar at the University of Central Arkansas, said the early returns confirmed what the polls suggested.
“Arkansans overwhelming want to increase the minimum wage to $11. And Arkansans have actually said even more than that: they want to be part of a grand economic experiment taking place in a few states to see if really high minimum wages will really cause a lot of unemployment, or if it is an easy fix to raise the income of the poorest workers,” he said.
UCA’s economic forecaster said in a recent Washington Post article that Arkansas was going into “uncharted territory. By the time it is fully implemented in 2021, he told Talk Business & Politics, Arkansas will have possibly the highest minimum wage in the country when adjusting for our wage structure and cost of living.
“Only California’s $15 wage in 2022 will possibly be higher when compared to each state’s median wage,” he said.
According to a report released in September by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF), the wage hike would help improve the financial stability of tens of thousands of Arkansas families earning low wages who are still struggling to make ends meet despite the growing economy and low unemployment.
“The increase would be a great first step in reducing our state’s high child poverty rate and giving children a better start in life,” said AACF Executive Director Rich Huddleston, citing data from the Census Bureau that 22.5% of Arkansas children live in families with incomes below the poverty line.
In a case before the Arkansas Supreme Court on the minimum wage referendum, justices ruled 7-0 on Oct. 18 against the state chamber of commerce-led Arkansans for a Strong Economy. Opponents had argued that supporters of Issue 5 had failed to collect enough signatures during the initial collection period.
GAMBLING MEASURE APPROVED
Meanwhile, the ballot issue that created the most attention was closer than the other two constitutional proposals. Late returns showed Issue 4, the casino amendment, was headed to victory by a small margin of 54%-46%. The much-debated constitutional amendment would permit casinos in four Arkansas counties – Garland, Crittenden, Pope, and Jefferson – with two of the casino licenses being granted to Oaklawn and Southland.
Most of the debate on the measure has centered on how tax revenues generated by the casinos would be distributed to the state’s general revenue fund, to cities and counties where the casinos are located, and to the Arkansas Racing Commission for purses for horse and dog races. Driving Arkansas Forward, one of the groups backing the ballot issue, has said the proposal would create jobs, expand tourism, and keep tax and tourism dollars in Arkansas.