A restaurateur’s guide to the 2018 midterm elections

Photograph: Shutterstock

Compared with recent past elections, today’s midterm balloting presents voters with few measures of direct concern to restaurants. Wage and benefits-related initiatives in particular have dropped in number, signaling a change in tactics on the part of organized labor. Citizens heading to the polls will be asked in just two states to give fellow state residents a pay raise, compared with more than double that number in 2016.

Still, those two wage-hike proposals are among the handful of ballot initiatives that could have significant effects on the business. Here’s a review of those measures, arranged by state.

Arizona: No new taxes

Residents of six states will be asked to vote yea or nay on measures limiting government’s ability to levy, raise or renew taxes. The one most pertinent to restaurants is likely Arizona’s Proposition 126, which will prohibit the state and local jurisdictions from increasing tax rates or levying new charges on services. But the industry could also benefit from proposals under consideration in Florida and Oregon to require “supermajorities” (two-thirds of the legislature in the former, three-fifths in the latter) for approval of new taxes or an increase in rates. 

Restaurants may be less pleased by proposals on the ballot in Washington and Oregon to prevent local jurisdictions from taxing groceries. The industry has long argued that having different taxes on restaurant and supermarket food puts foodservice establishments at an unfair disadvantage in the battle for share of stomach. 

Arkansas: $11 wage

Voters will be asked to raise the state’s pay floor to $11 an hour, from the current level of $8.50, by 2021. The climb would start with a rise to $9.50 on Jan. 1, with a bump to $10 a year later and $11 by 2021. Proponents argue that the hike would help small businesses like restaurants by increasing consumers’ disposable income. The initiative does not mention a tip credit. Advocates secured more than 84,000 signatures to get the wage proposal on the ballot. Arkansas’ minimum wage was raised to the current level by a 2014 initiative.  

Missouri: $12 wage

The current legal minimum of $7.85 an hour would climb starting with an increase of 75 cents in January to $12 by 2023. Penalties for failing to pay the new rates would be required to pay double what the employees were due, plus the back wages. Government employees would be exempted from the new minimums. 

Michigan: Recreational use of marijuana

Residents could legally indulge in cannabis for fun as early as December if Proposal 1 is approved by Michigan voters. However, merchants could not apply to become a legal dispensary until a year later. As with other ballot initiatives that legalized the creational use of marijuana, the state measure says little about where the pot can be sold and consumed. If legal-use states such as Colorado are an indication, restaurants in Michigan could feel an increase in competition for employees, as well as complications in their employment policies. 

North Dakota: Legalization of marijuana

Adults could also legally indulge in pot in North Dakota as early as December if Measure 3 passes. The state initiative has the twist of automatically expunging all mention of past convictions on marijuana charges from public records. Use of cannabis for medical purposes is already legal under state law.

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