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Election 2016: National ballot measures, from solar to subways

Here are the infrastructure issues up for a vote this Election Day, from coast to coast

Metro Los Angeles

We’re not just choosing a president on Tuesday—the future of our cities is also at stake. Hundreds of billions of dollars could be poured into our energy grids, transit systems, and housing markets through the most infrastructure-heavy array of ballot measures in history. Here are some big local initiatives to watch on Election Day.

Washington considers a carbon tax

One of the most contentious energy decisions in the country will be left up to Washington State voters, who will choose to approve I-732, the country’s first-ever carbon tax. What seems like a no-brainer for combatting climate change—taxing carbon-emitting practices, while reducing some other taxes—is actually a bit more complicated. Grist called it the “most dramatic climate fight of the election.”

While it’s not surprising that local energy utilities are against the tax, many environmental groups like the Sierra Club have also chosen not to endorse it. One big reason environmentalists don’t like it is that the tax doesn’t directly raise money for clean energy solutions. Even supporters of the tax agree that I-732 doesn’t go far enough to actually reduce emissions. There’s also the question of whether a carbon tax even works. Currently, polling numbers are currently very, very tight.

Half the country will vote for local transportation funding

There are at least 45 local measures in 25 states that will generate funds for transportation. If they all pass, it would mean at least $200 billion would be siphoned into infrastructure improvements, much of it specifically going to public transit projects.

The biggest ballot measure is in Los Angeles County, where Measure M, a permanent half-cent sales tax increase, would raise a minimum of $120 billion, accelerating LA’s ambitious rail expansion. Other high-stakes votes will happen in Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Detroit. Here’s a detailed state-by-state list of transportation measures and a beautiful map by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.

Ballot measures could raise nearly $200 billion for transit investments
UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies

Florida’s shady battle for solar power

Sunny Florida is a small but quickly growing market for the solar industry. The ballot measure Amendment 1 would change the state’s constitution, supposedly granting Floridians the constitutional right to use solar power. But what it really would do is control who could install solar panels on homeowners’ rooftops, which is why utility companies have formed a coalition to promote it. Many climate advocates are against the measure, including Al Gore, who said it would “kill the solar industry.”

This is not just a hotly contested issue—this measure may not even make it in front of voters. In the last 24 hours, the Florida supreme court agreed to consider removing Amendment 1 from the ballot because the measure was so confusingly worded. It turns out that a leaked recording revealed the utility coalition purposely wrote the ballot measure in a way that would trick voters.

Affordable housing is in the hands of cities

While it’s rarely made headlines in the presidential race, the housing crisis has motivated several cities to get the issue on the ballot. In pricey California, all the big cities—San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland—have measures that address housing the homeless population, protecting renters, or providing cheaper housing for the workforce.

What’s unique about these housing plans is that they all have different solutions for the problem. In Baltimore, for example, a measure would create what’s essentially a trust fund to pay for affordable housing projects. In Santa Monica, the proposed solution is an anti-development measure that would require a citywide vote on any structure over two stories—but encourage structures that are 100 percent affordable housing.

Legalized marijuana could come to 9 more states

An unprecedented number of voters will make decisions about decriminalizing marijuana this election. Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada will be voting to legalize recreational use and Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota will be voting to legalize medicinal use. If they pass, that would mean about a quarter of the US population will live in states where marijuana is legal for all adults.

While there are plenty of ways that legalized weed can change the urban landscape, there are also a lot of infrastructural issues at stake, especially when it comes to water and energy regulation. In California, officials are working closely with growers on drought-friendly watering practices, and in cooler climates like Colorado, designers are creating sustainable, efficient grow houses that don’t tax the grid. And of course, when weed is decriminalized, the public costs for prosecuting “criminals” who grow or use marijuana will also go down, helping cities save money.