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Business Impact

Election Day’s Tech-Related Triumphs—and Failures

Regardless of your take on the presidential result, the ballot delivered some scattered news for U.S. innovation at the local level.

As voters took to polling booths to make Donald Trump America's next president, they also posted ballots to decide state-level policies on energy, climate, and biomedical initiatives. And while Silicon Valley may be concerned about forthcoming national tech policy, there is at least some good news within a mixed bag of results at the local level.

In Florida, voters rejected an amendment that would have limited rooftop solar expansion. The proposed tweak to the state’s constitution sought to stop blanket charging for grid upkeep relating to solar installations, which could have meant that anyone with domestic solar had to pay more, or even forfeit payments for electricity fed back into the grid. The vote’s result will help ensure that solar continues to pervade in the state.

Meanwhile in Nevada, voters chose to deregulate the state’s electrical market. Currently, both domestic and commercial energy supplies are provided by a single utility, NV Energy. The vote to deregulate could ultimately break its monopoly, though a second vote in 2018 is required to enact the policy.

The impact of some issues that were on the ballot remains unclear. Voters in Monroe County, Florida, for example, appear to be torn over a decision on whether to approve the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to fight Zika. Initial results show that 65 percent of voters in Key Haven, the town in Monroe where the trial would take place, rejected the idea, while a countywide vote tallied 58 percent in favor of it. The vote is non-binding, so the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board will now ultimately decide whether to proceed.

Early indications also suggest that Seattle looks likely to approve its Sound Transit 3 plan. The $54 billion scheme is an ambitious proposal to reform the city’s transport systems, laying 62 new miles of new light rail network and building 37 new train stations in order to cut congestion and pollution. But some critics have argued that the plan may turn out to be obsolete before it even gets started if autonomous cars deliver on their promise of transforming city traffic problems.

And then, of course, some states have voted against measures that may have created a positive impact. While the final results aren’t yet in, predictions suggest that California appears to have defied expectations and voted against a policy intended to cut drug prices. The state’s Proposition 61 was meant to stop health plans from paying any more than the discounted prices that are offered to the Department of Veterans Affairs by pharmaceutical companies. (A $109 million campaign funded by Merck, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson probably helped as well.)

Perhaps most disappointing, though, is the news that Washington State voters chose to reject the country’s first carbon tax. The levy, the likes of which has already been approved in Canada, would have started at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, steadily rising to $100 in the coming years. But the policy proved controversial. In fact, even environmentalists had chosen to oppose the measure, partly over concerns that it didn’t go far enough in raising money for renewable energy schemes.

A mixed result for innovation policy among the states, then. Now we just need to see what happens at the federal level.

(Read more: Bloomberg, Stat, The Ringer, “Canada’s Carbon Tax Needs to Spread South of the Border,” “California Decides the Future for Solar Is Net Metering,” “Are Altered Mosquitoes a Public Health Project, or a Business?”)

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