Ini­tia­tive car­ni­val, tame this year, about to heat up

Porterville Recorder - - OPINION - Thomas ELIAS Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit­i­for­ni­afo­

Who needs a leg­is­la­ture when you can vote di­rectly on pub­lic pol­icy? That’s re­al­ity in Cal­i­for­nia, even if things were rel­a­tively calm on the bal­lot ini­tia­tive front as Cal­i­for­nia’s elec­tion sea­son heated up this fall.

Just eight voter-qual­i­fied mea­sures were due for de­ci­sions this year, com­pared with the two-dozen or more vot­ers have seen in some pre­vi­ous elec­tions.

But out­go­ing Gov. Jerry Brown has en­sured there will be many more down the line, both in the 2020 elec­tion and those to come after. That’s the mean­ing of his veto on a bill ban­ning cam­paigns from pay­ing pe­ti­tion car­ri­ers on a per-name ba­sis.

Brown’s veto mes­sage claimed a ban on such pay­ments would vastly “drive up the cost of cir­cu­lat­ing bal­lot mea­sures, thereby fur­ther fa­vor­ing the wealth­i­est in­ter­ests.” He added that he’s aware of abuses in pay­ing cir­cu­la­tors for each valid sig­na­ture they bring in, but dis­agrees with the con­tention of the mea­sure’s spon­sor, Demo­cratic Assem­bly­man Evan Low of Cu­per­tino, that to­day’s sys­tem has “ma­jor flaws that weaken its in­tegrity.”

Said Brown, “Per-sig­na­ture pay­ment is of­ten the most cost-ef­fec­tive method for col­lect­ing the hun­dreds of thou­sands of sig­na­tures needed to qual­ify a bal­lot mea­sure.”

So the beat will go on, long after vot­ers have for­got­ten this year’s ref­er­en­dum on a ga­so­line tax in­crease and ini­tia­tives on sub­jects like an­i­mal rights, kid­ney dial­y­sis cen­ter staffing, rent con­trol and the porta­bil­ity of some Propo­si­tion 13 tax ben­e­fits when homes change hands.

In fact, the year-2020 ini­tia­tive and ref­er­en­dum fes­ti­val is al­ready on. Bail bonds­men, for one group, now are cir­cu­lat­ing a mea­sure to sus­pend and later elim­i­nate the state’s new no-cash-bail sys­tem.

The bail bond in­dus­try might be­come ex­tinct in Cal­i­for­nia if that law sur­vives. So bonds­men will put what­ever money it takes into a fran­tic cam­paign to save their busi­nesses, while they also pur­sue le­gal chal­lenges. They got their pro­posed ref­er­en­dum into cir­cu­la­tion in record time, hav­ing it sum­ma­rized and cer­ti­fied by the state at­tor­ney gen­eral and then onto the streets and big-box-store park­ing lots barely two weeks after Brown signed the new law.

At the same time, two other ini­tia­tives are al­ready set for votes con­cur­rent with the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion: One would al­ter the state’s two-year-old crim­i­nal law changes which make theft a mere mis­de­meanor and not a felony so long as the value of what’s stolen is un­der $950. The new ini­tia­tive low­ers that stan­dard to $250 for most such crimes, elim­i­nat­ing what many in law en­force­ment claim has been an open in­vi­ta­tion to car bur­glars and thieves.

The other mea­sure is a long-an­tic­i­pated at­tempt to al­ter the land­mark 1978 Propo­si­tion 13, which lim­its prop­erty taxes to 1 per­cent of ei­ther the lat­est sales price of real es­tate or the 1975 as­sessed value, plus a 2 per­cent an­nual in­crease.

This ini­tia­tive would set up a “split roll” where com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial prop­erty is taxed based on cur­rent mar­ket value, but leaves res­i­den­tial prop­erty taxes alone.

Ex­pect at least a $100 mil­lion cam­paign over the split roll, as busi­nesses from neigh­bor­hood mar­kets to vine­yards to large oil re­finer­ies fight to re­tain their cur­rent low taxes.

Also likely to earn bal­lot spots are ini­tia­tives that would put a new tax on sug­ared drinks and al­low sports book bet­ting and Ne­vada-style card and dice games in both card rooms and In­dian casi­nos. Oth­ers now cir­cu­lat­ing would de­mand proof of cit­i­zen­ship be­fore reg­is­ter­ing to vote and re­quire the state to hold a 2021 statewide vote on whether Cal­i­for­nia should be­come an in­de­pen­dent coun­try.

With at least 20 months left to qual­ify mea­sures for the 2020 fall bal­lot, you can bet there will be plenty more ini­tia­tive pe­ti­tions cir­cu­lat­ing be­fore then. And spon­sors of all but the sovereign Cal­i­for­nia mea­sure will have plenty of money to pay pe­ti­tion cir­cu­la­tors any­where from $2 to $7 for each valid sig­na­ture they bring in.

With Don­ald Trump up for re­elec­tion in 2020, most vot­ers won’t need much ad­di­tional mo­ti­va­tion to send in mail bal­lots or visit vot­ing cen­ters. But for the rel­a­tive few with­out strong feel­ings on Trump, there will be plenty of other items to pique and hold their in­ter­est.

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