Initiative carnival, tame this year, about to heat up
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.