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Initiative backers submit paperwork promising a busy 2010 cycle

An early glance at the ballot measures that could be headed for the ballot in 2010 point to a busy political season, and a number of very expensive, high-profile initiative campaigns.

Sure, there is the measure to legalize marijuana that could be on the ballot as early as June. And there are the initiatives that get filed with the attorney general’s office that will likely never actually be put before voters. The “Freedom to Present Christmas Music in Public School Classrooms Act” falls into the latter category.

But over the last week, several legitimate, and controversial initiatives with a real shot of making the November 2010 ballot have been filed. And more are likely on the way.

Some of the issues are familiar to California voters. Sponsors of a measure that would require parental consent before a girl under 18 can obtain an abortion are back with several versions of their initiative. Voters have rejected such mandates in two recent ballot fights over the last five years.

Attorneys for the California Teachers Association have filed a 20-page measure aimed at repealing “corporate tax loopholes.” The measure targets changes in the tax law made in 2008 that offer tax breaks to California corporations.

According to language in the measure, “these loopholes benefit the biggest of corporations with gross incomes of over $1 billion. One study estimates that 80 percent of the benefits will go to just 0.1 percent of all California corporations.”

These changes were pushed by legislative Republicans in recent budget battles as part of larger budget agreements. They allow companies to transfer tax credits among subsidiaries of the same company, and allow companies to chose between different formulas to determine the income tax owed to the state. Another provision changes the net-operating loss law, allowing companies to claim refunds for past taxes paid to the state.

"The taxes proposed in this initiative would be a wrong turn for California because it would take away incentives for companies to locate in the state and create jobs here," said Scott Macdonald, spokesman for Californians Against Higer Taxes, a business group formed to oppose the initiative. " It would come on top of $12 billion in taxes that already hit Californians this year and another $40 billion in taxes that have been proposed by a government employee union. It would add insult to injury that would result in more
job layoffs in a state already suffering from record high unemployment.”

Since they were passed, advocates have tried to repeal these changes to the tax law without success.

The measure is being pushed by the California Teachers Association, which argues that public schools take the brunt of what they call corporate tax loopholes.

“Public schools are bearing the brunt of these costs,” the measure states. “We should not be cutting vital programs and raising taxes on low-income and middle-class Californians while enacting tax loopholes for big corporations. It makes no sense and it isn’t fair.”
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is teaming up with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to push a change to the state term limits law similar to the one that was rejected by voters in 2008.

The new measure would shorten the overall amount of time lawmakers may serve in the Legislature from 14 years to 12 years. But it would allow legislators to serve their time in either house.

Current law allows members to serve three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year Senate terms.

The measure has been vehemently opposed by U.S. Term Limits, which views the measure as an extension, not a shortening, of legislative term limits.

A number of rumored measures involving sweeping constitutional reforms – including a possible plan to call a statewide constitutional convention – have not yet been submitted for review to the attorney general. Other groups like California Forward are pushing for changes to the state budget process, including the elimination of the two-thirds vote requirement for passing state budgets.

Meanwhile, local governments are trying to fortify the constitutional walls they have built around local gas tax and property tax revenues in recent budgets.

The League of California Cities filed a measure this week to amend Proposition 1A, passed by voters in 2004, and Proposition 42, the transportation funding measure approved by voters in 2002.

Both of those measures allowed the state to borrow money from local governments and transportation funds on a limited basis. But Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, says those deals are no longer tenable.

“It’s become obvious that the state is willing to put its needs ahead of local government. At the same time the state feels it needs funding, even as local governments are facing the same crisis as the state,” he said. “The property taxes from Proposition 1A grew used to fund police and fire services. They’re saying that whatever services they’re funding at the state level are more important than police and fire.”

McKenzie said he realizes other ballot measures may target so-called ballot-box budgeting even as his group seeks to ask voters to strengthen the protections for local revenues.

“We have to exist in this seriously dysfunctional system that exists right now,” he said. “We have to play by the rules that we’ve got. We’re willing to discuss a plan that puts every protection that exists for every group on the table if everyone else is willing to do that.”
That would include the funding formula that guarantees at least 40 percent of all state general fund revenues for public schools, and a discussion of Proposition 13, which changed the flow of local property tax follars.  

In the meantime, says McKenzie, “we’re cick and tired of the Legislature stealing local funds to fund a state budgets.”

For the June ballot, a pair of initiatives pushed hard by well-monied Capitol interests are heading for the ballot. Pacific Gas and Electric is moving forward with a measure that would make it difficult for local entities to form municipal utilities that could compete for customers with large investor-owned utilities like PG&E.

Mercury Insurance is also gathering signatures for a measure that would revise Proposition 103 by allowing insurance companies to levy surcharges on motorists who try to reinsure vehicles on vehicles that have had their insurance go dormant.

Consumer advocates countered that measure this week with an opposing member that would codify existing law, and again make those surcharges illegal.

Voters will also have the opportunity to vote on the state’s primary system again in June. As part of an earlier budget compromise, lawmakers placed a measure on the ballot that would introduce a modified blanket primary system. Under the proposal, voters could cross party lines and candidates of all parties would compete in the same primary, followed by a runoff of the top two vote-getters.


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