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The ballot measure that wouldn’t die

The first initiative to make it onto the February 5 primary ballot got there completely by accident.

The unintended ballot measure would prohibit the state from diverting gas-tax money from local governments and putting it into the general fund. The “Transportation Funding Protection Act,” as it was dubbed by its proponents, was supposed to be dead long before it reached the ballot–because state lawmakers put Proposition 1A, a similar protection, on the November 2006 ballot. That measure passed easily.

It was the California Alliance for Jobs, a coalition of construction companies and building trades unions, that cooked up the-initiative-that-would-not-die. Alliance Executive Director Jim Earp explained that his organization started planning a ballot initiative after years of frustration with the state Legislature, which every year raided transportation money set aside under Proposition 42. That measure, passed by voters in 2002, dedicated most of the revenue from gasoline taxes to improving streets, highways and transit systems.

“After a couple of years of getting the runaround,” Earp and the Alliance launched a signature-gathering campaign for a November 2006 ballot initiative to close

the Proposition 42 loophole. “Once we got up to about a million signatures, people sort of woke up.”

By spring of 2006, the Alliance was making some progress with legislative leaders–but not enough to completely abandon their ballot initiative.
“We decided we’d not turn in the last 300,000 or so signatures,” Earp recalled.
Earp said the signature-gathering consultant told them that if they turned in some, but not all, of the signatures that had been gathered, the Alliance could keep the measure from qualifying outright. But it would still be “in the pipeline” if needed. That was the plan.

As it turned out, the Legislature did craft a deal, in the form of Proposition 1A. It wasn’t as aggressive as the Alliance measure–it still allowed the state to borrow money from Proposition 42 funds under certain conditions.

Good enough. The group sent out press releases crowing that the signature-gathering campaign worked to pressure lawmakers to make a deal. Then the campaign switched gears, dropping its own ballot measure effort in order to concentrate on supporting Proposition 1A.

“We trashed 300,000 signatures that we’d paid for,” worth about $400,000, Earp explained. And that was that.

But the initiative wasn’t dead yet.

“It was really the Los Angeles County signatures that did it. That was the big surprise,” Earp continued, explaining where things went wrong.
In Los Angeles County, in particular, the number of signatures that were verified as being valid came back exceptionally high. “It was around 68 or 70 percent. Really high.”

Where the proponents thought the measure was safely short of enough signatures needed to move on, it actually qualified with 7,000 votes to spare.
“We were surprised. When we found out in August that it had qualified, it was like ‘Holy mackerel,'” Earp explained.

Now Earp will have to write a ballot argument aimed at killing his own brainchild–saying to voters, “thanks but no thanks.”

Asked whether Earp has any concern the initiative could actually pass, in spite of being opposed by its sponsors, Earp said, “I’m sure it will get plenty of attention because it’s kind of a fluky thing. I think we can be reasonably certain that it’s not going to pass.”

Contact Cosmo Garvin at
cosmo.garvin@capitolweekly.net


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