Editorial: Our Voice: Proposition 33 Looks Like An Insurance Marketing Scheme

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Proposition 33, a proposal to offer discounts to car insurance customers even if they change companies, is another attempt by Mercury Insurance to manipulate the marketplace.

Mercury Chairman George Joseph is bankrolling the initiative, contributing almost all of the $16.6 million campaign fund. Opponents have raised $222,800.

Joseph also financed most of a $15.8 million campaign for Proposition 17 in 2010, a similar measure that was rejected by 51.9 percent of voters. Joseph must figure that the proposal came so close two years ago that it was worth another major investment.

On its surface, the idea has merit. About 85 percent of California drivers maintain continuous coverage. A measure to get the remaining 15 percent insured is laudable. Motorists can still qualify for the discount if the lapse was:

• No more than 90 days over the past five years for any reason.

• No more than 18 months in the past five years if it was caused by the loss of a job from a layoff or furlough.

• Because of active military service.

Proposition 103, the initiative that created the California insurance commissioner’s office in 1988, allows for a continuous coverage discount, but only if the customer stays with the same company. If this change in state policy were a genuinely good idea, we would expect it to come from Commissioner Dave Jones, not an insurance company.

Opponents fear the Proposition 33 will hurt college students who don’t need a car when they’re in school, the long-term unemployed, seniors who give up driving while recovering from surgery and public transit users. And they say it would hurt first-time drivers, who could be charged even more to make up for the discount for older drivers.

Like many initiatives, this addresses a phony problem that doesn’t merit statewide attention. It seems more like a marketing scheme than a measure to serve the public good. Call us skeptical, but we find it hard to believe the owner of an insurance company would invest more than $30 million to give customers a break.

Vote no on Proposition 33.

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