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The Daily News of Los Angeles

Despite rising voter fatigue and the growing political risks for ballot initiatives, California voters in November once again will be faced with sifting through more than a dozen measures that would add up to $43 billion in state borrowing and $3 billion in annual tax increases.

Los Angeles voters also could face two extra measures as city officials weigh whether to tack on a $1 billion housing bond and a $1 billion street-paving bond.

And even though the deadline for placing measures on the statewide ballot has passed, some state lawmakers are considering whether to go ahead and add measures aimed at reforming term limits and redistricting.

The sheer dollar value of the 13 measures on the ballot so far and their potential effects on deep-pocketed special interests — combined with a highly competitive governor’s race — also mean that once again airwaves and mailboxes will be inundated this fall.

Californians need to reinforce their mailboxes and get ready for the TV blitz,” said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.

Experts said the campaign efforts could be even more aggressive than in the past because California voters have indicated a weariness with political campaigns and there are so many expensive measures on the ballot they will have to work harder, and produce more advertising, to cut through the clutter.

Several of the statewide ballot measures also take aim at wealthy corporate interests, including taxes on the California oil industry, the tobacco industry and a hike in the overall corporate income tax rate.

And that means businesses are expected to break out their checkbooks — in some cases on both sides of a measure.

California Chamber of Commerce President Alan Zaremberg said some of the tax measures pit different elements of the business community against each other.

Proposition 86, for example, calls for a $2.60-per-pack tax on cigarettes that would generate about $2.1 billion a year to benefit emergency care and health insurance for children.
That puts two wealthy sectors — the health industry and Big Tobacco — on opposite sides of the measure.

Proposition 87, which would tax California oil producers up to $380 million a year, is backed by venture capitalists and alternative-energy companies that would benefit from the alternative-energy research funded by the measure.

But the chamber opposes those measures, as well as Proposition 89, which would increase the corporate income tax rate by 0.2 percent to fund public financing of political campaigns.

“I don’t think, certainly, it is the appropriate use of the ballot box for one business to tax another,” Zaremberg said.

While the chamber supports the four infrastructure bond measures that were part of the agreement between lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it has yet to take a position on a fourth tax measure, Proposition 88, which would place a tax of $50 on every property to generate up to $500 million a year for schools.

But other groups argue the tax measures that big business may not like could be good for average Californians.

Doug Heller, executive director of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights, said his group supports the public campaign financing and oil tax measures. “There are some opportunities for the little guy here that don’t show up that often,” Heller said. “The big guys, the well-heeled lobbying interests, always have their day in government. This ballot gives the regular citizens the chance to have their day.”

Analysts are reluctant to yet predict how expensive the campaign could get, but note that during last year’s special election, one industry alone, pharmaceuticals, spent more than $80 million to defeat a measure aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

At the same time, the education lobby, which has also proved the ability to raise and spend tens of millions of dollars, is expected to get behind several measures that benefit schools, including a $10 billion bond for school facilities and a $500 million parcel tax for educational programs.

Other measures on the ballot include five bonds, totaling $43 billion: $19.9 billion for transportation; $2.85 billion for housing; $10.4 billion for school facilities; $4 billion for flood protection; and $5.4 billion for water quality and supply.

The measures that do not involve new spending include: Proposition 1A, to protect transportation funds from raids for other state budget purposes; Proposition 83, or Jessica’s Law, which cracks down on sex offenders; Proposition 85, to require parental notification before a minor’s abortion; and Proposition 90, which restricts the government’s ability to seize private property through eminent domain.

But supporters of the bond and tax measures may have gotten a bad omen last month when voters rejected Proposition 81, a $600 million library bond, and Proposition 82, a tax on the wealthy to fund universal preschool.

If voters rejected those two measures, they may not be in the mood to approve measures that are far more expensive, analysts said.

“People like Schwarzenegger and supporters of these bonds should be concerned that the amount of spending is going to be problematic for voters,” said Elizabeth Garrett, a law professor at University of Southern California and board member of USC‘s Initiative and Referendum Institute.

She noted that earlier in Schwarzenegger’s term, voters showed a willingness to support bonds and a tax on millionaires to fund mental health services — but that feeling may have faded.

Supporters of some of the November measures remain unfazed. Chuck Idelson, spokesman for the California Nurses Association, which authored the campaign finance measure, said his group isn’t worried about the crowded ballot.

“I think voters in California are able to pick and choose in an election the issues that are really important to them,” Idelson said. “There is a lot of voter frustration with all the money that’s spent in campaigns, with how the initiative process has in many cases been abused by some of the wealthiest interests. We’re pretty confident that they are desirous of change.”

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said he expects alot of voter confusion because there are so many measures.

When that happens, frustrated voters are more likely to simply reject all the measures.
Voters also have already proven this year — in polls and voting trends — that they are frustrated with politicians and are not in any mood to authorize more spending.

“I think the voter rejection of Props. 81 and 82 probably sent shivers down the spines of all the proponents of the measures appearing on the November ballot,” Coupal said. “We are certainly sensing a lot of voter cynicism, frustration and residual anger.”
Contact the author at: [email protected] or 916-446-6723.

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