A Voters’ Guide to California’s 5 Ballot Measures

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George Skelton

The unvarnished truth about the propositions on Tuesday’s

From Sacramento — It’s time again for some head-scratching and

There are five propositions on Tuesday’s state ballot. And they run
the gamut from a no-brainer to some efforts at Sacramento reform to a
special-interest scam.

Here’s my voters’ guide, untainted — unlike those slick campaign
mailers — by payoffs from politicians and predators.

Taking the measures in numerical order:

*Prop. 13 is only a distant, calm cousin of its namesake, the
revolutionary property tax-cutter born 32 years ago.

This measure would allow earthquake retrofitting of all types of
buildings without their owners ultimately being assessed higher property
taxes because of the improvements. The structures would be reassessed
only when sold.

This would create jobs and could save lives. What’s not to like?

*Prop. 14 would significantly change state elections by creating an
open, more voter-friendly primary, called a “top-two.”

There would be only one ballot, open to all candidates and voters.
The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to the
general election, similar to the way local officials are elected in
California. No party primaries. No party nominations. But candidates
could list their party affiliations.

The goal is to force candidates to appeal to a wider range of voters
than just the ideologues in their own party. Hopefully some pragmatic
moderates would be elected, particularly to the Legislature, which is
now polarized by partisanship. At the least, primary voters would be
given a wider selection of candidates.

Power would be taken from the party pooh-bahs and given to the
public. That’s one reason they fear it.

Politicians also complain that in some heavily Democratic or
Republican districts, they might be required to run against a fellow
party member in November, meaning real competition. That may be
inconvenient for them. But it’s a better deal for voters, providing
them with a more meaningful choice of candidates.

The only reason to vote “no” on Prop. 14 is if you’re satisfied with
what has been happening in Sacramento. If you’d like to shake things up
and try something different, vote “yes.”

*Prop. 15 would create a pilot program for public financing of state
campaigns. It would apply only to candidates for secretary of state and
just for the 2014 and 2018 elections.

The financing really wouldn’t be public. It would be unfair — tapping
only lobbyists, their firms and the interests they represent. They’re
easy targets.

But the most important element of this measure is not the pilot
project. It’s repeal of the law that bans public financing of state
candidates. The ban also applies to counties and most cities.

This measure would authorize the Legislature and the governor to
enact public financing without further voter approval. Same with boards
of supervisors and city councils.

The only way to rid the Capitol of special-interest dominance is for
the public to finance the politicians’ campaigns. When the public
doesn’t buy the politicians, the interests do.

This measure is a small, hesitant step along a path worth following.

*Prop. 16 is a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. scam. Pure and simple.

Its purpose is to lock PG&E customers into the utility’s grasp
without any realistic opportunity of ever escaping to an electricity
provider with cheaper rates. The San Francisco-based utility is trying
to assure itself a monopoly on current Northern and Central California

This measure erects a practically impenetrable barrier for local
governments or public utilities to start up or expand electric service,
or contract with a provider other than a private utility.

It does this by requiring a two-thirds vote of the electorate.
PG&E’s advertising is disingenuous because the utility equates its
proposed two-thirds requirement with what’s needed for most local tax

But Prop. 16 has nothing to do with taxes. We’re talking about
ratepayers who most likely are being gouged for more money than they’d
be paying a public utility for the same or better service.

Anyway, people already have the right to vote whether they want to be
served by a public utility. But that’s not good enough for PG&E,
because only a majority vote currently is required for approval.

This proposition would apply to the customers of any private utility,
such as Southern California Edison or San Diego Gas & Electric.
But only PG&E is paying the campaign freight, nearly $50 million.

There are many opponents — public utilities, local governments,
irrigation districts, farmers, developers — but there’s very little
opposition money. Public entities are prohibited from spending money on
political campaigns. And that’s why they’d never be able to muster a
two-thirds public vote to escape PG&E’s clutches.

This insidious measure is the epitome of what ails California’s
initiative system.

*Prop. 17 is another special-interest offering.

The bankroller, Mercury Insurance Group, is trying to change auto
insurance law to increase its market share. It wants to steal customers
from other insurers by allowing motorists to bring along their
continuous-coverage discounts.

Mercury claims most drivers would get reduced premiums. Opponents
contend premiums actually would rise because rates would go up for the
previously uninsured.

It’s much too complicated for an average voter who isn’t in the
insurance biz. It’s one of those issues best left to elected

I’m inclined to agree with opponent Harvey Rosenfield, founder of
Consumer Watchdog, who says: “When was the last time an insurance
company spent $13 million to save you money? The answer is never.”

In fact, Mercury has spent $14.6 million to promote the measure.

Mark me down as suspicious.

[email protected]

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
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