Voters Might Face Flood of Fall Ballot Initiatives;

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Almost 80 applications, some redundant, have been submitted to state officials for approval.

Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO — Somewhere between the “California Live Within Our Means Act (Version 6)” and the “Put the Kids First Act,” there might easily be the “Enough Already Act.”

Since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a month ago that he wanted to shake up California’s political system, setting the stage for a special election in November, more than 70 proposed ballot initiatives have gone to Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer for legal review.

California has never seen such a rush to the ballot in such a short period of time; in 1997, a record 82 initiative applications were filed with the office the entire year. This month, a team of 20 deputy attorneys general has set aside its normal workload to concentrate on the flood of paperwork.

“There is definitely a feeling here that we have been spammed by just about everyone with 200 bucks and an idea,” said Nathan Barankin, communications director for Lockyer, whose office must approve the language for ballot petitions and collect the filing fee.

Schwarzenegger demanded that the Legislature approve his overhaul of state government this year, even though the next scheduled statewide election isn’t until June 2006. He said that if the Legislature declined to put his proposals on the ballot, he would do it himself through separate initiatives.

“Don’t think little,” the governor said. “I am thinking big.”

Schwarzenegger wants five major changes that could come before California voters if he called a special election, as expected, for Nov. 8.

He would allow new state employees to enter 401(k)-type retirement funds; redraw the districts of every lawmaker (which he says would make them less partisan); clamp restraints on government spending; give himself more power to restructure state agencies; and allow merit pay for teachers.

The governor isn’t the only person who can use a special-election ballot. Since his plan was announced, Democratic groups, conservative Republicans and others have drafted their own dramatic proposals.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable for the governor to say, ‘Do it my way or else’ without people saying, ‘We are going to the ballot too,’ ” said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California, which is pushing an initiative to create a Social Security-type retirement system for California. “Voters will have a clear choice to make.”

Another potential initiative would challenge Schwarzenegger’s plan to redraw voting districts. Another would ban all corporate donations to political campaigns.

Including the governor’s measures and those of his opponents and others, 71 initiatives have been proposed. Eight others have been approved by Lockyer and the secretary of state for circulation of petitions to qualify them for the ballot.

“It’s the apocalypse strategy,” said consumer activist Jamie Court of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which is backing initiatives on cheaper prescription drugs.

Much of the ballot rush is occurring for purely strategic reasons. Some measures being pushed by the governor’s opponents are designed in part to confuse campaign donors about where they should put their money. Should they spend it in support of his agenda, or against his opponents’ measures?

At the same time, several potential initiatives have emerged that seem designed to frustrate Schwarzenegger’s opponents. Two would seek to curtail political fundraising by state worker unions, and one submitted late last week would seek to limit fees collected by trial lawyers.

The ballot fight already has ended up in court. Schwarzenegger supporters sued campaign finance officials this week in an effort to lift fundraising restrictions on initiative committees. The governor wants to raise unlimited sums to campaign for his proposed changes, and the lawsuit argues that his free speech rights are restricted by fundraising limits.

Most groups will have four to six weeks to collect enough signatures to get their initiatives on the November ballot. The short period to get the initiatives written, approved by Lockyer’s office and out on the street for signatures has deprived some initiative backers of time to fine-tune their ideas.

So they have flooded Lockyer with multiple versions of the same ideas, including banning casinos in California cities, imposing caps on government spending and taxing commercial property to pay for schools, among many issues.

There are nine initiatives to change the way voting districts are drawn. Four of them are called “The California Fair Voting and Equal Representation Act.” There are three versions of the “No Urban Casino Act” and three of the “Affordable and Safe Prescription Drugs for All Californians Act.” Two versions of the “High Quality Classrooms Act” and five versions of the “California Deficit Prevention Act” are up for review.

After Lockyer’s office examines them, proponents can decide which versions to try to put on the ballot. This month, polls are being taken and focus groups are being convened as all sides try to figure out what appeals most to voters.

“It’s a very fluid situation,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which is helping to advance Schwarzenegger’s agenda.

After those decisions are made, hundreds of workers, who are paid for each signature, will spread out to Costcos, Wal-Marts and elsewhere across the state to collect them.

They have until April 19 to gather all they need for a November election, according to the secretary of state’s office; anything later will be considered for the June 2006 ballot.

The unexpected special election is having a ripple effect on those who make money off California elections, from political consultants to the people who collect signatures. The rush is expected to push up the cost of collecting signatures from $1 to as much as $5 each.

Tom Bader, who runs a signature-gathering firm that worked on the petition to recall Gov. Gray Davis, said he expected many initiatives not to make the April deadline. To qualify for the ballot, 373,816 verified signatures from registered California voters are needed for changes in statutes, and 598,105 are needed for changes in the state Constitution.

“Some of them are going to fail,” Bader said. “There has never been this many at one time.”
For the ballot

Some of the 79 initiatives being proposed for the November ballot:

Budget: 14 would impose spending restrictions on the state budget.

Redistricting: nine would alter how California draws its legislative districts; some would exempt Congress.

Education: nine would allow merit pay for teachers, raise corporate taxes to pay for smaller class sizes, shift more money to classrooms, expand charter schools.

Casinos: three would ban urban casinos.

Minimum wage: three would increase the minimum wage.

Contributions: one would ban political contributions from corporations; three would restrict union dues for political purposes.

Drugs: five would deal with less expensive prescription drugs.

Electricity: two would increase regulations on the power industry.

Power: one would make it harder for the Legislature to overrule the governor on restructuring the bureaucracies.

More information:

Sources: California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer; secretary of state’s office.
Reporting by Robert Salladay.

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