Last week’s June primary ballot was notable for its paucity of initiatives—there were only two.
One received overwhelming support to change term limits so legislators can serve 12 years, but they can do so in one house. The prior law limited Assembly members to three two-year terms and Senators to two four-year terms, allowing a total of 14 years.
As the law is implemented, it will be intriguing to see the choices legislators make. Previously, for Assembly members, it was clearly up to the Senate or out. There’s a chance that some Assembly members will choose to serve six terms and actually develop some expertise in a policy area instead of constantly running for re-election.
One of the downsides of term limits has been the loss of policy expertise among the legislators. Yes, it did move Willie Brown to San Francisco, but it’s resulted in legislators that have to rely much more heavily on their staffs and the lobbyists than the experienced group did before term limits.
The other measure—another surcharge on smokers with money going to cancer research—is narrowly losing in unofficial results after the tobacco companies poured millions into the campaign to defeat it. This type of special interest legislation through the initiative process that allocates funds for one purpose undermines the Legislature.
It’s become way too popular a tactic and one that voters often have approved whether the revenues are going to go for schools, transportation, mental health services or kids from conception to five.
You will see it in spades come November when the serious money measures will come before the voters. Legislation earlier this year required all bonds to be on general election ballots when the turnout is greater. For Democrats, this was particularly important this year because the presidential race is expected to draw more of them to the polls and they are more likely to back tax increases.
The governor’s income tax increase on high earners and a one-quarter cent sales tax increase will be decided along with another measure to raise income taxes across the board for education. These are among the five measures still awaiting certification of signatures by the Secretary of State.
Already qualified are eight initiatives that range from repealing the three strikes law and ending the death penalty in California to prohibiting human trafficking (a symbolic measure because there are plenty of laws against it already). The $11.2 billion water bond also is on the ballot, but likely will be pushed by to 2014 by the Legislature.
Another measure would remove the power of unions to have dues automatically deducted from members’ pay checks. When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made this optional in his reforms, union membership plummeted. How it will fare in California is will be interesting—you can be sure the public employee unions will be investing heavily against this measure as well as supporting the governor’s tax increase.
Other measures would mandate labeling on food that includes genetically engineered products; overturn the state Senate redistricting and deal with car insurance rates.
In my view, some of these (insurance rates, for instance) belong in the Legislature. Others—Three Strikes and the death penalty both were established by public votes and thus should come back to the public for changes. More on these another time.