By Steven Harmon Bay Area News Group
Posted: 07/14/2012 07:30:04 PM PDT
Updated: 07/15/2012 10:15:51 AM PDT
They now all have numbers. The cash is streaming in. And all those annoying TV ads should be starting soon.
So, Californians, maybe it’s time to put aside that light summer reading and begin your homework on November’s ballot measures.
The Legislature decided a few months ago to place all initiatives on the fall ballot from now on. (Two appeared on the June ballot because they were grandfathered in.) As a result, November’s ballot will be long and, perhaps, cumbersome. But it’s packed with meaty issues — ballot measures with consequence.
Voters will have a say on taxes, the state budgeting process, crime and justice, political money, food labeling, human trafficking and auto insurance.
Wealthy individuals are bankrolling a handful of pet propositions, Gov. Jerry Brown is enlisting a wide variety of power brokers to back his tax initiative and labor unions are fighting to hold onto their political influence. So record sums of campaign cash could come crashing over California like a ballot measure tsunami.
Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll be grappling with in the fall:
Name: Sales and Income Tax Increase Initiative
The proposal: Raises taxes on the wealthy and hikes the sales tax by a quarter cent to bring in $8.5 billion this fiscal year. If the measure goes down, the school year could be shortened by three weeks and University of California tuition could go up by 20 percent.
The players: Gov. Jerry Brown has amassed a war chest of $4.5 million, bankrolled by entertainment companies, insurers, labor groups, wealthy investors and others. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has donated $10,000 to oppose the measure and expects to get help from outside anti-tax groups.
Analysis: Faces an uphill slog to persuade Californians to vote for new taxes, even if they’re mostly on the wealthy. Brown’s best hope is that voters buy the threat of more pain for schools if it fails — and he gets the Legislature to go along with pension reform to convince voters he’s determined to cut long-term spending.
Name: Two-Year State Budget Cycle
The proposal: Creates a two-year budgeting cycle, places limits on spending, allows the governor to cut the budget unilaterally in a declared fiscal emergency.
The players: Billionaire Nick Berggruen and California Forward, a bipartisan government reform group, have chipped in $2.8 million. No opposition has formed.
Analysis: Complex budget reform may be a snoozer, especially on a crowded ballot in a presidential year. But whipping state government into shape often resonates with voters.
Name: Stop Special Interest Money Now Act
The proposal: Labor groups and corporations would be prohibited from contributing directly to candidates, but labor would pay the biggest price under a provision banning payroll deductions for political campaigns.
The players: This is the consummate labor vs. business battle. Orange County conservatives, with nearly $2 million on hand, are enlisting support from investors and others in the business community. Palo Alto’s Thomas Siebel, chairman of the First Virtual Group, recently tossed in $500,000, and Charles Munger, the billionaire Palo Alto Republican, gave $238,000 to the cause. Labor has come to the fight with double-barrel firepower: It already has $6.5 million in cash on hand.
Analysis: Anti-labor groups have come up with a sweetener in their pursuit of hobbling labor by adding anti-corporate provisions. But unions will depict that sweetener as a Trojan horse that would cripple their role in state politics.
Name: Automobile Insurance Persistency Discounts Initiative
The proposal: Drivers could switch insurers and keep loyalty discounts, but those who allow their insurance to lapse could face steep hikes.
The players: Mercury Insurance billionaire George Joseph has put up $8.2 million for the measure, dwarfing Consumer Watchdog’s $45,000.
Analysis: Outspent 10-to-1 two years ago, the no campaign pulled off an upset to defeat a similar measure. Reminding voters who is sponsoring the initiative might be all that is needed.
Name: California End the Death Penalty Act
The proposal: The death penalty would be abolished and replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole. The measure would eliminate California’s death row, converting the sentences of more than 720 inmates.
The players: A coalition of justice groups will try to fend off an opposition campaign headed by law enforcement groups. The yes side has raised $1.3 million, the no side $40,000.
Analysis: It promises to be one of most emotionally charged issues on the ballot. Polls show Californians continue to support the death penalty, but there will be one strong selling point for proponents in a down economy: Hundreds of millions of dollars would be saved annually.
Name: Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act
The proposal: Increases criminal penalties for human trafficking and requires convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders. Forbids using trafficking victims’ sexual history against them in court.
The players: Chris Kelly, the former general counsel for Facebook and a 2010 candidate for attorney general, has been the primary backer of the measure, chipping in $1.6 million. The American Civil Liberties Union is opposed to a provision that requires offenders to register email addresses, user names and screen names used for chat room discussions or any other Internet communications.
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