John Myers
February 15, 2016

In an election year in which Californians, by virtue of the state’s relative insignificance in the presidential campaign and a fairly tepid U.S. Senate race, have been spared the brunt of nonstop politicking, political experts say the storm is coming.

“We’re going to have a deluge of political ads, of all forms,” said Ned Wigglesworth, a Sacramento-based campaign strategist whose firm has done an early projection of what will be spent on statewide ballot measure campaigns this fall.

The bottom line: an initiative season in the Golden State that could see total spending of at least $452 million — and perhaps even hitting half a billion dollars — by the time the final votes are cast.

For months, California’s ballot initiative industry has been watching that so-called perfect political weather system brewing, courtesy of what’s expected to be the biggest crop of statewide measures on a single ballot in more than a decade. To date, eight measures have qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot. Interviews over the past week with campaign consultants who specialize in initiatives say an additional 15 viable measures remain in circulation to gather the voter signatures needed to qualify.

“I would have thought by now that it would have thinned out,” said Gale Kaufman, a veteran Democratic campaign consultant.

Though a 2014 law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown allows proponents to withdraw their initiative after negotiations with the Legislature, none of the backers of this year’s proposed ballot measures appear ready to lay down their arms. The first legislative hearing on a proposed ballot initiative, one that could threaten Brown’s plans for underground water tunnels through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is scheduled for early next month.

The list of viable ballot measures includes an effort to fully legalize marijuana, new taxes on tobacco and extended taxes on wealthy Californians, and issues ranging from gun control to new rules on legislative procedures and disclosure for government lobbying.

It also includes two potential measures seeking to do the same thing: raise California’s minimum wage. One of those initiatives, sponsored by hospital workers affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, has already turned in its signatures; it would raise the wage over four years to $15 an hour with annual inflation adjustments after that.

“One way or another, we support raising the minimum wage,” said Steve Trossman, a spokesman for the hospital workers union.

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