- Ballot Measures
- Public Opinion
Reforms Headed to the Ballot in November
While the drive to call a constitutional convention this year has collapsed a series of major constitutional amendments appears headed to the November ballot. If all of these incremental reforms pass together, the sum of their parts will amount to the most comprehensive change in the rules of state government in a generation.
Here’s a quick preview of these propositions, with links to resources to learn more. They have either qualified to appear on the November, 2010, or their proponents have submitted voter signatures that are now being validated. You can keep up with the process at the Secretary of State’s website or on the Sacramento Bee’s blog.
Reform of Election Rules
Expand the New Citizens Redistricting Commission to Cover Congress
When new census figures have come out at the end of the past four decades, state legislators, governors, and the courts have shared the authority to redraw the lines of political districts for both state offices and for the congressional delegations that California voters send to Washington, DC. Voters placed the power to draw state legislative districts in the hands of an independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission through Prop. 11 in 2008. That initiative, however, did not change the rules for drawing congressional district lines. The “Voters First Act for Congress,” which has already qualified for the November ballot, would give the independent commission the power to redraw congressional districts in California. It is the first of a pair of dueling redistricting initiatives, and if both pass, the one with the most votes becomes law. The commissioners have not yet been selection and the board has not met yet, but you can learn more about the process here.
Eliminate the New Citizens Redistricting Commission
This ballot measure, authored of UCLA law professor and former chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission Dan Lowenstein, would eliminate the Citizens Redistrict Commission. The “Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act” (http://www.lao.ca.gov/ballot/2009/090861.pdf) would also limit the amount that the state could spend to redraw lines. The authority to redraw both state and federal district lines would return to state legislators, who would have to pass a redistricting bill by majority vote and secure the governor’s signature. In the case of a deadlock, which occurred after both the 1970 and 1990 censuses, the state supreme court could appoint a group of “special masters” to redraw the lines. This proposition has received contributions from members of California’s congressional delegation, as well as a $2 million donation from entertainment mogul Haim Saban, and is thus expected to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Amend California’s Term Limits for Future Legislators
Today, term limits prevent California lawmakers from serving for more than six years in the state Assembly and eight years in the Senate. The “Californians for a Fresh Start” initiative would reduce the length of their total term limit from 14 to 12 years overall, but allow legislators to serve all of their time inn one house or the other, as long as voters keep electing them. The coalition (http://www.lachamber.com/news/2010/04/22/press-release/fresh-start-for-t...) of business and labor groups that funded this initiative drive has submitted one million signatures to county election officials. In the February, 2008 election, voters rejected a similar measure that would have applied retroactively to current officeholders, allowing some of them to serve for more than 12 years. This measure does not apply to any current legislators – it takes effect only for those elected in 2012 and beyond.
Reform of the Budget Process
Eliminate the 2/3 Vote Needed to Pass the State Budget
A major cause of controversy during budget deadlocks is the requirement, part of California’s constitution since 1933, that 2/3 of the members of each house of the state legislature must vote to pass a budget. The governor must also sign the budget before it can go into effect. A labor union-led coalition has submitted 1.1 million signatures for the “On-Time Budget Act of 2010” (PDF) which would replace the 2/3 vote with a majority vote to pass the budget. It would also require legislators to forfeit their pay if they failed to pass a budget by the June 15 constitutional deadline. This constitutional amendment would not reduce the 2/3 vote require to increase taxes, imposed by Proposition 13 in 1978. An effort to change both vote thresholds has stalled.
Impose a 2/3 Vote to Raise State and Local Fees Beyond a “Reasonable Cost”
At the same time, a group called “Stop Hidden Taxes” has submitted 1.1 million signatures supporting a proposition to require a 2/3 vote – rather than a simple majority – in order to raise states or local fees “which exceed the reasonable costs of actual regulation.” These fees include things like fines, penalties, and license costs, which may currently be altered with a majority vote. You can read the text of the measure in this PDF.
Protect Local Funds Against State Cuts
State budget deficits have often led to local as well as state service cuts, because the state controls much of the flow of money to cities, counties, and school districts. Last year, the state borrowed and cut a total of $4 billion from local governments to help close the budget shortfall. A coalition led by the League of California Cities has submitted 1.1 million signatures for a constitutional amendment that would stop the state from taking or borrowing money from property and gas taxes as well as transit and redevelopment funds. You can read the “Local Taxpayer, Public Safety, and Transportation Protection Act of 2010” in this PDF.
Require Ballot Measures to Pay for Themselves
California voters have passed many propositions in the past that dictate state spending today, but do not provide a clear source of funding for the programs or tax cuts that they created. For future initiatives, one proposal is to require any measure that seeks to increase spending or cut revenues to identify a source – either spending cuts or revenue increases – to pay for itself. A constitutional amendment to require this has been introduced in the legislature as Senate Constitutional Amendment 14 (PDF) and is now awaiting a vote on the Senate Floor. In order to appear on the November ballot, it would need the support of 2/3 of legislators in both houses.