Déjà vu – old ballot measures reborn
California voters can be excused if they get a sense of déjà vu when looking over the ballot initiative pamphlets for the fall election.
That’s because they’ve already seen and voted on several of the issues they’re being asked to consider in November, all of which failed to pass in previous elections. But, a no vote doesn’t always deter initiative sponsors. And sometimes their strategy works. There can be occasions when the time simply isn’t yet ripe for a particular issue.
The best example of that might have been Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 property tax-cutting measure. Five years before it passed, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan called a special election with another proposed property tax cut the only item up for a vote. It failed by almost a 60-40 percent margin. But as property values skyrocketed through the mid-’70s, taking property taxes along for a ride, more and more voters felt threatened by fast-rising levies. That allowed Proposition 13 to pass with a 65 percent yes vote.
So it’s no wonder that when initiative sponsors don’t succeed at first, they try, try again.
That’s why we’re about to see a repeat of the 2010 attempt by Mercury Insurance Co. Chairman George Joseph to reverse part of the insurance rate limits imposed by 1988’s Proposition 108. Joseph’s first, failed initiative would have let car insurance companies set prices based on how long a driver has continuously maintained an auto policy.
The very slight difference between that one and this year’s Proposition 33, also funded almost completely by Joseph, is that Mercury’s new measure would let insurance companies base their rates in small part on the number of years new customers have had any kind of coverage. Consumer advocates maintain that could produce significantly higher rates for both new drivers and those renewing existing policies.
Then there’s Proposition 32, the so-called “paycheck protection” measure that would force labor unions to get annual approval from members before spending any of their dues money on politics.
Voters saw that one in the 1990s and again in a 2005 special election, where it had the strong backing of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It lost anyhow, buried beneath a tide of union-sponsored TV commercials and a classic get-out-the-vote effort. Unions will make the same sort of effort again this year, having put up $10 million Aug. 1 to fight the measure.
And there’s Proposition 36, a measure to ease some of the harsh sentencing requirements of the Three-Strikes law that puts three-time felons away for 25 years-to-life, even if their third offense is so minor or non-violent it might only be a misdemeanor but for the two prior convictions. That sentencing policy is one reason for California’s gigantic prison population and the related cost. The Three-Strikes component in prison spending won’t be changed during the current realignment program that sends supposedly low-risk offenders back to the counties from which they came – unless Proposition 36 passes.
The last effort at easing Three-Strikes came in the early 2000s and got nowhere. It remains to be seen whether voters have come around to seeing the
law’s current configuration as at least a partial waste of money.
There is also Proposition 30, so far the most-discussed and debated measure on the November ballot.
This is Brown’s effort to win approval for temporary tax increases to ease the state’s budget crunch and keep key state programs running at or near current levels.
The proposition bears a lot of similarity to a Schwarzenegger-backed effort in 2009 that failed miserably.
The fate of Brown’s proposal may have been sealed by revelations of hundreds of millions of dollars simply lying around in special funds – some unknown even to the governor – that so far have not been tapped even in emergencies. Unless something dramatic occurs between now and early October, when mail voting begins, chances are the early polls that favored the tax increase will be reversed.
Legislative redistricting is also on the ballot again, via the Republican-sponsored referendum known as Proposition 40, that would nix the state Senate district lines drawn by the rookie Citizens Redistricting Commission, which was set up under another initiative. The cash-strapped GOP will spend nothing on this one, but it could pass anyway because of possible voter confusion over what a yes vote (to nix the districts) or a no one (to keep them) means. So yes means no on the districts, and how many voters will comprehend that?
There are also some new issues on this ballot, like taxes dedicated only to education, labeling of genetically engineered food and the tax treatment of multi-state and multi-national corporations.
But voters can be excused if they feel they’ve seen the most controversial of this fall’s issues before, and wonder why proponents keep bringing back the same ideas. The reason, of course, is that times change, and so can public opinion.