Spending on state propositions breaks record

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

SACRAMENTO — Political donors have spent a record $450 million on 17 statewide November ballot initiatives in California, beating the state’s own record for the most spent on propositions appearing on state ballots in a single year, campaign reports filed Thursday show.

The fundraising has soared at least $12 million past California’s previous record, when $438 million was spent on the campaigns for and against 21 measures on 2008 ballots. With inflation, fundraising in 2008 would be worth at least $490 million today.

No other state has come close to those amounts.

California is one of the few states that empower voters to enact laws affecting state revenue and spending. The proposals going before the state’s 18 million registered voters put billions of dollars at stake in this election. …

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California ballot has record number of local revenue measures

As reported by Reuters:

A record number of local tax and bond measures will fill the California ballot this November, including over $32 billion of proposed funding for education, infrastructure and homeless services.

Some 650 local measures will go before voters, including 427 revenue measures. That is considerably more than the number proposed during any of the last five gubernatorial or presidential elections, according to data compiled by the local government finance consulting firm CaliforniaCityFinance.com.

Previously, the most measure-packed election was in November 2014, with 268 local revenue measures.

California is one of 24 states that allow initiative rights to its citizens. Voter-approved measures are used to raise revenues for specific construction projects, change tax policy, or create new laws.

In the Golden State and nationwide, a boom in bond proposals follows years of federal cutbacks to state and local programs, continued low interest rates and years of unmet infrastructure needs. …

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Ballot Measures That Could Cost You Big Bucks

VotedElection month is rapidly approaching. That’s right, “election month” because, since 2002, California voters have been freed from casting ballots in person on the official Election Day, which this year is November 8. Voting by mail begins October 10.

Polls show that many voters are disenchanted with the coming election because the major candidates for president are held in such low esteem. However, whether you are a strong advocate for a candidate or are disillusioned, it would be a huge mistake to ignore the ballot measures. Besides candidates, voters must decide on 17 state propositions and hundreds of local tax and bond measures designed to dip into taxpayers’ wallets.

A number of the state measures will impact taxpayers. Propositions 55 is an extension of California’s highest state income tax rate in the nation, which was sold as “temporary” when approved by voters in 2012. Proposition 56 would increase tobacco taxes to fund ongoing programs that will demand funding, even when the number of smokers declines. Proposition 53 is also important as it would expand taxpayers’ right to vote on major state bonds for mega-projects costing more than $2 billion.

To help voters make informed decisions, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has created a special website, California Initiatives 2016, which has simple summaries of what the 17 initiatives will do and links to the websites of the sponsors and opponents of each measure. This helpful taxpayer tool can be found at http://cainitiatives2016.com.

However, for average citizens, the real pocket gougers will appear on local ballots. These include 184 school bonds with a face value of over $25 billion. The actual cost to taxpayers of these bonds, which place a lien on property to guarantee repayment, is more than double face value after interest is included.

Remember, whether or not voters think these local bonds are justified, taxpayers are entitled to good value for each hard earned tax dollar. This determination can best be made by researching the measure as well as the school district’s record of responding to the needs of students, parents and taxpayers. A complete list of these local school construction bonds can be found at http://www.bigbadbonds.com.

Taxpayer advocate Richard Michael, who maintains a bond tracking website, reminds us that promoters of these bonds are enamored with the following words to convince you to vote yes: “21st century;” “school improvement;” “college and career ready;” “technology;” “leaking roofs;” “asbestos;” “safety systems;” “aging facilities;” etc. To this list we would add “broken toilets,” a favorite with the Los Angeles Unified School District that managed to push through 5 bonds in a period of 13 years. The almost universal use of these words is unlikely a coincidence, since so many bond backers employ the same consultants who make recommendations on how to frame arguments to increase the chances of passage.

School bonds, of course are not the only tax measures that will appear on local ballots. There are other bonds, parcel taxes, sales taxes and utility user taxes to be voted on throughout California. For example, Bay Area voters are facing a $3.5 billion BART bond and Los Angeles County will decide on an additional half-cent sales tax to support the MTA that is suffering declining ridership. All of these local measures need careful scrutiny.

While voters can still wait until the traditional “first Tuesday after the first Monday” in November to vote in person, if you have done your homework and want to share what you have learned with family, friends, neighbors and contacts, don’t wait. In the November 2014 election, more than 60 percent of California voters cast votes by mail. Information on how to be a smart voter will not help anyone who has already cast their ballot.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published at HJTA.org

Low Turnout In 2014, High Initiative Count In 2016

Elections have consequences. Ironically, California’s abysmal election turnout this November has teed up a veritable flood of ballot initiatives for 2016. Because the signature threshold for qualifying initiatives is pegged to the number of Californians who cast votes in the previous election, activists with a losing track record are angling for a breakout opportunity just around the political bend.

Only a third of those eligible to cast ballots did so on Nov. 4. “Of those who registered to vote, little better than four in every 10 – about 42 percent – actually voted, either in person or by mail,” according to the California Secretary of State. Even more important, the total votes cast for governor, which determines the numerical hurdle signature-gatherers must clear to get their initiative on the ballot, hit a quarter-century low. The San Francisco Chronicle reported:

“In California, the number of signatures required to qualify a measure for the ballot is a percentage of the total votes cast for governor. Since the 42 percent turnout on Nov. 4 meant only about 7.3 million people bothered to take a side in Gov. Jerry Brown’s landslide win over Republican Neel Kashkari, the bar for qualifying ballot measures in 2016 will be at the lowest level in at least 25 years.

“The change isn’t a tiny one. Since the last governor’s election in 2010, it has taken 504,760 valid signatures to put a standard initiative on the ballot and 807,615 signatures for a constitutional amendment. Once the November election is certified Friday, those numbers will drop to about 366,000 and 586,000, respectively.”

A host of initiative hopefuls has already begun to plan for a big 2016, including public employee unions and taxpayers rights’ groups. But attention will focus most strongly around two high-profile efforts that have failed in the past, but enjoy the support of powerful backers: marijuana legalization and the breakup of California into six smaller states.

Hemp hopes

As Reason magazine observed, advocates of marijuana legalization and regulation have picked up steam in recent years, thanks to voter support. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia all have given pot the green light; emboldened, activists have turned for 2016 to Maine and Massachusetts in the East and Montana, Arizona and California — the biggest prize — in the West.

Along with proposals to fly the California flag at the same height as the U.S. flag, and to require the use of condoms in pornographic video performances, the marijuana legalization initiative has already been publicly proposed, but not yet made official with the Attorney General’s office.

Pot advocates hope to use 2016’s low bar to land on the ballot in a well-publicized but cost-effective way. In 2010, voters rejected a legalization initiative; this year, advocates see themselves catching a nationwide wave in favor of looser drug laws — and capitalizing on recent changes to California criminal law that treat inmates convicted on drug charges more leniently.

Six Californias 2.0

Venture capitalist Tim Draper, meanwhile, hasn’t given up his own hopes for an up or down vote on his Six Californias proposal. That idea, ridiculed in many corners of the press but viewed favorably by those seeking to shake up dysfunctional state governance, didn’t make it onto the ballot last time around. It would break up the state into six new states.

“Draper put about $5 million of his own money into gathering some 1.13 million signatures for ‘Six Californians,’ only to have the California Secretary of State’s office rule that just 752,000 were valid,” the Chronicle reported. “That was not enough to make the 807,000 required this year to make the cut.” In an interview with the Chronicle, Draper chose his words carefully:

“’We’re going for 2016, and we have 750,000 signatures, but they say we have to start all over again,’ he said Tuesday. ‘It’s a kind of Catch 22.’

“Asked if he will re-launch the signature-gathering process in light of the new 2016 lower bar, Draper said, ‘We want Six Californias to happen. We’ll see.’

“’This is a mission critical for the state,’ he said. ‘I live here and so does most of my family,’ and more than ever, he said, ‘we’re saying wait a second: we can make this change.’”

That’s an attitude typical of those who struggle to land initiatives on the statewide ballot. For them all, 2016 offers a once-in-a-generation chance to do so.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

The Upside of Low Voter Turnout

This election, your vote counted double.

“When it’s 50 % turnout, your voting power is doubled #math,” Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc., the state’s top political data firm, tweeted on Election Day.

Increased voting power — it’s one of several upsides to the state’s record low turnout in this month’s gubernatorial election. With fewer than 75,000 ballots left to count statewide, turnout is expected to top out at 42 percent — the lowest for a general election in California’s history. Of the state’s 38 million residents, just 7.5 million registered voters cast their ballots. That comes out to one in five people deciding who will lead the largest state in the nation for the next four years.

California’s abyssal turnout rate demolished the previous record for worst turnout in a general election. In 2002, just 50.57 percent of registered voters chose between Republican businessman Bill Simon and then-Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

It wasn’t unexpected. The June 2014 primary turnout of 25.2 percent set a new record for the lowest voter turnout for any statewide election in California; the previous low was 28.2 percent in June 2008.

The low turnout has inspired a round of news stories about how to improve civic participation. “Democracy works better as more people participate,” incoming Secretary of State Alex Padilla told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Excitement around the particular candidates drives much of the turnout, and that’s hard to legislate.”

KFBK recently asked, “What should California do about low voter turnout?”

The question presupposes low turnout is a problem in need of fixing. For starters, California’s voter turnout isn’t evenly distributed throughout the state. In tiny Sierra County, the second-least populous county in the state, 73 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the Nov. 4 election. That’s more than double Los Angeles, the most populous county in the country, where 31 percent of registered voters participated. Another half-dozen counties — Nevada, Mariposa, Amador, Alpine, Plumas and Marin — all had turnout of 60 percent or more.

2016: Bumper year for ballot measures

In addition to increased voting power for high-propensity voters, the state’s record-low turnout in 2014 will lead to a bumper year for ballot measures in 2016.

“If voters were a bit underwhelmed by the measures on the California ballot … just wait for the 2016 election,” wrote Joel Fox, publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily, one of the state’s top business and political websites. “Already there is talk of potential initiatives on legalizing recreational marijuana, public pension reform, minimum wage increases and a basket full of tax hikes. The machinations around the tax issues could be most compelling just because so many are being considered.”

recent memo from a top-notch public affairs firm based in Sacramento made the case that 2016 could break records for the most number of ballot measures on a single ballot.

“The historically low turnout in the 2014 general election will dramatically lower the number of signatures required to qualify ballot initiatives in 2016,” wrote Rick Claussen, Ned Wigglesworth and Aaron McLear of Redwood Pacific Public Affairs. “But the lower signature threshold and extended collection window very likely will make qualifying initiatives far less expensive than ever before, potentially producing a very long ballot in 2016.”

The threshold for qualifying a ballot measure is based on participation in the previous gubernatorial election. Initiative statutes require valid signatures from at least 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor at the last gubernatorial election, while initiative constitutional amendments require at least 8 percent. Based on current figures, that would lower the signature requirement from 504,760 valid signatures to 365,000.

In other words, just 2 percent of registered voters can get a measure on the ballot — or less than 1 percent of residents in the state.

As CalWatchdog.com’s Chris Reed argued, “That is good news for those considering taking on public employee unions in 2016 with ballot measures putting limits on government pensions or scrapping state laws allowing teachers to receive lifetime tenure after less than two years on the job.”

The Marijuana Policy Project, which is pushing for the legalization of marijuana throughout the country, is optimistic about California in 2016.

“This year’s election was a large step forward, but the 2016 election will be a huge leap toward ending marijuana prohibition in this country once and for all,” Rob Kampia, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement after the election.

Redwood Pacific’s memo outlined other changes to the initiative process that will alter the 2016 political landscape. Under a law passed in 2011, all ballot measures arising from signatures are considered on the general election ballot. Additionally, in 2014, the legislature approved Senate Bill 1253, which will extend the signature gathering period by an extra month, add a public review period for title and summary, and require a legislative informational hearing when proponents collect 25 percent of the necessary signatures.

“For a relatively small investment, a proponent can force a legislative hearing on their initiative,” McLear told CalWatchdog.com.

The low threshold won’t last forever. As KQED’s John Myers recently pointed out, “The new low bar for initiatives will last only for two election cycles.”

Probolsky Research: “Surprises may be the norm”

It’s no coincidence that California’s record-low turnout was matched by a record number of legislative upsets. An incumbent Democratic state lawmaker hadn’t lost reelection in 20 years. This year, four incumbents lost reelection, including Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra’s shocking defeat to long-shot Democrat Patty Lopez.

One of California’s top polling firms expects more upsets, courtesy of low turnout and the Top Two elections system.

“Surprises may be the norm,” said Justin Wallin, COO/CMO of Probolsky Research. “Voter behavior is more likely to mimic what we have seen with our jungle primaries, wherein candidates in large fields of contestants can’t rely so heavily on their ballot language.”

Wallin believes candidates need to “ensure that voters arrive at the ballot box intending to vote for them, otherwise they are likely to just get lost in the crowd.”

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com