These ballot initiatives could be headed your way in November

Voting BoothsDirect democracy can be an exhausting business.

This year civically engaged Californians will be expected to have informed opinions about affordable housing and park funding, how best to divvy up cap-and-trade money, how to spend the state’s new gas tax money, and when new voter-approved laws ought to be enacted.

And those are just the measures on the ballot so far.

Joining those five—all of which come referred from the Legislature and most of which are destined for the June ballot—are the citizen-backed proposals, which must compete for spots on the November ballot. More than 40 have already been cleared to be passed around the state gathering signatures, while another dozen await the go-ahead from the state attorney general.

What’s on the menu this year? It’s still too soon to say for sure, but here are some major themes and a few examples of what you can expect to see:

Fiscal Fixers

California pioneered fiscal populism with voter-approved constitutional amendments like Prop. 13. So it wouldn’t be a California election without at least a few voter-backed proposals that take a blow torch to the state tax code.

  • Lower Taxes:

Last year, the Democrats kicked off the legislative session by passing a $5 billion-plus transportation plan, funded with new fuel and vehicle fees. There’s a reason they chose to raise the gas tax as far from election day as possible.

Now two initiatives have been proposed in response: One, backed by San Diego Republican Carl DeMaio, would require voter approval for this and all future fuel and vehicle tax hikes. The second, supported by Republican gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen, would simply repeal the fuel and vehicle fees. The DeMaio initiative has made more progress so far, but either way, the California GOP’s political good fortune in 2018 may rest on anti-gas tax fervor.

In the meantime, it’s an election year so expect another fight about property taxes. Prop. 13, California’s original tax revolt initiative, caps the rate that property taxes can increase on a particular homeowner from one year to the next. The longer a homeowner stays in an appreciating house, the stronger the incentive to stay put and keep your low taxes, even if downsizing or relocating might be more practical. The California Association of Realtors has proposed a solution: change the California Constitution to allow older or disabled homeowners to take a portion of their lowered property tax base with them when they move.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, named for the father of Prop. 13, has proposed a simpler way to lower taxes: give qualifying homeowners and renters a $500 tax credit.

  • Higher Taxes:

While the Realtors push for an expansion for Prop. 13, a growing coalition of progressives will soon be campaigning for a partial rollback. This proposed initiative would strip the benefits of lower property taxes from certain industrial and commercial properties and use the additional revenue to fund schools.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers has proposed a more straightforward source of revenue: hike taxes on millionaires by 1 percent and channel the money to hospitals serving low income Californians.

Nuclear options

For those who believe our politics are dysfunctional, and compromised beyond repair, these initiatives propose a new start for California.

  • Decentralization:

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox has a vision to blow up the Legislature. That is, he wants to increase the number of legislators from its current 120 to roughly 12,000 with each lawmaker representing 5,000 to 10,000 Californians. Cox, who has already submitted the required number of signatures for the measure, believes the “neighborhood legislature” would make representatives more accountable and less beholden to outside campaign cash. Still, this small army of lawmakers would vote for 80 assembly members and 40 state senators to send to Sacramento, thus obviating the need to convert the state capitol building into a football stadium.

Or if 12,000 subdivisions of the state is too many, how about three? Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who unsuccessfully campaigned in 2014 to split California in six, is now pushing for a more modest three-state solution. Under the proposal, the state would be divided into Northern California, California, and Southern California.

  • Separation:

The 2018 election is rapidly approaching, but many California progressives are still recovering from 2016. Thus, two nascent initiatives that would push the state toward a clean break from the other 49 states. One proposalwould call for a Constitutional Convention where California would submit a legal pathway to possible independence. The other, a constitutional amendment backed by Bush-era anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, would declare the state’s intent to become an “autonomous nation.” It is unclear how likely it is that either measure will make it onto the ballot.

Money Measures

This is where lawmakers and interest groups come to the voter, hat in hand, asking permission to borrow a bit of extra money. Voters decide whether the new investment is worth the extra debt—though historically, voters have seen more benefit than cost. Since 1986, Californians have approved $9 in fresh borrowing for every $10 requested of them.

  • New money for green things:

Last fall, lawmakers passed a bill to put a $4 billion borrowing planon the ballot. If approved, the borrowed money will fund a variety of natural resource projects: building new parks in low income neighborhoods, remediating soil and wetlands around the Salton Sea, revamping aging dams and levees, and funding grants to adapt to climate change. Voters will review the plan in June.

Conservation groups are gathering signatures for a $8.9 billion initiative exclusively to improve and expand water infrastructure—from drinking water to flood management to ecosystem restoration.

  • New money for housing:

Remember the package of housing bills the Legislature narrowly passed at the end of last session? One major component was a $4 billion bond measure placed by the Legislature on the November ballot. Roughly $3 billion would be slated for new affordable housing construction and $1 billion for below-market home loans for veterans.

  • Also in the running…

Two more bond measures were submitted last month: One plan would borrow $1.5 billion to fund new buildings and other improvements at children’s hospitals. The other would borrow $2 billion to fund cleanup of mold, asbestos, and lead at homes and schools.

Patch Ups

Sometimes legislators need to tie up legislative loose ends or keep promises made to political allies. Here’s the place on your ballot where the sausage gets made.

  • Legislative sweeteners:

When Democrats sought to renew the state’s cap-and-trade program last summer, they needed the votes of a few moderate Republicans. Under cap and trade, the state restricts greenhouse gas emissions and auctions off the right to pollute. Democrats offered an assurance to the GOP holdouts by putting a new constitutional amendment on the ballot: Any cap-and-trade auction revenue raised after 2024 would require the approval of two-thirds of both the Assembly and Senate before it could be spent, making Republican involvement more likely. In June, voters will decide what that assurance is worth.

Second, the gas tax. Earlier last year, when Democrats raised the tax on gasoline along with other vehicle fees to pay for road and transit improvements, they also passed a ballot-bound constitutional amendment alongside it. If approved by the voters, it will create a budgetary “lockbox” for the new gas tax money that can be tapped only for transportation projects. Putting this measure on your June ballot was intended to inoculate the transportation bill against future political attack. It didn’t.

  • Constitutional tweaks:

Unless otherwise specified, if a ballot measure gets over 50 percent of the vote on election night, it becomes law the following morning. But what if a vote is too close to call? Or called incorrectly only to be changed after absentee ballots are counted? This amendmentreferred by the Legislature, also up in June, would delay the enactment of new voter-approved laws until five days after the Secretary of State has called the result.


For special interest groups, the California ballot is a second chance. If you failed to convince enough lawmakers to advance your agenda during the legislative session, why not try the voters? At the very least, mounting a credible initiative campaign is a good way to force your political adversaries to the bargaining table.

  • Another shot at health reform:

Last year the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers failed to convince lawmakers to pass two bills that would have placed new pricing and staffing requirements on the state’s for-profit dialysis clinics. While the union tries to revive those efforts, they’ve launched a measure that would require clinics to pay payers (namely, health insurance companies) back for any charge more than 115 percent of the statewide average cost of care. Note that this is all happening as the union tries to organize the state’s dialysis clinic technicians.

A bolder health initiative campaign proposes to set up a health care fund exempt from the spending caps and revenue sharing requirements that constrain other areas of the budget. Most budget experts argue that this is a necessary first step before the Legislature can pass a state-run, single-payer health insurance program—an effort that was put on hold in the Assembly last year.

  • Another shot at the labor code:

From the other side of the political spectrum, three similar initiative proposals—still in the early signature gathering stage—take aim at the Private Attorneys General Act. Ever since the law was enacted in 2004, giving workers the right to sue their employers on behalf of the state for alleged labor code violations, business interests have argued that it gives too much power to workers and their attorneys to sue over minor infractions. Last year, three bills to weaken the law failed to gain traction. Each circulating initiative would make it more challenging to bring cases and less profitable for the attorneys who bring them.

  • Another shot at housing:

For more than two decades, California cities have been barred from passing rent control ordinances—rules that restrict the ability of landlords to raise rents. The state’s ever-increasing cost of living has put pressure on lawmakers to change that. They resisted last year, but 2018 brings fresh opportunities—a new bill in the Legislature and a proposed ballot initiative that would repeal the ban on rent control.

New Rules

California is often caricatured as the state hogtied with red tape—often applied by voters at the polls. Here are a few possible new ones, along with one regulatory rollback.

  • For companies:

In case those 10,000-word Terms and Condition policies don’t offer you the assurance of privacy, this measure would give consumers the right to learn about the kind of personal data a company is gathering about them or selling to third-parties. It would also prevent companies from discriminating against those who ask, either by denying them equal service or charging higher prices.

Another proposed initiative from the Humane Society of the United States would tighten regulations on livestock treatment—requiring farmers to provide a certain amount of floor space for confined cows, pigs, and chickens.

  • For workers:

In 2016, the California Supreme Court held that security guards in California cannot be considered on-call when on breaktime. Last year some Democrats in the Assembly unsuccessfully attempted to a pass a law that would guarantee undisturbed rest and meal time for ambulance drivers and technicians too. Now the industry is punching back with a ballot measure that would explicitly exempt them.

Of course, there are more.

To date more than 60 measures have been submitted to the attorney general’s office. Beyond those listed above, they include proposals to loosen felony sentencing guidelines, tighten felony sentencing guidelines, repeal the California’s “sanctuary state” law, tax estates to fund college aid, pay public school teachers more, defund public schools, change the state’s voting rules for primaries, criminalize abortion, and decriminalize magic mushrooms.

Would-be reformers and repealers have until late April to get their signatures in order for the November ballot.

This article was originally published by

​Be Careful What You Sign

VotedArmed with a clipboard and a smile, they stand on the sidewalk in front of popular stores and public buildings. “Want to support schools?” or “Do you want to end poverty?” they call out to passersby. Those who respond positively are asked to sign a petition to place a measure to accomplish the stated goal on the ballot.

These are signature gathers, usually paid by the interests advancing the initiative they tout. They are not obligated to fully explain who would actually benefit from the passage of measure which, more times than not, is the sponsor of the initiative. And they do not have to volunteer if the initiative would raise taxes. In fact, for tax increase measures, saying that the proposal would hike taxes is likely the last thing they would admit.

However, even if signature gatherers are, at times, misleading, this does not justify further weakening the People’s right to initiative, referendum and recall, as some suggest. As with all matters relating to government, it remains the voter’s responsibility be informed and to ask questions — and questions should be asked before signing a petition in support of a measure that could result in a major change in state law.

The tools of direct democracy are worth preserving. They vest the citizenry with the power to be the Legislature of last resort when sitting lawmakers prove to be indolent, incompetent or corrupt and unable to properly carry out the most important business of the public. One has only to look back to 1978. When the Legislature and then Governor Brown refused to act, voters placed on the ballot and approved Proposition 13, an answer to escalating property taxes that were literally forcing many from their homes.

Support for the legislative referendum in our country goes back to Thomas Jefferson, who advocated for its inclusion in the Virginia state constitution. Its implementation in California is credited to Governor Hiram Johnson.

Johnson was elected in 1910 on an anti-Southern Pacific Railroad platform at a time when most members of the Legislature where bought and paid for by the railroad. (An ironic historical footnote: Shortly after taking office Johnson paroled notorious Southern Pacific train robber, Chris Evans.)

In a 1911 special election, California voters approved the initiative process which allowed regular folks to be involved in making laws and broke the stranglehold of the railroad had on the Legislature. The politicians, none of whom like to share power, have been disgruntled ever since. Of course, the fact that politicians don’t like the people’s initiative, referendum and recall rights, that are embedded in the state constitution, may be one of the best arguments that these rights must be retained.

However, the key to a vibrant and effective initiative process is an informed public. So if asked to sign a petition, be wary. Read the initiative summary that is required to be printed at the top of the petition form. There are initiatives in circulation right now that would increase income taxes and undermine Proposition 13 protections for taxpayers. If there is a tax increase included, you may still decide to sign, but at least you will know the impact of your decision in a state where we already have the highest income rate, the highest state sales tax and were we rank in the top four in total tax burden. In other words, caveat emptor.

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.

2016 Initiative bonanza sets stage for fights

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

Measures ranging from a $9 billion school bond to a condom requirement for actors in pornographic movies are set to join the presidential candidates on November’s California ballot, with plenty more still to come.

Battle lines are being drawn in what could be one of the busiest — and most expensive — initiative seasons in California history.

“It’s likely to be a very long ballot,” said Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog, a progressive group that’s sponsored a number of consumer-oriented initiatives over the years.

Besides the seven measures that have already qualified for the ballot — including one of nationwide interest that would cut prescription drug prices for state agencies — supporters of others are out on the streets, haranguing passersby in an effort to collect enough signatures to go before the voters next year.

Click here to read the full article

Top 10 Measures Likely to Appear on November 2016 California Ballot

The General Election ballot in 2016 is likely to have more statewide ballot measures on it than California voters have seen in a long time. The main reason for this is that the number of signatures needed in order to qualify a statutory measure or even a constitutional amendment have plummeted with the pathetically low turnout in last month’s election (the signature requirement is 5% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election).

To be specific, it previously took 504,760 valid signatures to place a statutory initiative on the ballot. It will now take less than 370,000. For a constitutional amendment, the number has dropped from 807,615 to less than 590,000. A couple of years ago, a law was signed that requires that all measures placed on the ballot by signature petitions must appear on the November–not the June–ballot.

Below are the top ten measures most likely to appear on the November, 2016 ballot:

PLASTIC GROCERY BAG BAN — In a naked profit grab supported by the California Grocers Association, the legislature passed and Governor Brown signed into law a bill that would ban single-use plastic grocery bags and would mandate that stores charge at least ten cents for every paper bag given to a customer. This paper bag fee puts hundreds of millions of dollars of profits straight into the pockets of grocery store owners. A coalition representing plastic bag manufacturers is currently gathering signatures to refer this bill to the voters.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA — In 1996, California voters passed a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana. Now the push is on to put another measure before Golden State voters that would decriminalize recreational marijuana use and regulate it, much the same way that alcohol use is currently regulated. Similar measures have recently passed in a handful of other states, and advocates are already targeting California.

PROP. 30 EXTENSION — In 2012, at the behest of Governor Jerry Brown, California voters approved a significant increase in sales and income taxes in California. It was sold to voters as needed to fund California schools, although money from these tax increases has been spent much more broadly. It is virtually certain that a “renewal” of this tax hike package will be placed on the ballot by Governor Brown.

OIL SEVERANCE TAX — Billionaire former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer has, on many occasions, talked about his desire to see California impose an oil extraction tax — taxing oil companies on each barrel of oil extracted from the ground. Steyer calls the absence of such a tax in California a “loophole” that he thinks should be closed. Of course someone of Steyer’s means could easily hire the paid signature gatherers to put this on the November ballot.

TOBACCO TAX — Currently, California’s smokers pay 87 cents per pack of cigarettes in state taxes, ranking us 33rd in the country. The well-heeled California Medical Association announced this month that they are part of a coalition to seek a $2 per pack increase in the state’s tobacco tax. The number of packs of cigarettes sold in California has dropped from 1.4 billion back in 1990 down to around 870 million today.

COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TAX — California’s landmark property tax reform measure, Proposition 13, passed in 1978, limits reassessment of property values to when properties change ownership. Those seeking to increase state revenues are advocating placing what is called a “split roll tax” before the voters, which in essence would keep the tight restrictions on residential property taxation but really make it a lot easier to increase taxes on commercial properties.

BATHROOM BILL — In 2013 a law was signed, referred to as the transgendered bathroom bill, that would have allowed students to play on gender-segregated school sporting teams, or use bathrooms based on their gender identity rather than their biological gender. An attempt to refer this bill to voters fell short – barely. But the signatures gathered were well above what would be needed to place a measure on the ballot in 2016.

PENSION REFORM — Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed led a coalition of folks who were looking at putting potential significant public sector pension reforms on the ballot this year, but they ended up holding off for 2016. Both the lower signature threshold and the growing magnitude of the combined unfunded public employee pension liabilities at both the state and local level make it extremely likely that Reed puts this reform up in 2016.

MINIMUM WAGE — This last year saw multiple ballot measures pass around the country hiking the minimum wage. Liberal activists in California have been advocating for an increase in the minimum wage here. Actually our minimum wage here is about to jump to $10 from it’s current $9 — but there is thought that a hike up to $13 could find its way before voters if it isn’t just approved out the gate by the left-wing legislature.

GAY MARRIAGE — In 2008, by a 53%-47% margin, voters passed Proposition 8, which stated, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Public opinion has shifted away from this definition in the last eight years and, while Prop. 8 was invalidated by the courts, look for gay rights activists to place something on the ballot next go-around to make sure that the people have a chance to state their collective opinion on same-sex marriage.

Yes, the 2016 ballot will keep voters busy and be a full-employment act for political consultants.

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at