Which Initiatives Will Qualify for California’s 2016 Ballot?

“There are some lunatics out there and for $200 we encourage them.”

– Senator Mark Leno, speaking in favor of AB1100, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2015

Voting BoothsFiling an initiative in California is about to get harder, thanks to a law taking effect on January 1st, 2016, that will increase the filing fee from the current $200 to $2,000. While $2,000 may seem like a lot, if the original fee, set at $200 back in 1943, were adjusted for inflation, today it would cost $2,366. And anyone seriously intending to place their initiative onto California’s statewide ballot will need a lot more than $2,000, since qualifying the measures invariably requires paying professional signature gatherers. How many signatures are required varies depending on turnouts in California’s gubernatorial elections. Based on the 2014 turnout, getting ballot initiatives onto California’s 2016 and 2018 ballots will require 365,880 signatures for a statute, or 585,407 for an amendment. Count on spending between $2 and $5 million, depending whether you’re working on a statute or an amendment, how early you get started, how much resistance you encounter, and who you hire.

When you only have to spend $200 to trigger a full analysis by California’s Attorney General, there are indeed some far-fetched, arguably frivolous schemes that end up as initiatives qualified for circulation. These almost never make it onto the ballot, but the nuttier ones attract an avalanche of publicity. But the majority of the 61 initiatives currently cleared for circulation are serious, even if they have no chance. If you want to know which ones definitely will appear on the November 2016 state ballot, just look for the government union label.

For example, #1691 “Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement” will increase the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, all of the proceeds to fund government programs staffed by unionized government employees. Among the sponsors – the president of the California State Council of Service Employees.

Then there’s #1704 “Property Tax Surcharge to Fund Poverty Reduction Programs,” which will increase property taxes on any real estate valued over $3.0 million. The proceeds, always towards laudable goals, will create thousands of new unionized government jobs in California. With the average coastal home already worth around $1.0 million, and countless small business properties worth a lot more than that, don’t assume this tax won’t eventually bite everyone. Then again, it’s supposed to “expire” in 20 years.

And speaking of “expirations,” remember the temporary personal income tax increases enacted in 2012? The taxes to “save our schools” that are really to “save our government employee pensions?” They’re back, thanks to #1727 “Tax Extension to Fund Education,” this time for another 12 years. Or there’s #1731 “Tax to Fund Education, Healthcare, and Child Development,” which unabashedly aims to make the 2012 tax increases permanent.

While sorely needed pension reform and tax relief initiatives will likely wither away, because they lack financial support from those heavily demonized billionaires who supposedly have their wicked way with California politics – these government union supported initiatives will be on the ballot. By the time the government unions have finished spending tens of millions to campaign for these three initiatives, the message will be clear: If you don’t vote for them, then you hate cops, children, and poor people. There will be more. The insatiable desire of unionized government to expand itself finds perennial expression in California’s initiative process.

Students and fans of direct democracy are invited to view all of California’s current initiatives either qualifiedeligiblecleared for signature gatheringunder review or recently failed. By this time next year, they may not be nearly as abundant.

One thing is certain – the government unions will continue to put onto the ballot any initiative that serves their interests, and then, using money provided by taxpayers, spend whatever it takes to sell it to voters.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

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