Dentists ante up for cigarette tax hike

The California Dental Association said Tuesday it will kick in $1 million to help pass a proposed ballot measure that would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack and impose similar taxes on e-cigarettes.

That would bring the Save Lives California committee’s war chest to $6 million so far; the committee already has received $3 million from the Service Employees International Union’s California State Council; $1 million from the California Medical Association; and $1 million from hedge fund billionaire turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco.

“Our contribution reflects the importance of this initiative to save lives and prevent more people from suffering the devastating effects of smoking-related diseases such as oral cancer and gum disease that dentists see every day in their practices,” California Dental Association President Ken Wallis said in a news release. “This measure will combat tobacco use and help fund essential programs to improve the oral health as well as the overall health of our most vulnerable Californians.”

The measure’s proponents are circulating petitions now; they must collect signatures from 585,407 registered voters by June 13 in order to qualify the measure for November’s ballot.

It’s likely to be a costly battle. California voters rejected a $1-per-pack increase in 2012 after tobacco companies outspent proponents about 4-to-1; that measure was defeated by just four-tenths of a percentage point, the narrowest defeat of any statewide measure in California’s history.

(I considered including a photo of a long-time smoker’s teeth, but the images I found were far too gross. You’re welcome.)


Early Christmas for ballot measure committees

Christmas came early for a few California ballot measure committees.

The California Health Foundation and Trust gave $2 million Tuesday to Californians United for Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability. That committee backs a measure on next November’s ballot which would require the state to use fees paid by hospitals and federal Medicaid matching funds only for the intended purpose of supporting hospital care to Medi-Cal patients and to help pay for healthcare for low-income children, unless the Legislature casts two-thirds votes to do otherwise.

Also, the California Medical Association gave $1 million Monday to the committee backing a proposed ballot measure that would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack. The Secretary of State’s office cleared that measure’s proponents to start circulating petitions earlier this month. The Service Employees International Union has already kicked in $3 million, and billionaire hedge fund manager turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco has given $1 million.


Newsom’s gun-control measure short on cash so far

Two months after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposal for a gun-control ballot measure, money has come in only at a trickle.

Gavin NewsomThe “Safety for All” ballot measure committee has collected $55,000 in large donations so far, according to records maintained by the Secretary of State’s office. That’s $35,000 this week from gun-control activist Anita Donofrio, a retiree from Ridgefield, Conn.; $10,000 last week from Esprit and The North Face co-founder Susie Buell of San Francisco; and $10,000 in October from heiress and philanthropist Aileen Getty of San Francisco.

Newsom in October had said he already had some offers of financial support and “we’re hoping to get a broad coalition of supporters.” Dan Newman, Newsom’s campaign strategist, said Friday that’s still the aim.

They have “tons of interest including solid commitments from people of all stripes who are fed up with the NRA,” Newman said. “We may never match them (the NRA) dollar for dollar, but I have complete confidence we’ll have what it takes.”

Newsom’s measure should receive its official title and summer from the state Attorney General’s office by the end of this month, and then will be able to start circulating petitions. Paid petition circulation for a statewide measure typically costs a few million dollars.

California’s current assault weapons ban allows those who already owned magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds before 2000 to register and keep them. Newsom’s measure would require owners to turn the outlawed magazines into police for destruction, sell them to a licensed firearms dealer or move them out of the state — just as San Francisco supervisors and Sunnyvale voters chose to require in 2013. New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and the District of Columbia also have such laws.

Newsom’s measure also would require licensing of ammunition sellers and instantaneous point-of-sale background checks for all ammunition purchases to weed out those convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, those with restraining orders against them or those declared dangerously mentally ill. No other state requires background checks for ammunition purchases.

And the measure would require firearm owners to notify law enforcement if their firearm has been lost or stolen. Eleven states and the city of Sacramento already require this, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed bills to do just that in 2012 and 2013.


Cigarette tax hike initiative starts circulating

One of the state’s most powerful labor unions, a billionaire, and a flock of health organizations can start circulating petitions for their proposed ballot measure to boost California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Wednesday.

Here’s the Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure:

CIGARETTE TAX TO FUND HEALTHCARE, TOBACCO USE PREVENTION, RESEARCH, AND LAW ENFORCEMENT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Increases cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, with equivalent increase on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes containing nicotine. Allocates revenues primarily to increase funding for existing healthcare programs; also for tobacco use prevention/control programs, tobacco-related disease research and law enforcement, University of California physician training, dental disease prevention programs, and administration. Excludes these revenues from Proposition 98 funding requirements. If tax causes decreased tobacco consumption, transfers tax revenues to offset decreases to existing tobacco-funded programs and sales tax revenues. Requires biennial audit. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Net increase in excise tax revenues in the range of $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion annually by 2017-18, with revenues decreasing slightly in subsequent years. The majority of funds would be used for payments to health care providers. The remaining funds would be used for a variety of specified purposes, including tobacco-related prevention and cessation programs, law enforcement programs, medical research on tobacco-related diseases, and early childhood development programs. (15-0081.)

Proponents including California Medical Association CEO Dustin Corcoran, SEIU California President Laphonza Butler, American Lung Association of California president and CEO Olivia Diaz-Lapham, and hedge-fund billionaire turned environmental activist Tom Steyer have until June 13 to collect valid signatures from at least 585,407 registered voters in order to place the measure on next November’s ballot.


Gun-rights groups rev up against Newsom measure

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom filed his proposed gun-control ballot measure with the state attorney general’s office Tuesday, and gun-rights activists are preparing for battle.

The Firearms Policy Coalition and the Firearms Policy Coalition Second Amendment Defense Committee PAC – the latter formed specifically to fight Newsom’s measure – have begun sending out more than 25,000 grassroots activism guides to volunteers and activism hubs throughout the state, with another 75,000 guides expected to ship within the next week.

Brandon Combs“We are committed to building the biggest, most-organized, and highly informed Second Amendment grassroots army ever seen in California to fight and oppose Gavin Newsom’s assault on our civil rights,” PAC president Brandon Combs said in a news release. “We want 100,000 volunteers working on this by the end of the year. This initial deployment is just the beginning of our much larger opposition plan.”

Combs said the organizations have infrastructure in place and have hired lawyers and other experts. “These measures will do nothing to advance public safety, but they will further undermine the Second Amendment rights of all Californians,” he said. “The time to draw a line in the sand is right now.”

Newsom and his allies must collect 366,000 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the proposal for the 2016 general election ballot, but Combs and his allies seem to believe that won’t be a problem – they’re preparing for a showdown at the polls next November. “All California gun owners and civil rights organizations must stand together, dig in, and do whatever it takes to defeat this anti-rights initiative at the ballot box,” Combs said.


Ballot measure fee to rise from $200 to $2000

It’s about to get a lot more expensive to submit a proposed ballot measure in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill by Assemblymen Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, that raises the fee for submitting a ballot measure from $200 to $2,000, effective Jan. 1, 2016. AB 1100 is freshman Low’s first bill to be signed into law.

“It has been over 72 years since this aspect of the initiative process has been updated. This reform is overdue,” Low said in a news release. “We live in California, the cradle of direct democracy, but we also need a threshold for reasonableness. And this bill will do just that.”

The $200 fee was established in 1943 to deter frivolous proposals and to cover some of the costs of analyzing and processing initiatives, but that’s not a lot of money today. Low’s office said $200 today is the equivalent of $14.80 in 1943 dollars.

The bill was inspired in part by the submission in March of a “Sodomite Suppression Act” that if enacted would’ve required the state to execute lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. A Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the proposal unconstitutional and it has been removed from consideration for next year’s ballot, but critics called for reform of the ballot initiative process nonetheless.

“If a proposal makes it to the ballot, the $2,000 fee would be refunded to the proponent,” Low noted. “If a proponent feels strongly about a measure, a true grassroots campaign will find the means to pay the filing fee and get their proposal on the ballot.”

Critics insist the bill raises a barrier for ordinary Californians to engage in the process.

“Direct democracy is a citizen’s right – a cornerstone of the checks and balances of democracy that have been protected passionately in California,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said in a news release. “Raising the fee by 900 percent is cost prohibitive.”

Only the state’s elite political class will be able to put their ideas on the ballot, he said: “Elected officials should increase voter participation, not discourage it.”