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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.”

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PPIC: It’s time to reform the initiative process.

California voters want to see some changes in the initiative process to connect it with the Legislature, increase disclosure of campaign funders and re-engage citizens, according to a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

“These reforms are likely to have an impact beyond the initiative process,” PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare, the report’s author, said in a news release. “They hold considerable promise for increasing citizen engagement, encouraging voter participation, and building trust in state government.”

The report, Reforming California’s Initiative Process, notes that in the decade since the gubernatorial recall election, voters have been asked to weigh in on 100 state ballot propositions, 68 of which were citizens’ initiatives.

There’s been a sense that the century-old initiative process has run amok, becoming a tool of the same sort of special interests it was supposed to sideline – in May, 55 percent of California adults polled by PPIC believed the process is controlled by special interests. Yet PPIC polls have found both broad support for the process as well as for improvements to it.

Californians like the idea of expanding the Legislature’s involvement in the initiative process, so long voters remain part of the decision-making. PPIC found overwhelming majorities favor having a period of time that an initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to seek compromise before a measure goes to the ballot. Overwhelming majorities of Californians also support a system of review and revision for proposed initiatives to try to avoid legal issues and drafting errors.

One way to set up such a system would be to revive California’s indirect initiative, in which sponsors bring their initiatives to the legislature after the required number of signatures has been gathered, the report suggests.

There’s also strong support for increasing public disclosure of funding sources; holding televised debates for initiative campaigns; having initiatives be renewable by voters after a certain number of years; allowing more time for volunteer-only signature gatherers to qualify a measure for the ballot; and creating an independent citizens’ initiative commission.

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California voters already have approved ballot measures to create a top-two primary system and a citizens’ redistricting commission, to change term limits, and to allow budgets to be approved with a simple legislative majority.

“In the last five years, Californians have taken bold actions to reform their state government,” Baldassare said. “Initiative reform — if pursued thoughtfully — could result in a brighter future for the state.”

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Latest poll numbers on November ballot measures

Labor Day usually marks the start of the traditional campaign season, when voters start tuning in more earnestly about the issues and candidates on November’s ballot. With that in mind, here are the latest polling numbers from the California Business Roundtable’s weekly survey:

Prop. 30 (Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase) – 54.4 % yes, 40.5 % no

Prop. 31 (two-year budget cycle, etc.) – 40.9 % yes, 36.2 % no

Prop. 32 (bans political contributions by payroll deduction) – 57.3 % yes, 33 % no

Prop. 33 (auto insurance) – 56.5 % yes, 31.8 % no

Prop. 34 (death penalty repeal) – 40.1 % yes, 49.5 % no

Prop. 35 (human trafficking) – 82.2 % yes, 10.8 % no

Prop. 36 (three strikes sentencing reform) – 74.1 % yes, 17.8 % no

Prop. 37 (labeling of GMO foods) – 65.4 % yes, 23.4 % no

Prop. 38 (Molly Munger’s tax increase) – 39.6 % yes, 49.4 % no

Prop. 39 (corporate tax loophole) – 59.2 % yes, 28.9 % no

Prop. 40 (state Senate redistricting) – 47.8 % yes, 25 % no

A lot of money will be spent in the next two months to move these numbers, so don’t read too much into them now. That said, a few thoughts:

    Voter support for any measure often declines as Election Day nears, so anything already polling under 60 percent “yes” has a tough road ahead.
    Jerry Brown’s tax measure is looking a lot stronger than Molly Munger’s, but neither looks like a powerhouse.
    California voters appear ready to save some prison-budget money by putting fewer people away for life (by requiring that a “third strike” be a serious or violent felony), but not by abolishing the astonishingly costly capital punishment process.
    Watch for an extremely well-funded ad blitz from the food industry to knock down Prop. 37’s numbers as soon as possible.

    Nobody’s campaigning for Prop. 40, yet it still has more support than opposition; go figure. It won’t for long.
    In my GOP-convention-inspired-haze, I forgot that a “no” vote on Prop. 40 supports killing the newly drawn district lines, so a “yes” vote preserves the status quo. Never mind, then.
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California, meet Propositions 28 and 29

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has announced the numbers for the two measures set to appear on the June 5 ballot, and interested Californians now can submit arguments to be considered for inclusion in the state’s official voter information guide.

Here are the ballot measures, with their official titles and summaries as written by the state attorney general’s office:

Proposition 28 – Limits on Legislators’ Terms in Office. Initiative Constitutional Amendment. Reduces the total amount of time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years. Allows a person to serve a total of 12 years either in the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination of both. Applies only to legislators first elected after the measure is passed. Provides that legislators elected before the measure is passed continue to be subject to existing term limits. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: No direct fiscal effect on state or local governments. (09-0048)

Proposition 29 – Imposes Additional Tax on Cigarettes for Cancer Research. Initiative Statute. Imposes additional five cent tax on each cigarette distributed ($1.00 per pack), and an equivalent tax increase on other tobacco products, to fund cancer research and other specified purposes. Requires tax revenues be deposited into a special fund to finance research and research facilities focused on detecting, preventing, treating, and curing cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other tobacco-related diseases, and to finance prevention programs. Creates nine-member committee charged with administering the fund. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Increase in new cigarette tax revenues of about $855 million annually by 2011-12, declining slightly annually thereafter, for various health research and tobacco-related programs. Increase of about $45 million annually to existing health, natural resources, and research programs funded by existing tobacco taxes. Increase in state and local sales taxes of about $32 million annually. (09-0097.)

People can submit arguments for or against any measure, and those selected for the official ballot guide will be on public display from Feb. 21 through March 12.

State law gives first priority to arguments written by the initiative’s proponents, and then to bona fide citizen associations, and then to individuals. No more than three signers are allowed to appear with an argument or rebuttal to an argument. Ballot arguments can’t exceed 500 words and rebuttals can’t exceed 250 words; all submissions should be typed and double-spaced, and can be hand-delivered to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division at 1500 11th Street, 5th Floor, Sacramento, California 95814; faxed to (916) 653-3214; or emailed to VIGarguments@sos.ca.gov. If faxed or emailed, the original copies must be received within 72 hours. The deadline for ballot arguments is 5 p.m. next Tuesday, Feb. 7; the deadline for rebuttals is 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16.

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‘Think Long Committee’ won’t go for 2012 ballot

The Think Long Committee for California – a panel of experts funded by an itinerant billionaire that had developed plans for tax reform and a citizens’ oversight committee – will delay putting its plans to voters from 2012 to 2014.

The committee, which released its report in November, issued a statement today sying it has been “vigorously discussing and developing a viable action plan and timeline for implementing our broad range of proposals ever since.”

“Consistent with our collective view that California needs to think, plan and act for the long term, we’ve been guided by the cardinal rule that it is far more important to get our reforms done ‘right’ than ‘right away,’” the committee said.

The committee had proposed broadening the state’s tax base while raising $10 billion per year in new revenue by extending the state sales tax to services such as auto repair, dry cleaning, legal work and accounting (but not health care or education), while lowering the sales tax on goods, reducing personal income tax rates and reducing the corporate tax rate.

It also proposed creating an “independent, impartial and nonpartisan” Citizens Council for Government Accountability. That council would have 13 members — including nine named by the governor — to oversee government functions and conduct long-term planning. It would have power to place measures directly on the ballot without collecting signatures, and to have the secretary of state publish its comments and positions on measures in the state voters’ guide. It also would have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Members of the committee include former Gov. Gray Davis; former Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown; former U.S. secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz; GOP power broker Gerald Parsky; Google Chairman Eric Schmidt; and many others. Committee founder and funder Nicolas Berggruen had promised to put up at least $20 million to convince voters to implement these plans as ballot measures in 2012.

Although the proposals had seemed to meet with muted, if not negative reactions from many current politicos, the committee’s statement today says it was “gratified by the overwhelming interest from elected leaders in both parties, including Governor Brown, stakeholders and everyday citizens in these bold, broad-based changes.”

California is “hungry for real reform and are more willing than ever to support a sweeping plan that is fair and will put an end to California’s perpetual financial volatility and suffocating wall of debt,” the committee said.

“At the same time, we recognize the practical constraints of the 2012 election calendar – and have come to the conclusion that it will take more time to perfect these proposals, eliminate unintended consequences and provide every stakeholder and everyday Californians a meaningful voice in that process,” it said.

And so the committee will keep trying to sell the plan with hopes of putting it to voters on the November 2014 ballot.

“In the meantime, a high-turnout election is a terrible thing to waste. California voters deserve the opportunity in 2012 to begin the long process of reforming state government,” the committee’s statement said. “Therefore, in the coming days, we will be announcing our intention to partner with other organizations by generously supporting one or more reform measures that have already been filed for the 2012 elections, consistent with our Blueprint.”

The statement doesn’t specify which measures the committee will back.

The committee said it also will co-sponsor the California Economic Summit in May to develop a statewide job creation and competitiveness implementation plan; support regulatory reform, including that of the California Environmental Quality Act, to maintain the state’s environmental leadership while speeding up permissions for job-creating projects; and work with the governor and other state, federal and local officials to create “plug-and-play” pre-permitted zones to attract new investment to California.

UPDATE @ 3:40 P.M.: Gov. Jerry Brown just issued this statement: “Think Long is doing very important work and I look forward to working with them on the critical issue of more permanent tax reform.”

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State budget reform initiative unveiled

The California Forward Action Fund, a state fiscal reform group, has submitted a ballot measure that would substantially alter the state and local government budget process.

The Government Performance and Accountability Act would mandate the adoption of two-year budgets, five-year reviews of every program and the identification of the source of the money for new programs. It would also require the Legislature and local agencies to make their proposed budgets public for at least three days before voting on them.

Among its other provisions, it would permit counties, cities and schools to create a “community strategic action plan” and decide for themselves how to spend state dollars.

According to the action fund, the measure “will make local governments the nexus for action, producing major improvements in government accountability, transparency and responsible budgeting. It is built around a simple idea: Californians need to know what they are getting for their tax dollars.”

“The people of California have told us that they want to fix the state in a long-term meaningful way,” said Action Fund Board co-chairwoman Sunne Wright McPeak, a former Contra Costa County supervisor and the one-time state Business, Transportation and Housing director under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “By assuring performance, participation and results, the Government Performance and Accountability Act encourages local, regional and state groups to work together to achieve positive social gains that are financially sustainable over time.”

Action Fund Board co-chairman Bruce McPherson, the former California Secretary of State, said  “the current system often prohibits cooperation and participation. As a result, Californians no longer share in the bounty the state once promised: good jobs, world class education, affordable health care and safe neighborhoods. It’s time Californians have a government structure that allows for greater local responsibility and authority.”

The California Forward Action Fund says it intends to gather sufficient numbers of signatures in time to place the measure on the November 2012 ballot.