Which Initiatives Will Qualify for California's 2016 Ballot? Look for the Union Label

“There are some lunatics out there and for $200 we encourage them.”
– Senator Mark Leno, speaking in favor of AB 1100, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2015

Filing 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 $2.0 and $5.0 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 gathering, under 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.

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