With the legislature out of session, focus on lawmaking has turned to the initiative process. We are only a year and two weeks away from the November 2012 election and plenty of initiatives have been filed. However, there is much anticipation about initiatives that have not been filed yet by important state political players but that are expected.
As Dan Morain mentioned in his Sunday Sacramento Bee column,
“In the coming days, a billionaire philanthropist, a think tank funded by wealthy foundations, and all sorts of political leaders and interest groups will unveil their prescriptions for restoring our ailing state.”
On the pro-tax side, initiatives designed to tax the rich are expected. How the rich are defined is the question. Are you rich in this state at $250,000 taxable income? $500,000? A million?
Now the discussions seem to turn on the question: Will a tax on the rich bring in enough money for those who think the state needs a lot more? Talk of a half-cent sales tax increase combined with an income tax increase is making the rounds.
How much money needs to be raised? In Sacramento on Friday I heard the figure of $10 billion bantered around, then $20 billion. Risky business, that whether the folks suggesting those figures have an inside line to the discussions, I cannot say, but there is a large pro-spending, pro-tax constituency that demands satisfaction.
On the other side, there is talk of spending limits with the rainy day fund measure being stalled by the legislature and pension reform if a satisfactory formula can be worked out.
Speaking of the rainy day fund that had been agreed to in the 2009 budget deal and designated for the 2012 ballot now pushed off, a referendum on SB 202 could gum up the works if it qualified for the ballot. Tom Hiltachk argued the referendums effects Friday here. But, the referendum ballot measure has been available to proponents for a few days. Activity must start soon if it is to qualify in the short 90-day window given referendums under the law. As of this moment, no action has been taken.
There is always a chance that the much discussed initiative war will not come about. The taxing interests might think that the environment is not right to push tax increases, polls indicate that is true; that $10 or $20 billion in tax increases will never be approved by the voters. The pension reformers might not settle on a formula to put before the voters.
Wishful thinking. More likely there will be many initiatives. As Morain notes, a lot of interests and think tanks have been spending time and money to push their ideas forward. If the ballot is crowded with proposals, they likely would overshadow the next legislative session. Legislators considering newly drawn districts and the unknowns of a top-two primary system might put off major decisions, suggesting the people will make the decisions through ballot measures, freeing the legislators to go off and campaign under the new primary and district rules.
If there is a load of initiatives on the November ballot and no referendum is successful in holding some measures to the primary, candidates, consultants, and donors will have to scramble to adjust to the new reality.
Political attorney Jim Lacy in Flash Report takes a look at the history of long initiative ballots and argues the benefit falls to conservatives.
We’ll see in November if history repeats itself.
One thing is almost certain – an initiative storm is coming. Get out the necessary paraphernalia – reading glasses for a long ballot book and earplugs for the multiple TV and radio ads.