Even though the 2014 general election is 15 months away there are already rumors about what might appear on the ballot through the initiative process. In attempting to read the early tea leaves on initiative measures, especially ones that are related to the business community, I turned to Rick Claussen, long time ballot initiative maven running the newly named firm, Redwood Pacific.
The first thing Claussen did was to caution me that it is still early; that measures with strong financial backing could be filed in early 2014 and still qualify for the next general election ballot.
Already qualified for the ballot is the Health Insurance Rate Regulation measure, which would give power to the insurance commissioner to approve health insurance rates. The measure will pit Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and the trial lawyer backed Consumer Watchdog group against doctors, health plans and hospitals.
Beyond that proposition we don’t know what initiatives will be on the ballot (A water bond is scheduled to be on the ballot but that was placed there by the legislature, not by initiative, and it may not remain. Likewise, a rainy day fund measure is currently scheduled for the ballot.)
While an initiative measure was filed to create an oil severance tax, Claussen doesn’t think “that’s the real one.” He is waiting to see if hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer supports another oil tax measure. Steyer funded an environment-related initiative during the last election cycle (Proposition 39), and Claussen says if Steyer funds an oil tax proposition it would “likely be on the 2014 ballot.”
Supporters of a tax increase on cigarettes say if they don’t get their way in the legislature they will go to the ballot. Claussen, who led campaigns that defeated two previous cigarette tax increases, gives that a 50-50 chance of happening noting that, “Lance Armstrong is not around to write a million dollar check as he did in 2012.”
The initiative process has often been used as a tool to coax the legislature into action. A battle over the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) is heating up with the trial lawyers and Consumer Watchdog filing an initiative in hopes of getting the legislature to act. The measure, which caps medical malpractice awards, would face opposition from doctors and the insurance industry. Claussen believes the measure could go forward as a battle royal on the 2014 ballot if no deal comes out of the legislature.
Another measure that may be part of a strategic move is the recently filed Medi-Cal Funding Act. Hospitals are miffed that fees they pay to secure federal matching funds from the federal government are often diverted for other purposes by legislative action. The initiative is intended to clarify how the fees must be used.
A proposition filed by former legislator and state Finance Director, Steve Peace, could draw a lot of attention from the business community, Claussen says. The Personal Privacy Protection Act specifically targets commercial use of “personally identifying information.” Claussen says a number of business interests are taking this measure seriously. “Silicon Valley will rise up,” he predicts, and fight against a measure that tech companies believe will undercut a segment of the business community that has allowed California’s economy to grow.
Claussen is also monitoring an attempt to raise taxes on business property. He says a political campaign committee controlled by advocates of a split roll property tax is in place and can easily be converted to help fund such a measure.
It could happen as early as the 2014 election, Claussen says. “Some of the unions believe that Prop 30 was a testament to the idea that people support higher taxes. I think it was a one-time deal. But, if the special interests don’t get what they want legislatively, some may decide to go directly to the ballot where tax increase measures can be qualified for a few million dollars.”