The shape of the fall ballot is a little clearer, with last Friday’s milestone for submitting petition signatures. As many as fifteen citizens’ initiatives, plus one referendum and a couple legislative measures may populate the ballot come November.
But clarity on the size of the ballot means nothing when it comes to the clarity of individual measures. The 2016 menu may serve up a feast of deceptive proposals. Perhaps not coincidentally, each is sponsored exclusively by a single special interest.
The worst offender is the so-called “No Blank Checks” initiative, billed as giving citizens the right to vote on new state debt.
This initiative is financed exclusively by a single individual, a Delta farmer named Dean Cortopassi, who is opposed to the California Water Fix. But instead of writing a measure calling for an up-or-down vote on the Delta tunnels, he has proposed a vague mandate that would require statewide votes for a long list of state and local infrastructure projects. The only trigger for a vote is that, over an undefined time period, the total amount of revenue bonds spent on a project would top $2 billion.
Far from providing Californians the ability to roll back irresponsible indebtedness, this measure focuses on the state’s least risky debt: revenue bonds backed by dedicated fees or tolls, where the risk is borne not by taxpayers but by the bondholders. Instead, worthy local and regional projects, like water facilities, airports and transportation systems will be at the mercy of voters who live hundreds of miles away.
A second measure slipping its signatures in just under the wire is the “Hospital Executive Compensation Act,” which would limit total annual compensation packages for hospital executives to no more than $450,000. Sponsors claim this limitation is necessary to ensure provision of “affordable, high-quality medical care to all Californians.”
But scratch the surface and you’ll find the sole sponsor and exclusive funder of the measure is a labor union engaged in a years-long battle with various hospital corporations to unionize their workforce. Indeed, this proposal is little more than an effort to either (a) leverage the hospital industry to serve up concessions under the threat of a ballot hammer, or (b) punishment visited on the industry for not providing said concessions.
Another putative health care measure is similarly misleading. The “California Drug Price Relief Act” claims to cut prices of prescription drugs “for the State of California and its taxpayers.”
Already qualified for the ballot, this measure is also sponsored and financed exclusively by a single interest. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has put up more than $4.3 million for an initiative that by its very design would affect only a small slice of drug purchases in the state – namely, the California AIDS Drug Assistance Program and a small portion of the Medi-Cal program. Private sector plans? Not covered. The Covered California health exchange? Not covered. Medi-Cal managed care, with 80 percent of Medi–Cal enrollees? Not covered.