Articles have been written, by Tony Quinn on this page and elsewhere, that the California Democratic legislators’ and governor’s ploy to keep President Trump off the primary ballot by demanding tax returns could suppress Republican voter turnout resulting in more Democratic vs. Democratic runoff elections for legislative seats under the top two primary system. But there is a second major consequence that would occur by holding down Republican votes: empowering ballot measures supported by the Democrat’s supermajority control of the legislature. They stand a much better chance of passing if fewer Republican voters show up.
The threat still exists to some extent even if Trump wins his lawsuit to strike down the law requiring tax returns. With a supermajority in the legislature, Democrats could put constitutional amendments on the ballot with a two-thirds vote. No need for the governor to sign on. With a hotly contested Democratic primary, the March election portends a strong Democratic voter turnout.
Recall that former governor Jerry Brown colluded with Democratic legislative leaders to change the rules about when measures appear on the ballot. People’s initiatives only may appear on General Election ballots. That means legislative actions could appear on primary ballots with no citizen initiatives to compete with.
Will the Democrats use the opportunity the March primary presents them? Fill in your favorite cliché proving certainty here.
Leading the pack of particular concern is ACA 1, the measure to lower local voting requirements on property tax backed bonds from two-thirds to 55% for affordable housing and infrastructure. This is clearly another step toward attempting to do away with the requirement for a two-thirds vote to raise taxes at the local level.
Speaking of taxes, the School Boards Association is shopping its tax increase plan in the legislature. They hope to avoid the cost of qualifying an initiative to place an income tax/corporate tax increase proposal on the ballot. Such a big tax increase (estimated to bring in about $11 billion) might be hard to garner the two-thirds vote. However, Legislators voting for this measure can say they are not voting for tax increases but letting the people decide.
In addition, other potential moves by the legislature could find their way to the March ballot including the proposed constitutional amendment to lower the voting age in state and local elections to age 17. There could be measures to benefit labor unions (see ACA 14 for example) or who knows what else the legislature might cook up between now and the end of session.
Calculations certainly change if Trump is off the March ballot making it more likely that Democratic voters heading to the polls to help decide the party’s presidential nominee would help pass ballot measures sponsored by the supermajority Democrats in the legislature.