Once again California voters are being asked to use their collective wisdom to address what some see as problems in the terms California legislators serve and how to raise money through what is sometimes called a “sin” tax.
Proposition 28 addresses term limits, which California embraced 22 years ago, and which voters had previously considered twice since. The initiative reduces the total time a California legislator can serve from 14 to 12 years and also allows the legislator to serve that entire time in one house or another. The intent, according to proponents, is to prevent the kind of chamber jumping that has occurred under the existing laws, in which a termed-out Assemblyman seeks a Senate seat in order to remain within the state government. Proponents also add that this initiative will not benefit any serving legislator, unlike previous proffered legislation. The changes would not apply to any currently serving legislator at the time of passage.
Proponents say the reduction in total length of service is good for the state since it helps to lessen the time career politicians can serve. They also say it is good for the system since it allows a serving legislator to develop and use “institutional memory,” becoming more knowledgeable and adept about the rules of the chamber in which they serve and learning more about pending bills and how to pass legislation. Proponents, including the League of Women Voters, say the extra time in one chamber allows the legislator to learn how better to resist the influence of special interests.
The current law allows a legislator to serve 6 years in the lower house and 8 in the upper. This initiative would change that, allowing service for a total of 12 years in one house or part of the 12 in both houses.
The Republican Party, which opposes the initiative, says the public gains nothing from lengthening service in one house. Jon Fleischman, who publishes the FlashReport political website, himself a previous party official, said this initiative weakens term limits.
So far, proponents have raised more money than opponents and seem to be carrying the day. The Legislative Analyst’s Office calculates no fiscal effect would ensue from passage. Donors for Prop. 28 include the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Pacfic Gas and Electric, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the United Nurses Association of California.
Donors against include the Liberty Initiative Fund and Howard Rich. Editorial opinion throughout the state is mixed, with a lean toward tepid support.
Proposition 29 offers to increase taxes on tobacco to fund cancer research. If approved by voters, tax on cigarettes would increase by $1 a pack. The current tax is 87 cents a pack, so the new tax would be $1.87 a pack. According to the Legislative Analyst’s evaluation, the measure, if passed, would generate $735 million a year in new tax revenues. Earlier estimates had been higher but reduced consumption has reduced the estimates. In 2006, the last time a tobacco tax was on the ballot, it proposed to levy an additional tax of $2.60 per pack and was narrowly defeated.
What has gained traction among opponents is the initiative’s proposal to create a nine-member governing committee charged with administering the fund, what opponents call a new body of political appointees to oversee the spending of public money. The committee would include three University of California chancellors; three selected from Cancer Center Directors of National Cancer Institute centers in California; one affiliated with a California Academic Medical Center who is a practicing physician; and two selected from California who are members of national disease advocacy groups focused on tobacco-related illness.
Proponent and opposition donors are about evenly matched in money raised. In support are the predictable groups such as the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the American Lung Foundation. Opposing donors include Altria/Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Californians Against Unaccoutable Taxes.
Editorial opinion throughout the state is mixed, with support and opposition about evenly matched.