California Legislature makes series of big changes to November ballot measures

California Legislature makes series of big changes to November ballot measures

California Legislature makes series of big changes to November ballot measures

With California’s presidential and U.S. senatorial elections now a done deal, the state’s political establishment has been preparing for multimillion-dollar battles over high-stakes ballot measures this year.

However, seemingly overnight (but in reality in about a week) the November vote has undergone a radical change.

Several major proposals have been scrapped, sometimes in favor of legislative compromises. Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers have added two large bond issues and a criminal justice measure aimed at undermining a more punitive proposal already on the ballot.

The common denominator of these maneuvers is that they were all negotiated and drafted in absolute secrecy and are being implemented at great speed.

A new legislative proposal dictates the order in which measures appear on the ballot to give those favored by Newsom and lawmakers a better chance of winning. It does so with a parliamentary trick: It declares the Nov. 5 election a special election, too.

In this way, the manipulation of ballot proposals continues the trend of mainstream Democrats to operate behind closed doors and reveal their actions only after they have reached agreements, a strategy used most obviously for the state budget.

One example is the $10 billion bond issue for the construction and modernization of public schools and community colleges. When it became public, a coalition of civil rights groups complained that it favors projects in wealthy school districts over those in poorer areas.

“If the state fails to place an equitable bond on the November ballot that addresses these glaring inequities, we will have to consider taking legal action on behalf of the students, families, and community organizations we represent,” said Nicole Gon Ochi, attorney for The Ombudsman said in a statement.

The other bond issue, also for $10 billion, would fund a variety of environmental projects under the climate change rubric and was omitted from the deficit-ridden state budget. The measure continues a problematic trend of piling up debt when revenues are insufficient.

Negotiated legislative agreements led sponsors of two initiatives to abandon them: one to repeal the Private Attorneys General Act that empowers workers to sue their employers for violations of state labor laws, and another that would require schools to provide instruction in personal finance.

Newsom and other Democrats also persuaded the state Supreme Court to strike down a measure that would have made it much harder to raise state and local taxes.

Meanwhile, after spending millions of dollars to qualify, the oil industry is abandoning a referendum to repeal a law restricting the location of oil wells near schools and other public places, a tactical victory for environmental groups. An industry coalition said that if the referendum had succeeded, the Legislature likely would have reinstated the law, so the group could move the battle to the courts.

Dan Walters