Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BLEEDING STOPS ON ONE SCHWARZENEGGER BLUNDER

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 2015, 2014 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “BLEEDING STOPS ON ONE SCHWARZENEGGER BLUNDER”


          California has bled many millions of dollars because of the myriad blunders by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who probably should have remained a muscleman actor and never ventured into politics.


          Spending has barely begun on the high speed rail project he enthusiastically backed without worrying about troublesome details like its precise route or whether it can ever attain the ultra-high speeds he promised. Many dozens more millions of dollars have been doled out – with lots more to come – to build refueling stations for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles long before anyone knows whether consumers will buy them.


          The $15 billion deficit-payment bond issue Schwarzenegger pushed on California voters ended up costing the state almost twice that, when interest was counted.


          But at least the disastrous real estate deal the fading movie star pushed is at last dead. True, it has now cost the state more than $24 million without producing even one job or one dime, but at least it is gone.


          This deal began as a high-stakes auction in 2009, when Schwarzenegger cast about desperately for solutions to the state’s seemingly perpetual budget shortfalls. As he looked for revenue sources, Schwarzenegger pounced on 11of the state’s trademark buildings, including the Public Utilities Commission building in San Francisco, the Justice Department in Sacramento, the Supreme Court building in San Francisco and the pink granite Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles.


          The top bid deemed credible in Arnold’s auction amounted to $2.3 billion (just $600 million in immediate cash) for the emblematic structures. The rest of the money was to come in the form of savings on things like janitorial services and power and gas bills.


     Schwarzenegger-appointed spokesmen for the state Department of General Services pronounced the deal “fantastic,” to use one of the ex-governor’s favorite hollow expressions, saying it would help get the state out of its financial hole without costing much. But other state economists at the same time estimated the deal would cost taxpayers $2.8 billion over 30 years as the state rented back its own buildings.


          It was never clear how $600 million could do much against a cash shortage variously estimated between $27 billion and $45 billion. So, like his 2004 bond issue that bought nothing, this was another of the many short-cuts Schwarzenegger tried to use to solve problems without making sacrifices.


          Realizing that incoming Gov. Jerry Brown had pegged the real estate deal as a disaster during his 2010 campaign, Schwarzenegger tried to sign documents cementing it during his term’s final hours. But he missed a line or two, allowing Brown to cancel the deal within his first few weeks in office.


          This rankled the private real estate firms that had combined on the winning bid and expected to milk big profits from the state. The firms, through a partnership called California First, headed by the Irvine-based ACRE LLC and Hines Inc. of Houston, TX, sued to keep the sale alive, and it festered on for four years.


          A court date arrived at last in December, but the judge wanted no part of any testimony. Instead, he ordered the sides into negotiations, producing a $24 million settlement last month.


          So the state escaped from this one with a loss of less than 1 percent of what was projected if the deal had gone through, plus legal fees. Meanwhile, it continues to operate the buildings, which remain prominent symbols of state government.


          At the same time, Brown’s tactics over the last four years, including the Proposition 30 tax increases he pushed successfully, have eliminated the annual budget shortage despite constant pressure from the Legislature for more spending. There’s also been some help from the recovering economy.


          One lesson here is age-old: It’s generally far better to make some momentary sacrifices than to sell off a birthright, and it’s especially bad to sell off anything important just when the market for it is bottoming out.


    No one has explained how even the shallow-minded Schwarzenegger could miss this salient point.


    The pity is that even as this Arnold-era blunder ends at last, others keep right on losing money.

                   

-30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

CONVICTS WHO DON'T DESERVE PAROLE HEARINGS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 17, 2015 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “CONVICTS WHO DON'T DESERVE PAROLE HEARINGS”


          Consider the criminal history of Bobby Beausoleil, 67, the latest follower of Charles Manson to come up for an automatic parole hearing.


          Among the lesser-known members of the murderous so-called Manson "Family,” Beausoleil was a Manson henchman who fled Los Angeles after the 1969 murders of musician Gary Hinman and movie stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea. Caught near San Luis Obispo and jailed, he could not participate in the group’s notorious slayings of actress Sharon Tate and grocer Leno LaBianca a few days later.


          Beausoleil was up for a routine, periodic parole hearing late this winter, with Gov. Jerry Brown yet to decide his fate. As it did with fellow Manson acolyte Bruce Davis last year, there was every likelihood the state Parole Board would order him released on the basis of advanced age and good behavior while in prison.


          The Manson cases raise the question of whether some crimes are sufficiently heinous to merit a special classification, one amounting to locking them up and throwing away the key without ever holding parole hearings like those given Davis, Beausoleil and Manson himself every few years.


          The question takes on urgency because this will likely be the last time the fate of either Beausoleil or Davis will be decided by Brown, who will likely be the last California governor with any personal recall of the horror of their crimes and the wave of fear and panic they spawned across wide parts of the state. The current front-runner to succeed Brown, for example, is Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor and a former San Francisco mayor who was two years old when Manson & Co. spread the chopped body parts of Hinman and Shea across the Spahn Movie Ranch in Chatsworth.


    It’s an open question whether an old crime story like this would have the same impact on him that Brown’s memories do on his actions. Brown lived in Los Angeles at the time.


    The Hinman and Shea murders marked the beginning of the Manson Family’s campaign of killings. Years after he was convicted, Beausoleil said he went to Hinman’s residence in the Santa Monica Mountains with two “Manson girls,” one of them Susan Denise Atkins, who would die in prison after being convicted in the Tate-LaBianca slayings.


    His alleged mission: To recover money previously paid to Hinman for mescaline which had later been sold to the Straight Satans motorcycle gang, operating in the Los Angeles area. The bikers demanded their money back when they discovered the drug was flawed. Beausoleil said Manson ordered him to hold Hinman at gunpoint until he arrived and began trying to extort money from Hinman by cutting his ear off with a sword, among other tactics. Eventually, Beausoleil told authorities, Manson told him to kill Hinman and he did, Davis also being convicted in the murder. They scrawled “Political Piggy” on a wall with Hinman’s blood, hoping to make police believe the slaying was done by political radicals. The scene presaged what Atkins and others wrote on the walls at the gruesome LaBianca murder scene.


          Eventually, Hinman was chopped up along with Shea, who Manson allegedly feared would turn him in to Los Angeles police. Parts of their bodies were found on the Spahn Ranch, the scene of many early Western movies.


          Few relatives of the victims survive today. A Hinman cousin living in Denver regularly opposes parole for anyone who participated in his murder. The same for Tate’s sister Debra, her lone surviving family member.


          Few doubt that Beausoleil, Manson and others in their grisly crew deserved the death sentences they first received, later changed to life in prison.


          In his message denying parole last year to Davis, Gov. Brown clumsily but accurately opined that “In rare circumstances, a murder is so heinous that it provides evidence of current dangerousness by itself.” That is also true for Beausoleil, whose role in Hinman’s death was larger than Davis’.


          There are a few other killers who could fit the same category, like Richard Ramirez, the recently deceased Night Stalker whose crime spree terrorized both the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas.


          People like these, as Brown implied, should never be freed. So it’s high time legislators create a new category of convict beyond the reach of parole, taking their eventual fate away from politicians who might not even remember them and their misdeeds.


-30-

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

RICE’S POLL STANDING: STAR POWER STILL A POLITICAL FACTOR

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “RICE’S POLL STANDING: STAR POWER STILL A POLITICAL FACTOR”


          Condoleeza Rice, the former secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration and now a Stanford University professor, has stated very clearly she would rather attend college basketball games and help choose the college football playoff teams than be a U.S. senator.


          At 61, she says she prefers a secure job in academe, playing the piano in her spare time, mentoring students and then considering  an executive-level job if the Republicans take back the White House. She probably would also rather not face the inevitable questions a campaign would bring about her role in government deceptions that led to this country’s long and costly war in Iraq.


          “A campaign for the Senate is out of the question,” Rice has said. She’s done nothing counter to that statement, not raising money, not speechifying or anything else, keeping a low profile in general even as others visibly line up to run for the seat Democrat Barbara Boxer will vacate next year.


    And yet, the latest Field Poll shows Rice leading the senatorial field, including Democrats and Republicans, Latinos and Anglos and African-Americans.


          This is remarkable in California, a state that hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential or Senate election since 1988 and one where Democratic voter registration runs 15 percent ahead of the GOP’s.


          What does it mean? Maybe that voters are not yet paying much attention, despite the highly publicized machinations of figures like state Attorney General Kamala Harris, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and numerous members of Congress from Orange County’s Loretta Sanchez to John Garamendi of Mokelumne Hill in Calaveras County.


          Some survey respondents told Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo they’re not yet ready for political action. “It’s just too far away,” said one. “I am waiting for more information to come out.”


          But Rice’s standing three points ahead of current Democratic front-runner Harris probably also indicates the same thing that Arnold Schwarzenegger demonstrated 12 years ago when he dominated the recall election that ousted then-Gov. Gray Davis: Politics in California has never been only about party. It’s always also been governed by personalities, and stars from other fields can translate that into political success.


          Republican Schwarzenegger won the recall and later was easily reelected not because he’s a distinguished politician or statesman, but because of his repute as a muscleman actor.


          Similarly, when the great semanticist S.I. Hayakawa won election to the Senate, it was because of the television exposure he got while countering massive student protests as president of San Francisco State University. Onetime soft-shoe dancer and actor George Murphy, also won a Senate seat as a Republican because of his prior reputation. And John Tunney later won that same seat mostly because his father was a heavyweight boxing champion.


          A quick look at how the only Republicans avowedly considering a run for Boxer’s seat fare in the Field survey also demonstrates that a lack of star power can be fatal when your party is in the minority.


          San Diego County Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, given to aphorisms about how his family has lived the American Dream, draws just a 20 percent level of voters “inclined to support” him. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who ran unsuccessfully for state controller last year, and former state GOP chairmen Tom del Beccarro and Duf Sundheim have similar levels of support.


          Almost every Democrat in the potential field does much better, with Sanchez and fellow Congress members Garamendi, Jackie Speier, Xavier Becerra and Adam Schiff all drawing support in the 29 to 39 percent range, well above the mine-run Republicans but far behind Rice.


          It all goes to show that while the Republican label has been thoroughly tarnished in California and the GOP has done little to shake off the anti-Latino reputation it got from Gov. Pete Wilson’s all-out support for the ill-fated anti-illegal immigrant 1994 Proposition 187, individual Republicans can still do well.


          Which means there’s still potential for a healthy two-party system in this state. To make that real, though, the GOP must recruit charismatic candidates with star power – like Condoleeza Rice.

         

              -30-

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

TIME TO EXAMINE CONSPIRACY IN PEEVEY-PUC SCANDAL

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 10, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “TIME TO EXAMINE CONSPIRACY IN PEEVEY-PUC SCANDAL”


          California attorney general's agents wasted no time after this column in late January called for a criminal investigation of the former state Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey. Less than five days later, investigators executed a search warrant at Peevey’s primary home in La Canada Flintridge.


          But the scope of the investigation might not be broad enough.


          Egregious as his alleged acts have been, Peevey could not have acted alone in securing sweetheart deals for California’s largest regulated utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Utility executives discussed arrangements with him, and one of the state’s leading consumer advocacy groups often played along with whatever he did. Plus, fellow commissioners never voted him down.


          It all stems from the longstanding PUC “kabuki dance,” an elaborate routine conducted by the commission, the utilities and the consumer advocate group TURN – The Utility Reform Network.


          In this exercise, whenever each utility files for possible rate increases, it seeks far more than is justified. The commission cuts the request down, taking credit for “holding the line,” and TURN boasts of saving the public hundreds of millions.


          Demonstrating the phony quality of all this, TURN’s former chief lawyer, Michael Florio, a PUC member since 2011, is currently under investigation for allegedly helping PG&E, his onetime “adversary,” find a sympathetic administrative law judge to hear a rate case.


          In reality, everyone knows the general outlines of the outcome before any rate-case exercise begins. So this is performance art, not the prudent regulation called for by California law. It now sees Californians paying the third highest power rates in the lower 48 states (http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a).


          Yes, extraordinary examples of apparent corruption became clear during the 12-year Peevey era, predictable the moment ex-Gov. Gray Davis named the former Edison president and husband of Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu commission president. This classic case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse was reinforced when Peevey got a second six-year term from Davis’ successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.


          Just how connected Peevey has been was clear at an early February gala honoring him in San Francisco just after investigators searched his home. Sponsors of the $250-a-plate dinner included his successor Michael Picker, Energy Commission chairman Robert Weisenmiller, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown (sister of the current governor and a board member of SDG&E’s parent company), former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and several ex members of Congress.


          Most egregious of Peevey’s actions may have been his manipulations to let PG&E off easy after its negligence (the term used by federal investigators) led to the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that cost eight lives.


          For one thing, Peevey and fellow commissioners who fell meekly in line behind him still have not tracked the billions of dollars paid by utility customers since the 1950s for gas pipeline maintenance that was done only on a spotty basis.


          It has also emerged that Peevey personally signed off on an exemption allowing his old pals at Edison to replace steam generators in their San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station without a formal review of the $680 million cost, which consumers began paying long before the generators were installed and then failed, causing the plant to be retired. Other emails earlier showed Edison executives knew the generators were flawed before the installation.


          Peevey couldn't do much of this alone; almost all of it required cooperation or at least acceptance by other commissioners, the utilities and TURN, the consumer advocate group that helped “negotiate” last year’s settlement that will see customers pay more than $3.3 billion out of about $5 billion in San Onofre closure costs. Of course, the fault for that failure lies with Edison and its supplier; no one has yet explained why consumers should pay anything.


          Because so many parties have been involved in so many shady dealings, along with the kabuki dance common to all rate cases handled by the PUC, it’s clear the long-term theft of billions of consumer dollars involves far more persons and companies than just Peevey. The attorney general’s office won’t say whether its investigation might broaden to include a potential conspiracy.


          But legislative hearings to be chaired in mid-March by Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Rendon of Lakewood just might explore this, Rendon said.


    For sure all aspects of this investigation should consider whether a wide conspiracy went far beyond one man’s possible criminal actions.


              -30-

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Update of Feb 20

FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2015, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “TOP TWO PRIMARY SYSTEM SURVIVES CHALLENGE

         Californias three-year-old top two” primary election system has never pleased any political party. Not large ones like the Republicans and Democrats, who don't like members of the other large party helping choose their nominees. And not minor parties like Libertarians and Greens, who resent the fact that top two virtually excludes them from November general election contests.

         So the future of this system has been in some doubt from the moment Proposition 14 passed in 2010 and restored an open primary to the state for the first time since the late 1990s. Thats when Democrats and Republicans combined in a legal effort which eliminated a short-lived blanket primary” system where anyone could vote for any candidate in the primary, but each party was assured of one spot on the November ballot for each race it entered.

   The latest challenge to top two, which sees only the two leading vote-getters in each contest making the fall ballot – regardless of party – came from three minor parties with extremely disparate ideologies – the Libertarians, the Greens and Peace and Freedom.

   All claimed top two, also known as the jungle primary” for its unpredictability, is unconstitutional because it almost never lets their members vote in November for their favorite candidates. Never mind that those candidates have unlimited opportunity to sell themselves in the primary.

         The minor parties saw their arguments rejected by a trial judge in 2012 and finally got an appellate court hearing in January.

         Some observers left that hearing before a three-judge panel in San Francisco feeling the challenge to top two would once again go nowhere. They were right, as the judges took only a few days to back the trial court.

         The hearing opened with Judge Sandra Margulies, an appointee of ex-Gov. Gray Davis, asking whether independent voters were barred from voting in partisan primaries before passage of Proposition 14. The correct answer would have been no, as both Democrats and Republicans since 2001 had allowed independents to vote in their contests if they wished.

         But lawyers for the minor parties responded by saying the reverse. Presumably, Margulies and her colleagues will have learned the correct answer elsewhere before issuing their ruling, due before April 15.

         Opponents of top two also were disappointed that the minor party lawyers did not mention either Jesse Ventura or Audie Bock in their arguments. Ventura, who ran for Minnesota governor as an independent in 1998, pulled just 3 percent of the vote in the primary, but got a 37 percent plurality in that November's runoff, taking office the following January.

         Bock, running for an Oakland seat in the state Assembly as a Green candidate in a 1999 special election, polled just 8.5 percent in the primary, but got 51 percent of the runoff vote.

         “You cant just jump from nothing to significant strength overnight,” said Richard Winger, owner of the Ballot Access News newsletter and a longtime opponent of top two. It takes time, and top two doesnt allow enough time since you miss months of campaigning between the primary and the general.

         Don Siegel, a lead lawyer for the minor parties in their challenge to the current system, said the historical points are not really relevant. This case is about whether candidates not in the mainstream can get a hearing in November elections, when four or five times more people vote than in the primary.

         He argued that top two violates the rights of people who want to vote for a small party candidate in November.

         The issue is whether those small party folks deserve a place on the November ballot if theyre not one of the top two in the primary. When they passed Propostion 14, California voters were saying they dont.

         But Siegel argued that in a 34-year-old case involving 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson, the U.S. Supreme Court held that you have to let voters vote in periods of peak voter interest,” and turnout clearly shows primary election season is not such a time.

         But the minor parties lost their appeal, in part because courts of appeal normally respect trial court decisions unless they have compelling reason not to.

          But if the minor parties continue to the state and federal Supreme Courts, where judges are not so deferential, no one can be sure of the outcome.

      -30-        
   Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Governments Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

TAX OVERHAUL PLAN HAS POTENTIAL

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “TAX OVERHAUL PLAN HAS POTENTIAL”


          Rarely does a freshman state senator propose anything substantial during his or her first few days in office. But Robert Herzberg, elected last fall from a safe Democratic district in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, is hardly a typical newbie.


          Hertzberg, speaker of the state Assembly from 2000-2002 and an advisor to both former Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis for several years after that, has now taken on one of the toughest, most complex topics any legislator can. He wants to change California’s entire tax system, and he just might pull it off.


          Hertzberg expects his plan, known as SB8, will take at least two years before coming to any floor vote, figuring it will probably undergo major changes in the process. But here are the basics:


          This system would reduce income taxes across the board, while still keeping “progressive” features like having those with higher incomes pay a larger percentage of it as tax. The minimum wage would rise, by a yet-undetermined amount. Business would get some tax breaks, designed to encourage job creation. More than making up for these revenue losses would be a new sales tax on services (education and health care to be exempt). So movie tickets, legal work, accounting and labor on auto body repairs would be taxed. It’s still uncertain how this might apply to the Internet and at what level businesses would be eligible for new tax incentives.


    Of course, any sales tax is regressive, hitting those with low incomes harder than the rich. It’s not certain whether the reduced income tax and a higher minimum wage could compensate for this.


     The plan is not Hertzberg’s brainchild alone. It stems from his work with an outfit called the Think Long Committee, whose membership has included Google executive Eric Schmidt, movie executive Terry Semel, former Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong, Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad, ex-Gov. Davis, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former state Chief Justice Ron George, among others. The group is funded by billionaire Nicolas Berggruen.


     “We’re aiming for $10 billion a year in new money from this plan,” Hertzberg said in an interview. “We’ll start with what’s now in my bill, and modify it to try to have it make sense if people have problems with it. It could even end up as a ballot initiative. But we need this to help both our kids and businesses in this state.”


     Hertzberg points to the ongoing controversy over tuition at the University of California and the California State University system as one example of how the existing tax system harms young people in California.


     “We need a new philosophy of government,” Hertzberg said in one essay on his tax plan. “California has long been known as the land of opportunity, but for too many of its residents the future is receding. Inequality continues to rise… Something more is needed. Above all, we need public investment in infrastructure and in public education, especially higher education.”


     Hertzberg is firm about one part of his bill that would hold off cuts in the income and corporate taxes until new sales levies bring in enough money to give low-income workers earned-income tax credits similar to what the federal tax system provides.


     And he says he will not change parts of the plan earmarking the new $10 billion for schools, colleges, infrastructure including road repairs and $2 billion for that earned income tax credit.


     “The revolutionary thing about this is that we would tax services for the first time,” he said. “And that we give the new money to cities, counties, community colleges, school districts, universities and the low income.”


     Hertzberg expects this plan to provoke “the longest discussion of the next two years.” Since he chairs the Senate committee in charge of state and local governance, taxes and finance, “I can call all the hearings on it I want, and I will.”


     So far, there are few supporters or opponents. But both business and labor groups, along with leading Democratic and Republican legislators say they look forward to the talk and the hearings.


     The twin questions yet to be answered: Will this all be mere talk? And should it ever amount to anything more? Stay tuned.

   
     -30-       
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

INITIATIVE CARNIVAL COMING NEXT YEAR

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 3, 2015, 2014 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “INITIATIVE CARNIVAL COMING NEXT YEAR”


          If voters get annoyed and sick of seeing paid petition circulators outside their favorite big box stores during the next 15 months, they will have only themselves to blame.


          Low voter turnout is one big reason to expect a larger-than ever proliferation of ballot initiatives looking to share the fall 2016 ballot with presidential and U.S. Senate candidates. If you didn’t vote last year, you’re part of the reason for any upcoming initiative annoyances.


          As usual, it will take valid signatures amounting to 5 percent of the total vote in the last general election to qualify an ordinary initiative for the ballot and 8 percent to put a constitutional amendment before the voters. One year ago, those percentages meant it took just over 504,000 signatures for a regular initiative to become a proposition and about 807,000 for a constitutional change. The extreme low November turnout means it will take only about 366,000 and 586,000 voter signatures, respectively, this time.


          That lowers the cost to qualify measures by well over $1 million each and allows a wide variety of interest groups frustrated by legislative inaction on their pet causes to circulate petitions in the next few months.


          There is, of course, no rush. In previous election cycles, some initiative sponsors sought to get their proposals onto the June primary election ballot. But since passage of a 2012 law that consolidates all voter-qualified measures on the fall ballot, there have been no initiatives to vote on in June. This makes the primary ballot less interesting and helps lower turnout then. Because initiative sponsors have almost six months to gather their signatures, they don’t really have to get serious until autumn of this year at the earliest.


          Democrats passed the fall-only law knowing voter turnout is far larger in November elections than in primaries, often doubling or tripling the spring numbers. November voters are on average much younger and more ethnic than in June, a trend that escalates in presidential election years like 2016.


          All this will likely translate into as long a ballot as Californians have ever seen, even surpassing some of the book-length ones of the 1990s.


          Anti-tax activists warn of a proliferation of proposed new and renewed levies, including an extension of the 2012 Proposition 30 sales and income tax hikes, parts of which expire at the end of next year. They warn of a renewed bid for a state oil extraction tax – California remains the only oil-producing state that does not tax drilling by the barrel. Opponents warn this could cause higher gas prices, and it might also dampen industry enthusiasm for hydraulic fracking of reserves in the Monterey Shale geologic formation stretching from Monterey and San Benito counties south into Los Angeles, Kern and Ventura counties.


          Anti-tax folks also fear an initiative to slap another $2 atop the current 87-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes. This one would be billed as a boost for public health.


          And they worry about a proposal to lower Proposition 13’s two-thirds-majority requirement for passage of school bonds and parcel taxes either to a simple majority or to the 55 percent now needed to pass school construction bonds.


          Already qualified is a referendum to eliminate the legislatively-passed statewide ban on plastic grocery bags, which would leave that issue purely a local decision. This would allow bag manufacturers – first to take advantage of the lowered signature thresholds – to continue selling 9 billion more plastic bags in the state yearly than if the ban becomes effective.


          It’s not unheard-of for voters to reverse decisions by their elected lawmakers. They did it last fall by overturning state approval of an off-reservation Indian casino and they did it in 1982, nixing the so-called “Peripheral Canal” plan for bringing additional Northern California river water to Central Valley farms and Southern California.


    Besides all these measures, marijuana proponents will likely present a plan to legalize pot completely and tax it, a la Colorado. There also could be an effort to alter Proposition 13 to tax commercial real estate at higher rates than residential property. A minimum wage increase proposal is also in the works, as are several ideas for changing public employee pensions.


          Put it together and the prospects are high for an initiative carnival, one of California’s most interesting and important ballots ever.



    -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net