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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.

in Opinion
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