Californians sent some dramatic—and occasionally conflicting—messages with their votes on the state’s major ballot measures. They said yes, no, and no to the three highest-profile propositions—changing the rules to allow a simple majority in the Legislature to pass a state budget (Prop 25), while saying no to the legalization of marijuana (Prop 19) and an effort to suspend the state’s new air pollution laws (Prop 23).
They also took away the power of state legislators to draw the lines of congressional districts, approving a measure that moves that responsibility into the hands of a new citizens commission (Prop 20) and defeating another measure that would have given redistricting powers back to the Legislature (Prop 27). On a range of other propositions to protect the funds of different groups, they were less clear—saying no to a new surcharge to support state parks (Prop 21), saying yes to a measure that prevents the state from borrowing local funds (Prop 22), and approving an increase in the voting margin required to pass some local fees (Prop 26).
With the electoral dust beginning to settle, what does this mean for our state’s government—and how will these measures affect California down the road? We break down the results proposition by proposition.
Prop 19: Marijuana legalization – NO
This effort to legalize marijuana under California law failed to sway voters, heading off a major legal showdown with the federal government, which promised to enforce federal law in the state. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have nipped this one in the bud (pun intended), by signing a law in October that decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana in California—categorizing the offense as a “civil infraction” – akin to a parking ticket – instead of as a misdemeanor.
Prop 25: Lower budget vote requirement – YES
After several years of record-setting gridlock in the state’s budget process—including this year’s budget, which was signed 100 days late—voters have lowered the voting threshold for passing the state budget from two-thirds to a simple majority. Many reform groups have considered the two-thirds requirement the single-biggest cause of the state’s annual budgetary showdowns, but without more comprehensive reform (including the ideas suggested by California Forward), this measure may simply allow the majority Democrats to pass budgets without input from Republicans.
Prop 23: Suspend air pollution law – NO
This effort to suspend AB 32, the state’s recently-passed air pollution law, until unemployment drops was met with skepticism by voters. The result ensures that AB 32 will continue to be implemented as planned, with the first major new rules on greenhouse gas emissions taking effect in 2012.
Prop 20: Citizens commission redistricting – YES
Prop 27: State legislature redistricting – NO
Voters approved a measure that moves responsibility for drawing the lines of congressional districts into the hands of the soon-to-be-formed citizens commission (Prop 20), and defeated another measure (Prop 27), that would have given redistricting power back to the Legislature. The Citizens Redistricting Commission, which will consist of 14 registered voters (5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 independents), was given a mandate by voters in 2008 to take over redistricting of state legislative districts—preventing politicians from drawing the lines of the same districts they represent. The commission’s members are still being selected, and its work, including its new responsibilities for congressional districts, is scheduled to begin in 2011.
Prop 22: Prevent borrowing from local governments – YES
Prop 26: Increase voting margin for local fees – YES
With the passage of these two measures, voters have given to local governments with one hand, while taking away with the other. Prop 22 will prevent the state from borrowing funds local governments use for transportation, redevelopment, and other major regional projects—something that has happened with increasing frequency as the state’s structural deficit continues to grow. But by carving out this exception for local government revenue, voters have also made it harder for state legislators to balance the budget, which may affect how public schools are funded. The California Teachers Association predicted before the election that schools could stand to lose more than $1 billion immediately as a result of this measure.
At the same time voters seemed to be throwing their support behind local governments, they also passed a measure that will make it harder for local leaders to provide public services. Prop 26 will raise the voting threshold to two-thirds for a variety of fees governments use to pay for local programs—many of them imposed on corporations. It is not clear what the immediate result of this measure will be, although it may require local governments to hold special elections every time they want to raise a new fee requiring, for example, oil manufacturers to pay for an oil-collection program.
In the long run, both of these measures reveal the need for comprehensive reform of the state’s local governance system, which currently gives local officials little authority—and offers them little flexibility as they try to tackle local problems. (To learn more about how California Forward is taking on this challenge, please click here).
Prop 21: State park funding – NO.
Voters said no to this measure, which would have carved out a new funding stream for the state park system by raising the vehicle license fee by $18. Without this new revenue, state parks will continue to rely on existing revenues.
Prop 24: Repeal new business tax provisions – NO
Voters also said no to this effort to repeal a series of recently-passed business tax reforms, allowing businesses more flexibility in how they deduct losses, calculate income, and share tax credits with other businesses. With the failure of this measure, these tax provisions will remain in place, which employers say will ease their regulatory burden.
Justin Ewers is a project manager at California Forward.