Lawmakers take a look at proposition process

December 4, 2009 7:15:45 PM PST
If you dread elections because there are so many initiatives on the ballot and dueling commercials leave you baffled about how to vote, you are not the only one who has noticed the problem.

Lawmakers are taking a look at the proposition process that many say is out of control.

The California Secretary of State's Office says more than 80 initiatives have been approved for signature-gathering or are in the pipeline. This is the only way regular citizens can put their ideas up for a vote.

That's how Proposition 13 was passed -- limiting how much property taxes can go up.

"If there's something that's a bad proposal, then voters will react accordingly. If it's a good proposal, why not put that before the voters," said Jon Coupal from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

But lawmakers say the process is being abused and are holding hearings throughout the state on how to fix it. They claim it has turned into a tool for wealthy special interests to advance their agenda.

"No one wants to take away direct democracy. It's just how does it work as originally intended, which is for the people, not special interests," said St. Senator Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

Most initiatives fail to get the required hundreds of thousands of valid signatures and don't end up on the ballot. Still, that doesn't stop people from trying.

Among the initiatives currently in circulation:

  • Eliminating state income and property taxes for residents 55-years-old and up.
  • Banning funding of public schools through taxes.
  • Requiring public schools to offer Christmas music.
John Marcotte has gained nationwide attention for his initiative that bans divorce in California and supporters of reform point to him as the poster child of abusing the initiative process -- a charge the grassroots organizer disputes.

"If you look at other ballot initiatives, they're kind of bought and paid for. You pour $2 million into a bank account and you can get anything on the ballot. I think that's an abuse of power," said Marcotte.

Limiting the number of initiatives on the ballot and making proponents identify the source of funding for their proposals are some of the reforms on the table.

The record number of initiatives ever put before voters in modern times was in 1988 -- 29 on one ballot.


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