Budget-cut targets go to voters
By JOHN HOWARD
The Orange County Register
The Battle of the Budget may be heading to a ballot box near you.
A parade of interests whose funds are at risk are deciding whether to go directly to voters for protection. There is precedent - Proposition 13 in 1978 and Proposition 98 of 1988 are two well-known examples among many.
But rarely have so many major interests - fearful of the $34.6 billion budget shortage - plotted so seriously to get on the ballot at the same time. If they succeed, the ballot in March 2004 - a presidential primary year - will be crowded indeed.
The schools, fresh from their ballot victory to get unprecedented construction money, are pondering a new initiative to strengthen education funding, perhaps with money dedicated from sales taxes.
The cities want a firewall around their most important, and vulnerable, sources of money - the sales tax, the vehicle license fees, the property tax. They are considering a constitutional amendment to protect them from raids by the state.
The counties, even more dependent on the state, want similar protections. They are conferring with the cities and may join them in a ballot campaign.
Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, D-Culver City, wants the right for the Democrat- controlled Legislature to decide budgets with a simple majority vote, instead of by a two-thirds majority. This one change would cripple the leverage - already marginal - of minority Republicans. California's budgets have required a two-thirds vote since 1879. But 42 states require only simple majorities.
Assemblyman John Campbell, R-Irvine, wants a constitutional amendment limiting state spending to increases in growth and population.
Other potential initiatives include one that would force commercial property to be reassessed at market value when sold (a bill to do this already has been introduced in the Legislature), and another to levy taxes on commercial property at a higher rate than on residential property. Another would boost income tax brackets on the wealthy, and still another would quadruple the homeowner income-tax exemption.
All these initiatives could make it tough for voters to pick and choose. Partisans know that, and that's why interests with similar ballot goals try to join together to cut down on the number of propositions. "It's very confusing and chaotic to voters, and in the long run it could be damaging to a number of different efforts," said Megan Taylor of the League of California Cities.
By early April, the flock of proposed initiatives is expected to reach Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who must OK the title and summary of the initiatives before backers can circulate petitions.
After that, it's up to the voters.
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