The Democratic and Repub-lican Presidential primaries will dominate media coverage for the Feb. 5 California elections, now less than a month away, but several important state propositions are on the ballot as well.
A summary of Propositions 91, 92, and 93 follows. (Propositions 94 through 97, all involving amendments to gambling compacts with California Native American tribes, are handled in the story to the right):
Proposition 91—Transportation Funds Initiative Constitutional Amendment
Don’t bother to worry about this one. The supporters of Prop 91 originally drew up this ballot measure to prohibit the legislature from transferring certain motor vehicle fuel taxes from transportation funding to the state’s General Fund. But things changed considerably in the state since then, and those same Prop. 91 authors have now placed the following language on next month’s ballot: “Prop. 91 is NO LONGER NEEDED. Please VOTE NO. Voters passed Proposition 1A in 2006, accomplishing what Prop. 91 set out to do.” Since it is the original Prop. 91 authors and advocates who are saying this, no more needs to be said.
Proposition 92—Community Colleges Initiative Constitutional Amendment
This one is going to be difficult for many voters to sort out, because it has divided the two major teachers organizations—the 340,000 member California Teachers Association and the 120,000 member California Fed-eration of Teachers—that have been traditional allies in supporting funding for public education in California.
Since 1988, a minimum level of funding for both K-12 public schools and community colleges is supposed to be guaranteed through the voter-passed Proposition 98. (We say “supposed to be guaranteed” because there are some loopholes in Prop. 98 that have allowed state leaders to get around those guarantees.)
Community college leaders and advocates argue that because their state funding base is lumped in with the more popular K-12 schools, community college funding sometimes gets slighted. In response they put Proposition 92 on the ballot, which would split off community college funding from K-12 funding, guaranteeing a certain base level of funding support for community colleges. In addition, Prop 92 would lower community college fees to $15 per unit per semester from the current $20, limit fee increases in the future, and establish the community college districts and state Board of Governors in the state constitution.
Prop 92 advocates say that the measure is needed to stabilize community college funding, which has been treated as something of an educational step-child in recent years. Officially, opponents say that passage of the initiative would lead to higher taxes, since Prop 92 guarantees a funding level for community colleges. An unofficial concern among opponents is that if spending for public education remains roughly the same in California in the next few years, any increased monies for community colleges will necessarily have to come at the expense of funds for K-12 schools.
Advocates for Prop 92 (www.prop92 yes.com/) include, among others, a long list of community college presidents and trustees as well as the California Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the two state teachers organizations. The proposition has also picked up support from several K-12 school board members, including, locally, David Kakishiba, Greg Hodge and Gary Yee of Oakland Unified, and Karen Hemphill, Nancy Riddle, Joaquin Rivera, and John Selawsky of Berkeley Unified.
Opposition to Prop 92 (www.noprop 92.org/) is topped by California’s larger state teachers organization, the California Teachers Association, and includes such business groups as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Business Roundtable, and organizations, like the California Taxpayers’ Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, traditionally skeptical of measures which might lead to increased state spending.
Proposition 93—Limits On Legislators’ Terms In Office Initiative Constitutional Amendment
In 1990, California voters passed Proposition 140, the historic initiative that limited the number of terms that California legislators can serve in office. Since that time, state legislators can serve only three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate. Conceivably, a legislator could move from three full terms in the Assembly to two full terms in the Senate, for a total time in the legislature of 14 years (the total time served can actually be up to two years more if the legislator’s first term comes in the middle of the unexpired term of an outgoing senator, but that’s another story).
There are actually two separate interests that combined to draw up Proposition 93.
Opponents of the original term limits law have been looking for ways to overturn it since its passage 18 years ago, but term limits remains popular among California voters, and so there is little chance that an initiative to end the practice would pass. Instead, the strategy of opponents is to gradually whittle away at the sides of term limits, in the hope that it will be weakened enough, in time, that there will be enough sentiment against it to do away with it altogether.
Meanwhile, several powerful legislators are reaching the end of their final terms under the existing term limits law—including Senate President Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez—and so they and their supporters were looking for a way to extend their legislative stay for at least one more term.
Out of a coalition between these two interests, Proposition 93 was born.
In exchange for the current cap of six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate (for a legislative total of 14 years), Proposition 93 would allow a legislator to serve 12 total years in the legislature. Those years of service could be solely in the Assembly, or solely in the Senate, or in some combination of the two. In addition, to sweeten the pot for incumbents, legislators currently serving would be able to serve 12 years in the branch of the legislature where they currently sit, regardless of the amount of time they may have spent in the other branch.
Practically speaking, passage of Proposition 93 would mean that Perata and Nuñez, as well as several other incumbent legislators, would each be eligible to serve an additional term instead of having to leave their current legislative seats at the end of this year.
For term-limits supporters the choice is easy: a no vote on Prop 93. The choice is harder for opponents of term limits. Since Prop 93 is only a tinkering around at the edges of term limits—and a tinkering that greatly benefits a handful of powerful sitting legislators—term limits opponents have to decide if whittling away at term limits is the best way to eventually end them, or if they should wait for a better solution.