The California Secretary of State has officially declared the 10 ballot measures the people of California will decide on this November. California has a history of passing consequential legislation through ballot initiatives, and this year will be no different.

Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010: The state legislature put this bond measure on the ballot. This proposition would allow the state to borrow roughly $11 billion to overhaul the California water system and fund a host of earmarked projects. Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and the Chamber of Commerce back the measure. Many environmental organizations oppose it, such as Food & Water Watch and Change to Win, which has already invested $1 million in the opposition campaign.

Changes California Law to Legalize Marijuana and Allow It to Be Regulated and Taxed: As the name says, this measure legalizes, taxes and regulates cannabis for adults 21 and older.

Redistricting of Congressional Districts: In 2008, California narrowly approved by ballot measure the Citizens Redistricting Commission to take responsibility for redrawing the state legislature districts out of the hands of the state legislature. This proposition would expand the authority of the commission to redraw the state’s Congressional districts. Timing is important because districts will be redrawn before the 2012 election.

Eliminates State Commission on Redistricting. Consolidates Authority for Redistricting with Elected Representatives: This measure would repeal the Citizens Redistricting Commission described above. The power to draw the legislative maps would go back to the legislature. (I’m not sure what happens if the voters approve both of these propositions, expanding the power of the redistricting commission while at the same time eliminating it.)

Changes Legislative Vote Requirement to Pass a Budget from Two-Thirds to a Simple Majority. Retains Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Taxes: California is uniquely crippled by the fact that the state legislature requires a 2/3 majority to pass a budget and make budget increases. Budget fights are normally long, brutal affairs in California. This should help relieve some of the gridlock in Sacramento, but it would also be best to restore majority rule for all basic legislative actions, including tax increases. Look no further than the US Senate to see the absurdity of super-majority legislative bodies.

Increases Legislative Vote Requirement to Two-Thirds for State Levies and Charges. Imposes Additional Requirement for Voters to Approve Local Levies and Charges with Limited Exceptions: This ballot measure would take the state in the opposite direction. This would expand the 2/3 vote requirement, currently affecting budgets and new taxes, to include many kinds of fees and surcharges. The backers, including the Chamber of Commerce, consider these “hidden taxes.” If you think there’s not enough gridlock crippling the state, this is the proposition for you.

Repeals Recent Legislation That Would Allow Businesses to Carry Back Losses, Share Tax Credits, and Use a Sales-Based Income Calculation to Lower Taxable Income: This proposition would close a variety of corporate tax loopholes that the state government approved in 2008. It is expected to generate $1.7 billion in annual revenue. The California Teachers Association is the main financial backer of the measure. The opposition, not surprisingly, is funded by the corporations that would benefit from the tax breaks, including media giants Time Warner, CBS, Fox Group and Viacom, which have all donated at least six figures. (With this lineup of corporate support, it will be interesting to see what kind of media coverage this ballot initiative does–or doesn’t–get.)

Prohibits the State from Taking Funds Used for Transportation or Local Government Projects and Services: The state is allowed to borrow from some categories of what are meant to be local funds during fiscal emergencies. This would wall off those funds from the state government. The League of California Cities supports this proposition.

Establishes $18 Annual Vehicle License Surcharge to Help Fund State Parks and Wildlife Programs and Grants Free Admission to All State Parks to Surcharged Vehicles: During this financial downturn, California has had trouble paying its bills and as a result, has partially shut down some state parks. This would produce an independent, dedicated funding source for the state’s parks and wildlife programs. It would also grant free park entry to vehicles that pay the surcharge.

Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Polluters to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level for Full Year: This is an attempt to destroy California’s climate-change legislation. The campaign to get this measure on the ballot was bankrolled by millions from two huge oil corporations, Valero Energy Inc. and Tesoro Corp.


The November ballot measures are a mixed bag, with two pairs in almost direct opposition to each other, on redistricting and the 2/3rd legislature requirement. While marijuana legalization might get the most national press, a few others could be equally if not more important.

It will be very interesting to see how the citizens of California react to the economic downturn. Do they choose the path of the corporations that spend millions? This is a chance for voters to demonstrate that they accept paying fees to keep enjoying public services like parks, stopping corporate tax breaks, maintaining a commitment to green energy and helping to put an end to the overwhelming gridlock in Sacramento.

It is also possible that voters will reject all fees and accept the Chamber of Commerce’s position that somehow, the path to a working state is to make it even more difficult for the legislature to agree on ways to raise needed revenue. Voters could also abandon concern for the environment, because a few big oil companies have spent millions trying to convince the voters that corroding the environment is the only path to new job growth.