Wednesday, February 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Voters Looking at Buffet of Initiatives on November Ballot

Along with a list of highly anticipated congressional races with national implications, Californian’s loaded November ballot will feature a dozen statewide ballot measures where voters decide the fate of a $52 billion transportation tax, a peculiar plan to split the Golden State in three, billions in funding for veterans and homeless housing and whether to scrap Daylight Saving Time.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Along with a list of highly anticipated congressional races with national implications, California’s loaded November ballot will feature a dozen statewide ballot measures where voters decide the fate of a $52 billion transportation tax, a peculiar plan to split the Golden State in three, billions in funding for veterans and homeless housing and whether to scrap Daylight Saving Time.

Over 100 years after Gov. Hiram Johnson and his fellow reformers poured the foundation for direct democracy, ballot initiatives continue to play a major role in California politics. Johnson wanted to break up the railroad companies’ dominating sway over the state Legislature in the early 20th century by allowing voters to propose their own laws and recall corrupt lawmakers.

Over the decades, California voters have used the initiative process to decide on a parade of far-reaching measures with financial, political and social impacts. Voters froze skyrocketing property taxes in 1978, passed term limits for state senators in 1990, approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2008 and cleared recreational marijuana use in 2016.

Today, residents or advocacy groups willing to pay a $2,000 filing fee can still write their own proposed laws and attempt to drum up enough voter support to land them on the ballot.

This November’s ballot will include at least 12 propositions: nine from voters and three by the Legislature.

Gas tax

Armed with a dominating two-thirds majority in both state chambers, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown introduced a $52 billion fix for the state’s crumbling roads and highways in March 2017.

“This is like fixing the roof on your house: If you don’t fix the leak your furniture will be ruined, your rug will be destroyed, the wood will rot,” Brown said of the package known as the “gas tax.”

One week later the Legislature cleared the proposal, raising state’s gas tax by 12 cents to 30 cents per gallon and hiking vehicle registration fees.

Brown and state Democrats hailed the legislation as the savior for California’s crumbling infrastructure. Republicans, however, have used it as a rallying cry.

The minority party sponsored the successful recall this month of a Southern California Democrat who voted for the gas tax in the state Senate and replaced him with a Republican. Gas tax opponents, including Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, argue Brown’s legislation was rushed through the Legislature without much public input.

“This is a message to the millions of forgotten Californians ignored by the Sacramento political elite, help is on the way,” Cox said after the repeal effort qualified for the November ballot.

If voters approve the measure, the state would have to scrap the contentious gas tax and find a way to replace the estimated $5 billion in annual transportation funding generated by the package.

Cox and the Republican authors will face a stern opponent in Gov. Brown, who still has millions of dollars left in his campaign war chest and nothing else to spend them on since the 80-year-old is termed out this year.

“This flawed and dangerous measure pushed by Trump’s Washington allies jeopardizes the safety of millions of Californians by stopping local communities from fixing their crumbling roads and bridges. Just say no,” Brown tweeted.

Three Californias?


Thanks to a billionaire Silicon Valley investor, frustrated Californians will have the chance to split the Golden State in three states.

Under entrepreneur Timothy Draper’s initiative, the world’s fifth largest economy would be sliced into Northern California, Southern California and California.

Draper, who founded the tech company involved in the success of Hotmail and Skype, wants voters to start the long secession process that would include adding two new states to the union, altering the Electoral College map and somehow dividing up the current state’s debt and assets, such as the University of California.

The measure would have to clear a string of hurdles before the Golden State split could occur.

Congress would have to approve the “Cal-3” plan and agree to add four new U.S. senators, a risky move the party in power at the time may not be willing to take. And California as it is now contributes more to the federal government’s bottom line than any other state by a wide margin.

Then there’s the issue of creating three new state governments and at least two new capitals – not to mention the slew of legal challenges Draper’s plan would surely face.

If ultimately successful, the nation would see a state split for the first since the Civil War when West Virginia broke from Virginia in 1863.

Housing help

With a statewide supply shortage and exorbitant housing costs, it’s no surprise California’s homeless population is skyrocketing. In four months, voters will have the chance to spur affordable housing for the homeless and veterans through a pair of measures placed on the ballot by the Legislature and Brown.

The first initiative proposes $4 billion toward housing programs along with home loan relief for veterans, while the No Place Like Home Act of 2018 would issue $2 billion for homelessness housing and other programs. The housing relief would be funded through new bonds.

A third housing-related proposal would allow California cities to pass new or stricter rent control laws. Over a dozen cities currently have some form of rent control, but most were crafted before a 1995 law which placed limits on local rent control. The initiative would repeal the law known as Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.

A recent legislative analyst report said the measure should be a boon for tenants but the impact on property values would vary depending on whether or not cities adopted rent control policies.

The final housing initiative would create a tax break for homeowners over the age of 55 or disabled, allowing them to sell their homes and transfer their property tax rate to their new residences. Sponsored by the California Association of Realtors, advocates hope the tax break will encourage older residents to move out of larger homes they no longer need and open up neighborhoods for younger families. Opponents warn that the measure isn’t a real housing solution as it doesn’t address supply and could result in less property tax revenue for local governments.

Daylight Saving Time

Over the last two legislative sessions, San Jose Assemblyman Kansen Chu sought to nix the practice of moving clocks backward and forward in the spring and fall but came up just short in the Legislature. Chu finally pushed through as on Thursday, Brown signed his bill to give voters the chance to repeal the Daylight Saving Time Act.

“We started this practice to conserve energy during wartime, but studies show that this is no longer the case. We are no longer saving energy, and studies have shown this practice increases risk of heart attacks, traffic accidents and crimes,” Chu said of eliminating the practice of springing forward and falling back.

Passing muster with voters is only one of the several hoops Chu’s effort needs to successfully clear before become law. If voters approve, it must pass the California Legislature by a supermajority and receive approval from Congress.

Mixed bag

The remaining handful of initiatives include a $8.9 billion bond for water storage and drinking projects, a $1.5 billion bond for renovations and upgrades at children’s hospitals, a requirement that ambulance workers stay on call during lunch breaks, increased minimum cage space for farm animals like pigs and chickens and limits on how much outpatient dialysis clinics can charge for services.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.