Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Tobacco tax poised to join California’s November ballot

A smoker indulges while sitting by the swimming pool in Wisconsin on August 20, 2010.
A smoker indulges while sitting by the swimming pool in Wisconsin on August 20, 2010.

Measure by measure, the November ballot continues to coalesce.

We’ve been anticipating a crowded initiative slate for a while now, though it’s always depended on which supporters get enough signatures. Injecting a little uncertainty has been the soaring price of signature-gathering and a certain interest group’s threat to stifle qualification drives by overpaying for those John Hancocks (which prompted some political maneuvering).

Such obstacles notwithstanding, the big-ticket items seem to be headed toward qualification. Already this month supporters of legalizing marijuana have said they have enough signatures, as have backers of extending taxes on top earners. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he submitted enough for his gun control initiative.

Today we get another one: a $2-a-pack tobacco tax backed by a coalition of healthcare and labor groups, as well as billionaire benefactor Tom Steyer. Proponents will declare they’ve crossed the threshhold during an 11 a.m. press conference outside the San Diego County Registrar of Voters office. A similar initiative failed last time in the teeth of massive tobacco industry opposition, but backers say this time they’ll be financially prepared given their better-funded coalition.

Other measures already certified to go before voters would require condom use in adult films, restrict the price of state drug purchases, determine the fate of a plastic bag ban, issue $9 billion in school construction bonds and threaten the controversial Delta water tunnels by mandating public votes for revenue bonds. Meanwhile, a legal challenge has bogged down Gov. Jerry Brown’s parole initiative.

VIDEO(S) OF THE DAY: Brown was on a roll Friday, offering a history lesson, explaining an Aesop’s fable, making no endorsement of a temporary tax increase, and painting (another) grim picture of California’s economic future.

HAPPY TRAILS: Hoping to keep track of the money across the many ballot initiative campaigns? Take our tool, The Money Trail, for a test drive.

INSURED: In a major victory for immigrant advocates, today marks the first day that children in the country illegally will get access to full-scope Medi-Cal benefits. It’ll cost the general fund an estimated $188.2 million through June 2017, with 185,000 children getting benefits. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Los Angeles, and several other lawmakers and advocates will mark the occasion with a 11:30 a.m. press conference on the north steps. Health advocates will also be lobbying for a Lara measure allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase insurance through the Covered California insurance exchange.

RAVEL PLANS: Are you interested in federal campaign finance law or curious about what the Bee’s newsroom looks like? You’re in luck! Federal Election Commission member Ann Ravel, who also enjoyed a record-breaking tenure atop California’s political money watchdog, will be speaking with the estimable Bee Editorial Board head Dan Morain at 2100 Q Street starting at 6 p.m. this evening. You can get a ticket here.

BUDGETING TIME: Things are quiet in legislative committees today, but the various budget subcommittees have their hands full reviewing Brown’s new proposal. You can read more here about Brown’s cautious proposal informed by reduced revenues and fear of an impending downturn, helpfully illustrated with a children’s fable.

EQUALIZER: The LGBT organization Equality California holds its lobby day today, providing the latest opportunity to contrast California with other states. Advocates will be speaking in support of a measure to make single-stall bathrooms all-gender, which legislators specifically framed as a break with states like North Carolina, and a bill banning travel to states with discriminatory laws. Expected to attend a 10:45 a.m. rally on the south steps are openly gay lawmakers including Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Assembly members Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and Evan Low, D-Campbell.

I LIKE BIKE: Despite the risk of painful run-ins, many Sacramentans get around by bike (including this author). Today California Department of Public Health Director Karen Smith will celebrate a privately funded bikeshare program giving state employees access to two-wheeled transportation, with at least 50 employees planning to embark for a bike ride around the Capitol following a 1 p.m. conference in the rose garden.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert