Capitol Alert

How California’s top officials are voting on ballot measures

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks in his office at the Capitol on June 30.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks in his office at the Capitol on June 30. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

California voters will face the potentially daunting prospect of researching competing arguments behind 17 measures on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

Top elected officials have an even tougher task because they also must consider all of the political ramifications of staking out positions on the variety of measures. Fear of crossing a powerful institutional ally has led many over the years to keep their opinions to themselves.

The Sacramento Bee surveyed the partisan statewide officeholders, all Democrats, to see where they stand on Propositions 51 though 67.

Nearly all of the politicians surveyed came out against Proposition 53, by Stockton-area farmer and food processor Dean Cortopassi, which would require a public vote on revenue bonds of more than $2 billion. The constitutional amendment could threaten large projects, including those championed by Gov. Jerry Brown and fellow Democrats.

None of the officials is taking a stance on Proposition 60, which would require condoms for adult film actors.

Meantime, Controller Betty Yee is the lone constitutional officer to favor Proposition 54, a measure supported by wealthy GOP-benefactor Charles Munger Jr. that he and supporters believe would boost legislative transparency.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate behind measures for stricter gun control and to legalize recreational marijuana, offers the most stated positions thus far, weighing in on 14 of 17 measures and perhaps living up to his reputation as a risk taker. He is the only one to formally support legitimizing pot.

Treasurer John Chiang, another gubernatorial hopeful, limited his stated opinions to four initiatives, promising many more decisions in the coming months.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, running for U.S. Senate this year, has consistently declined to take positions on ballot measures because her office is responsible for writing official titles and summaries of initiatives.

Gov. Jerry Brown

Brown has positions on 5 of 17 measures.

Supports

▪ Proposition 57 (Changes parole rules for some nonviolent offenders)

“California’s prisons are under a court-ordered population cap, the prison population is expected to grow, and there are almost 5,000 inmates housed in out-of-state prisons. Without further action, the court will order the release of prisoners. This initiative – through its nonviolent parole and earned-credit provisions – will help ensure that any release of rehabilitated inmates is consistent with public safety.”

▪ Proposition 58 (Restores some bilingual education programs)

▪ Proposition 67 (A referendum to uphold or repeal a law restricting single-use plastic bags)

Brown favors upholding Senate Bill 270, which he signed, to phase out bags at grocery stores and other retailers.

“This bill is a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” he wrote in the original signing message. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

Opposes

▪ Proposition 51 (Authorizes $9 billion school construction bond)

“I am against the developers’ $9 billion bond. It’s a blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money that would be far better spent in low-income communities.”

▪ Proposition 53 (Revenue bonds)

“This is a really bad idea that would cause costly delays in repairing our roads, colleges and water systems and make it harder to respond to natural disasters.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

Newsom has positions on 14 of 17 measures.

Supports

▪ Proposition 51 (School construction bonds)

“The lack of equal opportunity in a student’s educational experience has serious consequences for both the individual student and our state’s economic future,” Newsom said in a statement. “We know that a strong, equitable public education system is a powerful factor in children’s lives, which is why I’m supporting the state school facility bond that ensures every district is able to access funds to create modern 21st-century schools.”

▪ Proposition 52 (Locks in a quality assurance fee on hospitals)

▪ Proposition 55 (Extends a temporary income tax on high-income filers)

▪ Proposition 56 (Increases the state tax on cigarettes by $2 a pack, to $2.87)

▪ Proposition 57 (Criminal justice)

▪ Proposition 58 (Bilingual education)

▪ Proposition 59 (Questions voters on “Citizens United” ruling)

▪ Proposition 62 (Replaces the death penalty with life in prison)

▪ Proposition 63 (Imposes new gun control restrictions)

“Enough massacres, death, tears, and hate – it’s time to take action and save lives. The Safety for All initiative gives California voters the opportunity to keep guns and ammo out of the hands of violent, dangerous, hateful people,” Newsom said.

▪ 64 (Legalizes recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older)

▪ 67 (Plastic bag referendum)

Newsom favors upholding Senate Bill 270.

Opposes

▪ Proposition 53 (Revenue bonds)

▪ Proposition 65 (Redirects revenue arising from state ban on plastic bags; see Proposition 67)

▪ Proposition 66 (Speeds up the death penalty appeal process)

Attorney General Kamala Harris

Harris, despite her policy of not taking positions on ballot measures, has in the past articulated positions on policy subjects implicated by the following measures:

▪ Proposition 57 (Criminal justice)

Harris helped pioneer several criminal justice reforms, most recently Back on Track LA, an expansion of the nationally recognized program she started in San Francisco. Back on Track LA connects inmates with an array of services in and out of custody, such as therapy, health care, child support, education and job-training skills, to help them become contributing members of society.

▪ Proposition 59 (Citizens United)

Harris has said the U.S. Supreme Court was wrong in its “Citizens United” ruling.

▪ Propositions 62 and 66 (Death penalty repeal and death penalty speed-up)

Harris has long been opposed to California’s death penalty.

▪ Proposition 63 (Ammunition restrictions)

Harris supports renewing the federal ban on assault weapons, and has said she backs taking more steps to bolster the state’s strict gun control laws.

▪ Proposition 64 (Recreational marijuana)

Calling the war on drugs a “failure,” Harris has said she is supportive of legalizing recreational marijuana, suggesting it’s inevitable given the current climate. Harris also has said she would push to downgrade marijuana’s classification as a federal controlled substance.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla

Padilla has positions on 8 of 17 measures.

Supports

▪ Proposition 52 (Hospital fees)

▪ Proposition 55 (Income tax increase)

▪ Proposition 56 (Tobacco tax)

▪ Proposition 58 (Bilingual education)

▪ Proposition 59 (Citizens United)

▪ Proposition 63 (Ammunition restrictions)

▪ Proposition 67 (Plastic bag referendum)

Padilla favors upholding Senate Bill 270, which he authored as a state senator.

Opposes

▪ Proposition 53 (Revenue bonds)

Controller Betty Yee

Yee has positions on 12 of 17 measures, and issued short statements on each one.

Supports

▪ Proposition 52 (Hospital fees)

“State savings would result from increased federal matching funds to offset state costs.”

▪ Proposition 54 (Prohibits votes on bills not in print for three days)

“This measure fosters more open, transparent government, a foundation for greater civic engagement and participation.”

▪ Proposition 55 (Income tax increase)

“California’s economy is expected to slow down within the next several years and thus will need the revenue generated pursuant to this measure to pay the state’s obligations, absent comprehensive tax reform and spending cuts.”

▪ Proposition 56 (Tobacco tax)

“The tax increase will result in a decline in tobacco consumption and long-term health care costs.”

▪ Proposition 57 (Criminal justice)

“Earlier parole for nonviolent offenders and giving judges more latitude not to try juveniles as adults are changes that make good policy and fiscal sense provided parolee services are funded and are available.”

▪ Proposition 58 (Bilingual education)

“The growing diversity of California and California’s prominence as a global economy call for multilingual education programs.”

▪ Proposition 59 (Citizens United)

“While an advisory measure, it will provide a gauge of voters’ sentiments about the role of money in politics that may spur official action on the matter.”

▪ Proposition 62 (Death penalty repeal)

“The death penalty is not a crime deterrent, is costly, and may result in wrongful executions. Eliminating the death penalty could make more resources available for violence prevention programs and victims’ services.”

▪ Proposition 63 (Ammunition restrictions)

“Although recently enacted legislation has imposed related restrictions, requiring the surrender of firearms by those convicted of serious crimes, requiring the reporting of ammunition theft, and making theft of all firearms a felony will strengthen public safety by better accounting for firearms and ammunition.”

▪ Proposition 67 (Plastic bag referendum)

Yee favors upholding Senate Bill 270.

“The plastic bag ban should be sustained to protect our environment: our parks, our beaches, and the health of our ocean.”

Opposes

▪ Proposition 53 (Revenue bonds)

“Requiring voter approval for all revenue bond projects over $2 billion (state and local) funded by users and ratepayers could result in delays and costly litigation.”

▪ Proposition 66 (Death penalty speed-up)

“I oppose the death penalty.”

Treasurer John Chiang

Chiang has positions on 4 of 17 measures. Chiang said though a spokesman that he expects to take positions on “many others” in the months to come. Chiang issued statements on some of the measures.

Supports

▪ Proposition 55 (Income tax increase)

“Funding for our schools was devastated during the Great Recession. As a result of a 2012 voter-approved tax increase on the state’s wealthy, schools have been receiving badly needed revenues to stabilize their finances and improve classroom performance. We need Proposition 55 to finish the recovery and keep the momentum going.”

▪ Proposition 59 (Citizens United)

“Many deep-pocketed special interest groups pour millions of dollars into electoral campaigns while hiding their anonymity behind shadow committees that aren’t required to identify their corporate sources. A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld a law that critics argue gives an unfair political advantage to mega donors. ... Proposition 59 is a means for California voters to protest the high court’s decision to give unlimited power to the wealthy under the guise of protecting free speech.”

▪ 63 (Ammunition restrictions)

“Proposition 63 strikes a common-sense balance between protecting law-abiding citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms with the general public’s interest in disarming criminals and restricting the availability of military assault weapons favored by foreign and domestic terrorists for their ability to quickly inflict heavy casualties. ... Too many people are dying in mass murders and daily criminal violence. This measure can save lives.”

Opposes

▪ 53 (Revenue bonds)

“The initiative is poorly worded, which could result in many unintended, negative consequences. Proposition 53 could adversely affect California’s credit rating and create difficulties for the state to issue revenue bonds to build roads, schools, sewage plants and other critical public works. The initiative contains a number of poorly defined sections that could imperil the state’s ability to save money by refinancing existing higher-cost debt. It also could tie the state’s hands if it needs to raise funds quickly in times of natural or man-made disaster.”

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones

Jones, a candidate for attorney general in 2018, has positions on 9 of 17 measures.

Supports

▪ Proposition 51 (School construction bonds)

▪ Proposition 52 (Hospital fees)

▪ Proposition 55 (Income tax increase)

▪ Proposition 56 (Tobacco tax)

▪ Proposition 57 (Criminal justice)

▪ Proposition 58 (Bilingual education)

▪ Proposition 59 (Citizens United)

▪ Proposition 62 (Death penalty repeal)

▪ Proposition 67 (Plastic bag referendum)

Jones favors upholding Senate Bill 270.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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