- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2020

This was supposed to be the year that California Democrats finally took out two of their least favorite citizens’ initiatives, Propositions 13 and 209, but the citizens are proving less than cooperative.

Proposition 16, which would repeal Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure banning affirmative action in government, was trailing by 38% to 49% in a Berkeley IGS survey Monday despite a spending advantage of 20-to-1.

Proposition 15, a “split roll” proposal that would gut California’s 1978 tax revolt measure Proposition 13, was leading 49% to 42% in the Berkeley survey, which may not be good enough on Election Day.

“Unfortunately, for the proponents of these measures, ballot initiatives that register less than 50% support in the weeks before an election rarely win in California politics,” said Thad Kousser, chairman of the University of California, San Diego, political science department.

He cited his research and that of other analysts showing that “most ballot measures drop in the polls as the campaign nears Election Day.”

Such are the frustrations of California Democrats, whose dominance of state politics and policy can be foiled by an unpredictable electorate via the initiative process.

Proposition 16, which the state Legislature referred to the ballot, was predicted to win easily, buoyed by momentum from the Black Lives Matter movement and increasing support on the left for affirmative action.

“I’ve been surprised, given California’s demographic changes and the strong consensus on social justice this year, the Prop. 16 has done so poorly,” Mr. Kousser said.

Proposition 16’s supporters include a who’s who of state and national liberals, including Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, and Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Global Network whom Ms. Cullors described in a 2015 interview as “trained Marxists.”

“Yes on Prop 16 takes on discrimination in California public contracts, employment and education and restores an improved affirmative action so women and people of color can compete on equal footing,” says a Yes on 16 ad. “Level the playing field for women and people of color in California.”

Proponents have raised about $20 million, according to Ballotpedia, versus about $1 million for the No on 16 campaign. Yet the lopsided fundraising has failed to move the needle on public sentiment.

“The more the yes campaign is spending, the worse they’re doing,” said Manny Klausner, vice chairman of No on 16 and co-founder of the Reason Foundation. “The message against it isn’t appealing to most people unless they’re really hard-core progressives and the state can do no wrong. It rubs people the wrong way to hear that you’ve got to categorize people based on their race or their gender.”

The fundraising fight is more evenly matched with Proposition 15, which would not repeal Proposition 13 but would “drive a hatchet into its heart,” said Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association spokeswoman Susan Shelley.

Proposition 15 would amend the state constitution to tax commercial and industrial properties based on their market value instead of their purchase price as required under the tax-cutting measure Proposition 13.

Residential properties would remain under the Proposition 13 umbrella, as would small businesses and agricultural land — hence the “split roll” — but taxing commercial holdings at a higher rate would bring in an estimated $8 billion to $12.5 billion per year, 40% of which would be designated for schools.

Supporters include former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Ms. Harris, along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a plethora of labor and liberal groups.

“A corporate tax loophole has allowed billions to be drained from our public schools and local communities. No more,” Ms. Harris says in an ad from Schools and Communities First, the Yes on 15 campaign.

The opposition, which includes the California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau and California Business Roundtable, argue that the measure’s passage would represent “the biggest property tax increase in the history of California.”

Ms. Shelley said the measure would harm small businesses by forcing malls, office buildings and other property owners to raise rents on their tenants. She described it as economically disastrous for a state already hobbled by the coronavirus shutdown.

“It would crush small businesses, and it’s not great for big businesses,” said Ms. Shelley. “It’s going to raise the price of food. It’s going to be brutal on the cost of living in California, which already has the highest poverty rate in the United States. It’s a catastrophe.”

While Democratic legislators seek to upend Propositions 13 and 209, other initiatives on the November ballot take aim at the Legislature’s recent left-tilting laws on criminal justice, cash bail and reducing the prison population.

Proposition 20 would toughen laws by reimposing limits on offenders eligible for parole and felony sentences for crimes reduced to misdemeanors. Proposition 25 would repeal Senate Bill 10, the 2018 legislation that ended cash bail and replaced it with a system evaluating a defendant’s flight risk.

Proposition 22 would override Assembly Bill 5, which restricted the use of independent contractors in favor of full-time employees, by again allowing “app-based drivers” to be independent contractors.

Yes on Proposition 22 has raised nearly $200 million primarily from Uber, Lyft and Door Dash, about 10 times more than the No on 22 campaign funded by labor groups, which have advocated for the drivers to be unionized. The measure led by 46% to 42% in the Berkeley IGS poll Monday.

Analysts are watching to see whether voters will side with or defy the increasingly liberal legislature.

IGS co-director Eric Schickler said that “the fates of Propositions 15 and 22 will be important signals of whether the state’s Democrats can translate their electoral advantage into substantive policy changes in taxes and corporate governance.”

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