A Key Reason Initiatives Will Only Be on the November Ballot

All initiatives will now only appear on the general election under legislation signed Oct. 7 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

But the main reason the Democratic governor signed the bill is to move a proposed spending limit from the June 2012 primary to the November 2014.

The measure, ACA 4, was part of the compromise that led to resolution – a record 100 days into the fiscal year – of last year’s budget fight.

Among its requirements is an annual payment into the state’s “rainy day fund” equaling 3 percent of the general fund, about $2.6 billion this fiscal year. 

Having to make that payment had the initiative been approved would have put brown in an awkward practical and political position – increase cuts to public schools, universities and safety net programs in order to sock away money in a savings account.

The strictures of ACA 4 “combined with today’s historically low revenues caused by the recession, would divert billions of dollars into a reserve fund while the state still has a structural deficit. The result would be to abruptly increase the state’s budget shortfall,” Brown wrote in a five-paragraph signing message.

“There’s no question that setting aside reserves for a rainy day is prudent. But families can’t put money into a savings account when they can’t pay their bills and neither should the state.”

From the creation of the initiative process in 1911 until 1970, when Brown was elected Secretary of State, initiatives were placed before voters either at November general elections or a special election called by the governor.

Brown put an initiative on the June 1972 ballot and the practice has continued ever since.

Brown says in his signing message that the bill – SB 202 by Sen. Loni Hancock, a Berkeley Democrat – “restores the original understanding of constitutional law” regarding when initiatives should be placed before voters.

State courts have never ruled on the constitutionality of initiatives appearing on the June ballot.

The question is raised, a Senate analysis of Hancock’s bill notes, in a footnote of a dissent in the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Brosnahan v. Eu in which plaintiffs tried to block placement of “The Victims Bill of Rights” initiative on the June 1982 ballot:

“An additional issue, not raised by parties here, apparently has never been resolved by this court.  The constitution requires that initiative and referendum measures be submitted to the voters “at the next general election” after the measures qualify, or at a special election called by the governor.

“The Elections Code defines a general election as “the election held throughout the state on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in each even-numbered year.” A special election is an election the timing of which is not otherwise prescribed by law. The election scheduled for June of 1982 is a regularly scheduled “direct primary” — not a special election or a general election. 

“Thus, the constitutionality of submitting an initiative to the voters at a June primary election would appear to be an open question.”

The author of the dissent was Chief Justice Rose Bird who Brown appointed to the court in 1978 during his first iteration as governor.





1 Comment »

  1. It will interesting to see if any Republicans will put a vote on any deal that contains actions in the future, now that the Democrats have reneged on their promise. While the measure would have been difficult for the Governor to balance the budget, a deal is a deal unless 41 votes and the Governor cancel the deal.
    I guess the Governor now can understand why the Senate Republicans balked at the deal he was trying to sell.

    Comment by Management Slug — 10.08.2011 @ 10:15 am

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