Voters to make choices on five state propositions

by E.J. Schultz, Fresno Bee

From making a major change to the state’s election system to tweaking a property tax law, voters will face proposition decisions big and small on the June 8 primary ballot.

The number of measures — five — is about average for a primary election when turnout is usually lower.

Come November, though, ballots are likely to be a lot bigger: Three measures have already qualified for the general election, including one to legalize pot and another to spend $11 billion on water projects. Plenty more could still qualify, including measures that would create new vehicle license fees to pay for state parks, repeal recently approved corporate tax benefits and suspend the state’s new global warming law.

Of course, the total number is not likely to be anywhere close to the record high, set in 1914, when voters considered a whopping 48 measures.

Here’s a quick look at the five June propositions. The Bee will provide more complete analysis of each measure in the days to come.

Proposition 13

Makes a minor change to the state constitution to ensure that seismic upgrades to buildings do not trigger a reassessment of property tax values. Similar earthquake safety exclusions exist today. However, the exemption for buildings made of brick and cement block lasts only for 15 years.

Prop. 13 would remove that time limit. The loss of local property taxes is minor, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. The Legislature put the measure on the ballot with a unanimous vote.

Supporters: State Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield; Board of Equalization Member Barbara Alby.

Opposition: Nothing significant.

Proposition 14

Changes California primary elections by advancing the top two vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Starting in 2011, voters could choose any candidate on the ballot and candidates would not have to specify party affiliation. As a result, it’s possible two members of the same party could appear on the general election ballot.

Today, registered Democrats and Republicans can only vote for candidates in their own party, while decline-to-state voters can request either party’s ballot — although the political parties control such rules and can change them.

Supporters: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

Opposition: The state Democratic and Republican parties, as well as third parties.

Proposition 15

Lifts the state ban on public funding of political campaigns and creates a voluntary pilot program for secretary of state elections funded by increased fees on lobbyists.

Major party candidates would get $1 million for the primary and up to $4 million to match spending by nonparticipating candidates. In the general election, candidates start with $1.3 million plus up to a $5.2 million match. To participate, candidates must first collect a minimum number of $5 donations and agree to other stipulations, such as participating in debates.

Supporters: AARP, California Nurses Association.

Opposition: Institute of Governmental Advocates, a lobbyist association; California Manufacturers and Technology Association.

Proposition 16

Requires local governments seeking to provide electricity service to get approval of two-thirds of the voters in the targeted area.

Also, before expanding into a new area, these publicly owned utilities must get two-thirds approval from existing customers and residents in the targeted area. Expansion now generally requires a simple majority approval in targeted area.

The measure is being funded by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a for-profit utility owned by private investors.

Supporters: Pacific Gas & Electric Co., California Chamber of Commerce.

Opposition: Consumer Federation of California, AARP, Clovis Chamber of Commerce.

Proposition 17

Permits automobile insurance companies to offer discounts to new customers who have no lapses in coverage. Generally, the eligible customers must have coverage that has not lapsed for more than 90 days in the past five years.

Opponents say the measure could potentially lead to higher rates for customers who don’t qualify. The measure is being funded by Mercury Insurance Group.

Supporters: Mercury Insurance Group, Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

Opposition: Consumers Union, California Federation of Teachers.