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State's Voters Face Longest List of Issues in 66 Years : Nov. 8 Ballot to Carry Maze of 29 Propositions

July 07, 1988|JERRY GILLAM and LEO C. WOLINSKY | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — California voters on Nov. 8 will be confronted by the longest list of ballot propositions in 66 years--a complex maze of at least 29 measures, Secretary of State March Fong Eu announced on Wednesday.

The ballot measures will include five initiatives that backers say would reduce escalating automobile insurance rates, $3.3 billion in bonds for various capital outlay projects and a 25-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase. The money would be used for a variety of purposes including health education and health care.

Also on the statewide ballot will be a measure to restore state funds for a worker-safety inspection program, two AIDS-related propositions and a proposal to give the governor authority to revoke the parole of convicted murderers.

Among the 29 propositions to be decided in the November general election are 12 initiatives, which are placed on the ballot after supporters submit petitions bearing the required number of signatures of registered voters.

As the ballot stands now, it will be the third longest in state history and the biggest since 1922, when there were 30 propositions, including 11 initiatives. The longest ballot in state history was in 1914, when voters were asked to act on 48 propositions, including 17 initiatives.

The initiative process was set in motion by voters in 1911 under reform-minded Gov. Hiram Johnson.

Two Others Possible

Still floating around the Legislature with a chance to make the November ballot after the lawmakers' July recess are a proposed $100-million toxic clean-up bond issue and two measures aimed at boosting the state gasoline tax to help pay for highway improvements and maintenance.

The huge number and diversity of ballot measures reflect, in large part, the Legislature's seeming paralysis in dealing with complex issues that affect not only many millions of people but powerful special-interest groups. These interest groups, in effect, have battled each other to a stalemate in the Legislature.

That is particularly true this year in the case of the five insurance initiatives. Although each is billed as an answer to the problem of obtaining fairly priced coverage, their sponsors also see the measures as ways of bludgeoning their political enemies.

The insurance industry, for example, is backing two measures that would establish a no-fault system and reduce attorney contingency fees. Meanwhile, groups allied more closely to trial lawyers are sponsoring initiatives to lower insurance rates and step up regulation of the insurance industry.

All of these measures have been before the Legislature in one form or another but died because of strong opposition by these same rival interests.

Often Powerless

Legislative leaders have acknowledged in recent years that they are often powerless to reach a consensus in the absence of agreement by these industry groups.

A rare exception to the stalemate occurred last year when the trial lawyers, insurers and physician representatives agreed in a private meeting to revamp the state's complex civil liability system. Although similar legislative efforts had died year after year, lawmakers on the last night of the legislative session approved the private agreement without making any changes.

More often, however, these special-interest groups are unable to reach a consensus and see the initiative process as a means of bypassing the Legislature.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), frustrated with the turn of events, is actively seeking modifications of the initiative process, including banning paid signature gatherers, and requiring additional signatures to qualify measures and higher percentages of votes to pass them.

The initiative process has become "an opportunity for special-interest groups to manipulate public opinion," Brown said.

'We're All Frustrated'

Other lawmakers said the growth in the number of initiatives shows that the public lacks faith in its elected leaders.

"We're all frustrated because we think the legislative process has stagnated," Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-Los Banos), one of five Assembly Democrats who have been challenging Brown's leadership, said recently. "We don't think it's responding to critical areas like affordable insurance, access to health care and many others. That's why there are so many initiatives on the ballot."

The five automobile insurance measures will be:

- Proposition 100 to require a 20% minimum reduction in good-driver rates unless companies can prove that they are financially unable to provide the reductions. The measure is sponsored by the California Trial Lawyers Assn. and state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp.

- Proposition 101 to reduce auto insurance premiums for bodily injury liability coverage and impose other rate-cutting practices. Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) and Harry Miller, chief of Coastal Insurance Co., are the chief proponents.

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