In California, as in 23 other states, voters get to decide not only the fate of candidates, but of proposed new laws or amendments to the state Constitution. Since 1911, when reform-minded Gov. Hiram Johnson blessed the direct initiative process as a way to bust up the old political machine, 1,074 propositions have been attempted. Less than one-third have made it to the ballot.
To win a spot on the ballot, petitions for new laws must be signed by 5% of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election, and those for constitutional amendments must be signed by 8%. In eight decades, everything from daylight-saving time to beach access to animal rights has been decided by direct initiative. Although the use of the process is on the upswing, these days voters are mostly deciding to just say no. In the 1990 election, voters rejected all but six of 28 ballot measures. Here is a look at the Nov. 3 lineup, which includes questions on funding school repairs, welfare spending, health care and even death and taxes, which, if you believe Benjamin Franklin, are the only two things certain in life.
155 / SCHOOL BONDS
WHAT IT IS: This is a $900-million bond issue to build and modernize elementary and secondary schools.
ARGUMENTS FOR: Supporters of the measure say public school enrollments continue to soar, despite the recession. State officials estimate that enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade will increase from 5.2 million this fall to 7.2 million by 2001. Although voters approved a $1.9-billion school bond issue last June, that money has been committed and there is still a need for more than $6 billion. Slightly more than two-thirds of the $900 million raised by this bond issue would be spent on new construction, the rest on upgrading facilities. Proponents contend that the measure would provide needed new schools without new taxes.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Opponents dispute the claim these new schools would not require new taxes, noting taxpayers would have to pay $700 million in interest on the bonds over 20 years. They believe school districts should lease vacant commercial buildings instead of building schools. Opponents also support a "choice" plan that would provide vouchers or tax credits so parents could afford "more efficient private schools," thereby eliminating the need for as many public schools.
WHO SUPPORTS IT: Gov. Pete Wilson, state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, California Chamber of Commerce, Children NOW, California Taxpayers Assn., California Parent-Teacher Assn.
WHO OPPOSES IT: Libertarian Party of California and various individuals.
156 / PASSENGER RAIL AND CLEAN AIR
WHAT IT IS: Voters in 1990 approved expanding rail transportation in California, including urban transit, commuter rail service and intercity Amtrak trains. Among the projects to benefit are the Blue Line, the Green Line, a subway in the San Fernando Valley, Metrolink commuter trains throughout Southern California and train service to San Diego and Sacramento. To pay for this plan, voters approved $1 billion in bonds in 1990 and agreed to consider additional bond issues in 1992 and 1994. This bond measure would raise $1 billion.
ARGUMENTS FOR: Rail transportation will reduce traffic congestion, cut air pollution and provide jobs. Building new rail lines creates thousands of jobs and many more may result from developing an advanced transit industry in the state. If the measure fails, the state would have to reallocate $2 billion, much of it from highway improvement projects.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Expensive rail projects will cost millions to operate, and opponents say these bonds would cover only a fraction of construction costs.
WHO SUPPORTS IT: California Chamber of Commerce, Californians for Better Transportation, Children NOW, California Air Resources Board, California Assn. of Persons With Handicaps, railroads and the Sierra Club.
WHO OPPOSES IT: UCLA professor Martin Wachs, urban planner Ryan Snyder.
157 / TOLL ROADS AND HIGHWAYS
WHAT IT IS: State law permits the state Department of Transportation to contract with private firms to build and run four toll roads, three in Southern California and one in Northern California. Private companies would build the roads, lease them from the state and charge tolls to cover costs. At the end of the leases, Caltrans would take over the road. This measure would forbid the state from continuing to collect tolls after the leases expire, or after 35 years, whichever comes first. It allows the Legislature to override this ban with a two-thirds vote of each chamber. This is a proposed constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Legislature.
ARGUMENTS FOR: The amendment will ensure that California's highways remain freeways without tolls, once private companies turn them over to the state. Gasoline taxes and other levies should pay for these roads, just as they do for other public highways. Tolls should be used only to repay investors who build roads the state cannot afford to build.