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4 Ballot Items All But Ignored

Measures aim to guard local funds, widen DNA net, aid ailing kids and open government more.

October 22, 2004|Eric Slater | Times Staff Writer

One proposition on the state's Nov. 2 ballot seeks to curb the perennial problem of state government raiding local government coffers -- to the tune of an estimated $40 billion over the last 12 years -- while another would force people arrested in felony cases to turn over DNA samples, whether or not they were convicted on any charge.

In most other election years, these initiatives probably would be considered major proposals, prompting heated debate and garnering considerable media attention.

Instead, Propositions 1A and 69 have been all but invisible this year, drowned out by the big money and controversy surrounding proposals about Indian casinos and embryonic stem cell research.

A similar obscurity has enveloped two other ballot measures -- an initiative that would fundamentally change the state's open-meeting laws and an unusual bond measure to fund children's hospitals.

Since private money is not directly at stake in propositions 1A, 69, 59 and 61 -- unlike the gambling initiatives, for example, which have hundreds of millions of dollars riding on their outcomes -- supporters and opponents alike would have a difficult time raising funds in any election cycle, said Democratic political consultant Darry Sragow. They would have to count primarily on media coverage to get out their message, and several factors have limited that.

"You could argue that they're not receiving much press coverage this year because we're in a presidential cycle, not a gubernatorial cycle -- when gubernatorial candidates would be forced to take a position on them and comment on them," Sragow said. "And in addition to the better-funded propositions, they are lost compared with news in Iraq and the close presidential contest."

The measures have received so little attention that no recent public polls have been conducted to gauge their chances of success.

Local Financing

Supporters of Proposition 1A say it would eliminate a phenomenon that has confounded local and county governments for years: the right of the state to take local tax dollars whenever it needs more money for its own budget. Under the proposal, if the state finds itself in a pinch, it could still get funds from cities and counties, but it would have to pay the money back, with interest.

The initiative may have the broadest support of any on the ballot, with officials of cities and counties, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and both the state Republican and Democratic parties among those who favor its passage.

Carole Migden, chairwoman of the State Board of Equalization, is the only public figure to oppose the measure. By shielding local government money, the proposition would allow cities and counties to spend without adequate oversight, she says.

Supporters of Proposition 1A have struggled to make their case, because of its complex origins and the presence of another measure, Proposition 65, on the ballot.

Proposition 65, which would more strictly limit the state's ability to divert local tax revenues, was written by the League of California Cities before the league and Schwarzenegger reached the agreement that resulted in 1A.

The league and other early supporters of Proposition 65 have now disowned that measure and are urging voters to reject it and pass Proposition 1A.

"What's interesting about 1A is it's the most bipartisan measure on the state ballot," said pollster John Fairbank. "Unfortunately, it's not out there to a greater degree, to show that Democrats and Republicans and independents actually agree on something. It's too bad that a measure that will affect probably more voters than any other on the ballot is going be one of the last to be understood."

DNA Samples

Proposition 69 would require the state to take a DNA sample from every person arrested in a felony case -- and some who are arrested on certain non-felony charges -- and create a massive new databank in which to log the samples.

Currently, DNA samples are taken from felons convicted of certain offenses.

Bruce Harrington, a wealthy Newport Beach attorney and real estate developer, sponsored the measure and will spend up to $2 million of his own money on the effort, according to the campaign.

Harrington's brother and sister-in-law were murdered in 1980, and the crime remains unsolved. Harrington says he believes that the ballot measure might not only help find the killer, but could prevent other crimes by allowing police to more swiftly identify criminals, perhaps before they strike.

Schwarzenegger, California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and a host of law enforcement agencies and others support the measure, which would cost the state about $20 million a year.

The opposition ranges from the American Civil Liberties Union to former Rep. Bob Barr, a conservative Republican who heads the Privacy and Freedom Center. The state Democratic Party also opposes the measure.

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