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Lawmakers' terms and casino pacts on ballot

Voters will decide on seven propositions on Feb. 5, including funding for community colleges.

December 09, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Although the presidential primary is the main attraction on the Feb. 5 ballot, Californians will also decide on seven statewide propositions, including one that would give many sitting lawmakers more time in office and four that could nullify Indian gambling compacts passed this year by the Legislature.

Voters are also being asked to decide whether community college fees should be reduced and the schools guaranteed a certain share of the state budget.

There are some strange twists. One measure is now opposed by the groups that put it on the ballot, another won support from a union that is now intent on its defeat and a third has been endorsed by one teachers union but opposed by another.

There have also been charges of trickery, collusion and betrayal -- and that's just on the measure to change term limits. Proposition 93, listed on the ballot as "Limits on Legislators' Terms in Office," has generated rancorous debate.

The measure would shorten the overall number of years someone could serve in the Legislature from 14 to 12 but allow all those years to be served in either the Assembly or the state Senate. Existing law limits legislators to three terms, or six years, in the Assembly and two terms, or eight years, in the Senate.

The measure would allow 34 sitting lawmakers who would otherwise be forced out by term limits next year to run for reelection. Included are Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), who could serve six additional years, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), who could serve four more.

The measure's opponents, led by state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, say the ballot title and campaign are misleading, written and sold by supporters as an opportunity to impose stricter term limits.

"Proposition 93 is a trick," Poizner said. "It's intentionally designed to fool the people into thinking they are voting to reduce terms for state legislators when it actually contains a special loophole to give . . . termed-out incumbent politicians more time in office."

Proponents of the measure, including Nunez, said it would give lawmakers time to gain experience and focus on policy rather than on looking for another job.

"We now have a Legislature with a very short-term memory because we are constantly thinking of what we are going to run for next the moment we get elected," Nunez said.

Richard Stapler, a spokesman for proponents, said the measure would bring more continuity and stability to policymaking: "Proposition 93 is designed to provide a balance between the need for fresh ideas and the need to retain the experienced lawmakers who can solve California's problems."

The campaign for Proposition 93 has raised about $4.5 million, much of it from interests who regularly have business before the Legislature. Contributions include $500,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; $250,000 from a California Teachers Assn. political action committee; $200,000 from the California State Council of Service Employees political action committee; and $100,000 each from Chevron Corp. and the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

After initially giving $100,000 to the campaign for the term limits measure, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. changed positions and gave $1 million to the opposing side. Ryan Sherman, a spokesman for the union, said his group felt betrayed when it was not consulted by legislative leaders before they approved a plan to build more prisons in a way that Sherman said would not solve crowding and staffing problems.

"If this is the type of leadership we are going to get, its not in our members' interest to extend their terms," Sherman said.

Opponents have raised about $4.2 million, including $1.5 million from a Virginia nonprofit called U.S. Term Limits Inc. and $1.5 million from Poizner.

Those totals pale in comparison to the amount being spent on four measures involving Indian gambling casinos. The four tribes that could be affected by Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 have put more than $30 million combined into the campaign for approval and say they will spend $10 million more in coming days.

The measures were put on the ballot by opponents of the four compacts. If a majority of voters say no, the Legislature's approval of the compacts will be rescinded.

The deals, which the Schwarzenegger administration forged with the tribes last year, allow the groups in Riverside and San Diego counties to add 17,000 slot machines to the 8,000 they currently operate. In turn, the tribes agreed to pay the state 15% to 25% of the profits from the additional machines.

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