Proposition 13: Seismic retrofitting
This year's Proposition 13 - as opposed to the property-tax-capping original Proposition 13 enacted in 1978 - has provoked little interest among taxpayers, and has no organized opposition. Designed to rectify an inequity in how earthquake-retrofitted buildings are assessed for tax purposes, it requires a change to the state constitution and therefore requires voter approval.
Under current law, for most types of buildings that undergo seismic upgrades, the value of the retrofitting construction is excluded from reassessment for an unlimited time period. But if an unreinforced masonry building undergoes seismic retrofitting, the value of that construction is excluded from reassessment only for 15 years.
If approved by voters, Proposition 13 would replace both of these exclusions with one that applies to all earthquake-safety upgrades, regardless of what type of building is being shored up, with no time limit.
PRO: Supporters say passage of this amendment "promotes equity and fairness among taxpayers by eliminating the unequal treatment of different types of property which undergo seismic safety improvements." They also say it will eliminate a disincentive for owners to upgrade unreinforced masonry buildings.
CON: There is no organized opposition to this amendment. No argument against it was submitted for publication in the state voter guide.
ANALYSIS: This proposition is essentially a cleanup measure designed to put retrofitting of unreinforced masonry buildings on the same footing with upgrades of other buildings for tax assessment purposes.
Proposition 14: Open primaries
Proposition 14 would transform the way we elect candidates to political office, creating what's known as an "open" - or "top-two" - primary system. All candidates, regardless of party, would be lumped together for the primary vote, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election.
Currently, our state's elections are partisan, meaning candidates vie for their party's nomination in the primary and then take on other parties' standard-bearers in the fall. Races for the governor's office, the Legislature and Congress would all be affected if Proposition 14 passes. The Legislature placed the measure on the ballot as part of a tax-hike bargain in 2009 with politically moderate then-Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria.
PRO: Backers say Proposition 14 would bridge the partisan divide in Sacramento and herald an era of reform by forcing candidates to tack to the political center and not the extremes. Supporters include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Chamber of Commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a consortium of high-tech CEOs.
CON: Opponents say third parties would be muzzled, that all parties have the right to choose their own nominees and that choices will be narrowed in districts gerrymandered to favor one major party over the other. Opponents include Ralph Nader, the state Republican and Democratic parties, GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
ANALYSIS: Proposition 14's supporters have deep pockets, raising nearly $1 million so far from tech CEOs, health insurers, a committee affiliated with the governor and others. A Public Policy Institute of California poll in March showed a majority of likely voters (56 percent) supported the measure.
Proposition 15: California fair elections act
Proposition 15 would let California secretary of state candidates who demonstrate broad support by gathering a certain number of $5 contributions from registered voters, receive equal amounts of public funds for their campaigns in 2014 and 2018. Candidates who accept this money would then be barred from raising any more from private donors. The public funds would come from an increase in the registration fees that professional lobbyists pay, from $12.50 per year to $350 per year. The measure was placed on the ballot with a 2008 bill written by then- Assemblywoman and now state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley.
PRO: Supporters, including the League of Women Voters, California Common Cause and the AARP say this is an important first step toward removing the corrosive power of big money from politics, so elected officials can spend less time fundraising and more time doing their jobs, and candidates can run on ideas and experience rather than cash.
CON: Opponents, including a lobbyist trade group, the California Senior Advocates League and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, say politicians shouldn't get public money to sling mud, and that the immediate fee increase for lobbyists could later be followed by a state-budget drain if public financing is expanded to other elections.
ANALYSIS: At least one early poll showed solid support for the measure, but it's flying mostly beneath the radar without big spending. A judge in March ruled that opponents' claim that this would "raise your taxes" be removed from their ballot pamphlet arguments, as lobbyists are the only ones paying for this pilot program. Lobbyist registration fees would go from among the nation's lowest to among the highest.
Proposition 16: Local public electricity act
Proposition 16 would require two-thirds approval from voters before cities or counties could choose an alternate energy provider. A yes vote on the measure means local governments would generally be required to receive voter approval before they could start up electricity services or expand electricity service into a new territory; a no vote means local governments generally could continue to implement proposals involving the startup or expansion of electricity service, either through approval by a simple majority of voters or actions by their governing boards.
PRO: The measure is largely bankrolled by PG&E, which has spent at least $28.5 million in support of the measure, according to documents on the California Secretary of State's website. The utility has framed the issue as one of good governance, saying it wants to guarantee that taxpayers have a voice if elected officials decide to spend public dollars on the often-volatile energy market. Supporters include the California Taxpayers' Association and the California Chamber of Commerce.
CON: Opponents say Proposition 16 is a power-grab by PG&E and an effort to sabotage efforts by local communities that want to buy their power from other sources. The initiative also would affect existing local utilities such as Palo Alto's and Silicon Valley Power in Santa Clara because voter approval would be required to expand their service areas. The AARP, the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters are among the groups opposed.
ANALYSIS: With PG&E's sizable war chest and anti-government sentiment among Republican primary voters high, there's a sense that Proposition 16 could pass. Though opposition is widespread, opponents don't have the money to match PG&E's TV ads.
Proposition 17: Auto insurance discount act
Funded by Mercury Insurance, Proposition 17 would allow drivers who have not had a lapse of coverage of more than 90 days for the previous five years to retain their continuous coverage discount with a new insurer. Typically, drivers are charged $250 surcharges for changing companies. But the measure would also allow insurance companies to charge surcharges to those drivers who haven't had continuous coverage.
PRO: Proponents, which include Mercury Insurance and the state Chamber of Commerce, argue that the initiative will increase competition, which will lower rates and result in reduced premiums, while providing California drivers with more options and choices in their insurance coverage. The initiative will reward the 80 percent of drivers who maintain auto insurance as required by law by allowing them to shop around while keeping their continuous coverage discount.
CON: Opponents, including Harvey Rosenfield, the author of Proposition 103, and Consumer Watchdog founder, say the impact of Proposition 17 would devastate low-income Californians and push many out of the market because of potentially significant surcharges.
ANALYSIS: The ballot measure endured several battles - including one decided in court - over how the summary and title would be written. Ultimately, it included the fact that some drivers would face surcharges, a huge win for opponents. The fact that Mercury Insurance has been the sole underwriter so far could make it a tough sell to voters skeptical of insurance companies' motives. Opponents, though, must fight it on a shoestring budget.