As it stands, the 2024 California ballot would be, as the old saying goes, “déjà vu all over again.”
Nine measures have qualified for the ballot: two constitutional amendments for the March primary election, and five initiatives and two referenda for the November general election. All are replays of polarizing ideological issues.
The two March measures, both placed on the ballot by the Democrat-dominated state Legislature, typify the trend of refighting old battles. One would repeal a 2008 ballot measure, passed by a 52% vote, that prohibited same-sex marriages but was later voided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The other would repeal a constitutional mandate known as Article 34, passed by voters in 1950, that requires voter approval for low-income housing projects.
The two referenda are by their nature replays of previous clashes, both backed by business interests seeking to overturn recent legislative efforts to impose more state regulation on their operations, and both are likely to spark multimillion-dollar campaigns.
One, sponsored by the fast food industry, would erase a 2022 union-sponsored bill that would create a 10-member Fast Food Council to regulate wages and working conditions in fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King.
Ideological Clashes Abound
The five initiatives so far qualified for the ballot are also reruns of ideological clashes – three sponsored by those on the political left and two by conservative business interests, to wit:
- Michael Weinstein, who runs the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has spent millions of dollars on two previous ballot measures that would remove long-standing legal barriers on local rent control laws, both of which failed badly. Weinstein hopes the third time will be the charm, but rental property owners are ready to spend tens of millions of dollars to oppose his latest effort.
- Commercial real estate interests, meanwhile, are part of a coalition, led by the California Business Roundtable, to pass a new constitutional amendment that would require voter approval of any new state and local taxes or tax-like fees. It’s needed, they say, to bolster California tax limitation laws that have been eroded by judicial decisions and sets up a high-stakes clash pitting business against local government officials and public employee unions.
- Although California voters have in recent years rejected efforts to hike property and income taxes, another 2024 measure would increase the marginal tax rate on incomes of $5 million or more by .75% to finance research on detection of pandemic diseases. The bulk of the money to qualify the measure came from a fund created by cryptocurrency guru Sam Bankman Fried, who is facing federal fraud charges.
- In 2003, the Legislature passed the Private Attorney Generals Act, making it easier for workers to sue their employers for violations of state wage and working condition laws. It was a big win for unions but employers claim it has been used to shake them down. After two decades of legal skirmishing, business groups qualified a measure for the 2024 ballot to repeal the law, setting up another high-dollar clash.
- Another employer-union skirmish looms in a labor-backed measure to raise California’s minimum wage, now $15 an hour, to $18 over several years with upward adjustments for inflation thereafter. Proponents say it would create a living wage needed to cope with inflation while opponents say it will discourage employers from creating jobs.
While more 2024 initiatives or referenda are unlikely, when the Legislature returns from its summer vacation it probably will approve some bond issues that would require voter approval.
About the Author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.
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