Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

Initiative "Reform" Builds a Playground for the Rich

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California's initiative process could be improved in any number of ways.

It's too costly. Access is limited to the rich. The process is also inflexible, with the legislature unable to amend or update initiatives to fit them with the budget or reconcile them with conflicting law.

But the legislation to change the initiative process in California doesn't address these problems. In fact, it makes them worse.

Before they left for summer recess, the legislature approved Senate Bill 168. The measure purports to fight fraud in signature gathering by barring the payment of petition circulators for each signature they earn.

The trouble, of course, is that paying per-signature is the cheapest way to qualify initiatives.

Volunteer signature-gathering costs more (because you don't get signatures as fast, and because building a network of volunteers large enough to qualify a California measure is costly).

The alternative, paying people per hour or per week, is also likely to add to costs.

By making the process more costly, you make it even less accessible.

Already a playground for rich people and groups, the initiative process will be even more dominated by the very wealthy.

If you want to limit the initatives, and discourage people who want to circumvent the process, the better way is to require initiatives to follow the rules of legislation.

They should fit within budgets, and be amendable by the legislature. You also could require more than a majority to pass initiative constitutional amendments.

But by making entry to the process more expensive, would-be initiative reformers are doing little more than enhancing the already considerable power of the rich.

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