How Much Will Qualification of Compromise Initiative Cost?

The compromise, temporary tax-hike ballot initiative -- backed by Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Federation of Teachers and Democrats across the state -- is now on the street, circulating for signatures. Petition circulators will make $3 per signature at first -- a number that is likely to increase quickly.

This has sparked lots of speculation about how much qualifying this initiative will cost. My best estimate is $6 million. The Chronicle says $7 million.

But those numbers don't tell the real costs of qualification.

When that kind of money is necessary just to qualify an initiative campaign, millions have to be raised from many people and interests. The interests that give to this campaign are not merely supporters of tax increases. They are interests who want things from the governor and the legislators who are doing the fundraising.

What do they get in return?

In the answer to that question is the real cost of a ballot initiative -- particularly one pushed by elected officials. Pension legislation is likely to produce less in real savings because the governor and lawmakers can't force unions who are giving them money for this initiative to accept changes they don't like. Companies backing the measure may be able to preserve tax breaks or regulatory exemptions because the governor and legislature don't want to cross them right now. By the time you try to estimate the impact, the cost of an initiative from the governor and the legislature can run into the billions.

This is another reason why trying to fix California's budget and governing system by initiative is so problematic. Each initiative -- each supposed fix -- has all these extra costs. A global process -- either by revision commission or constitutional convention -- is not merely better because it gives the state a chance to fix many different pieces at once. Such a process also is less costly -- literally.

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