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Decision ’92 : SPECIAL VOTERS’ GUIDE TO STATE AND LOCAL ELECTIONS : THE STATE PROPOSITIONS

In California, as in 23 other states, voters get to decide not only the fate of candidates, but of proposed new laws or amendments to the state Constitution. Since 1911, when reform-minded Gov. Hiram Johnson blessed the direct initiative process as a way to bust up the old political machine, 1,074 propositions have been attempted. Less than one-third have made it to the ballot.

To win a spot on the ballot, petitions for new laws must be signed by 5% of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election, and those for constitutional amendments must be signed by 8%. In eight decades, everything from daylight-saving time to beach access to animal rights has been decided by direct initiative. Although the use of the process is on the upswing, these days voters are mostly deciding to just say no. In the 1990 election, voters rejected all but six of 28 ballot measures. Here is a look at the Nov. 3 lineup, which includes questions on funding school repairs, welfare spending, health care and even death and taxes, which, if you believe Benjamin Franklin, are the only two things certain in life.

155 / SCHOOL BONDS

WHAT IT IS: This is a $900-million bond issue to build and modernize elementary and secondary schools.

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ARGUMENTS FOR: Supporters of the measure say public school enrollments continue to soar, despite the recession. State officials estimate that enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade will increase from 5.2 million this fall to 7.2 million by 2001. Although voters approved a $1.9-billion school bond issue last June, that money has been committed and there is still a need for more than $6 billion. Slightly more than two-thirds of the $900 million raised by this bond issue would be spent on new construction, the rest on upgrading facilities. Proponents contend that the measure would provide needed new schools without new taxes.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Opponents dispute the claim these new schools would not require new taxes, noting taxpayers would have to pay $700 million in interest on the bonds over 20 years. They believe school districts should lease vacant commercial buildings instead of building schools. Opponents also support a “choice” plan that would provide vouchers or tax credits so parents could afford “more efficient private schools,” thereby eliminating the need for as many public schools.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: Gov. Pete Wilson, state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, California Chamber of Commerce, Children NOW, California Taxpayers Assn., California Parent-Teacher Assn.

WHO OPPOSES IT: Libertarian Party of California and various individuals.

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156 / PASSENGER RAIL AND CLEAN AIR

WHAT IT IS: Voters in 1990 approved expanding rail transportation in California, including urban transit, commuter rail service and intercity Amtrak trains. Among the projects to benefit are the Blue Line, the Green Line, a subway in the San Fernando Valley, Metrolink commuter trains throughout Southern California and train service to San Diego and Sacramento. To pay for this plan, voters approved $1 billion in bonds in 1990 and agreed to consider additional bond issues in 1992 and 1994. This bond measure would raise $1 billion.

ARGUMENTS FOR: Rail transportation will reduce traffic congestion, cut air pollution and provide jobs. Building new rail lines creates thousands of jobs and many more may result from developing an advanced transit industry in the state. If the measure fails, the state would have to reallocate $2 billion, much of it from highway improvement projects.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Expensive rail projects will cost millions to operate, and opponents say these bonds would cover only a fraction of construction costs.

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WHO SUPPORTS IT: California Chamber of Commerce, Californians for Better Transportation, Children NOW, California Air Resources Board, California Assn. of Persons With Handicaps, railroads and the Sierra Club.

WHO OPPOSES IT: UCLA professor Martin Wachs, urban planner Ryan Snyder.

157 / TOLL ROADS AND HIGHWAYS

WHAT IT IS: State law permits the state Department of Transportation to contract with private firms to build and run four toll roads, three in Southern California and one in Northern California. Private companies would build the roads, lease them from the state and charge tolls to cover costs. At the end of the leases, Caltrans would take over the road. This measure would forbid the state from continuing to collect tolls after the leases expire, or after 35 years, whichever comes first. It allows the Legislature to override this ban with a two-thirds vote of each chamber. This is a proposed constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

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ARGUMENTS FOR: The amendment will ensure that California’s highways remain freeways without tolls, once private companies turn them over to the state. Gasoline taxes and other levies should pay for these roads, just as they do for other public highways. Tolls should be used only to repay investors who build roads the state cannot afford to build.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Gas taxes and other user fees do not cover all the costs of maintaining the highways, so the state should be allowed to continue collecting tolls. The legislative analyst estimates that, if passed, the referendum could cost the state tens of millions of dollars in lost tolls, starting in 2030.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: State Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), California State Automobile Assn.

WHO OPPOSES IT: California Transit League, Modern Transit Society.

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158 / OFFICE OF CALIFORNIA ANALYST

WHAT IT IS: This measure changes the office of the legislative analyst into the office of the California analyst. Its watchdog duties would remain unchanged. For 50 years, the highly regarded nonpartisan analyst has served as the Legislature’s chief adviser on budget and fiscal issues. The measure would remove the agency from budget restrictions imposed on the Legislature in 1990 when voters approved Proposition 140, best known for its term limits. That measure led to a 55% cut in the legislative office’s budget and personnel. The analyst’s office took a 55% cut in its budget and personnel. Proposition 158 would exempt the analyst’s operations from those restrictions. This is a proposed constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

ARGUMENTS FOR: The analyst, who is beholden to no one, saves taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, regardless of which party controls the Legislature. Unless protections for the analyst are written into the state Constitution, its nonpartisan mission will be endangered. Proponents argue that voters were told Proposition 140 would weed out unneeded political staffers but were not told it would imperil the nonpartisan fiscal adviser.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: The measure is an attempt by the Legislature to bypass limits put on its spending. Opponents argue that there is more than enough money in the Legislature’s restricted budget to finance the analyst “if the incumbents would simply cut out perks.”

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WHO SUPPORTS IT: Robyn C. Prud’homme-Bauer, president of the League of Women Voters of California; William Campbell, president of the California Manufacturers Assn.; Del Weber, president of the California Teachers Assn.; Children NOW.

WHO OPPOSES IT: Pete Schabarum, co-author of Proposition 140; Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks); Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee.

159 / OFFICE OF AUDITOR GENERAL

WHAT IT IS: This proposal would make the state auditor general’s office exempt from budget cuts imposed on the Legislature, just as Proposition 158 would do for the California analyst’s office. The office of the auditor general would be established as a separate constitutional entity. Its investigative mission would remain unchanged and it would continue to report to the Legislature. The auditor general was created in 1955 to ensure that federal funds administered by the state were spent properly. It also investigates whistle-blower allegations of waste or abuse and audits state programs for efficiency and effectiveness. In 1990, when voters approved Proposition 140, the auditor general’s staff was cut. This is a proposed constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

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ARGUMENTS FOR: Defenders of the auditor general, a nonpartisan investigative arm of the Legislature, maintain that the agency has saved taxpayers more than $500 million during the past 10 years through its “objective and hard-hitting” audits. They argue that including the auditor general in Proposition 140’s legislative spending limits was “inadvertent.”

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Opponents argue that the proposition is an attempt by the Legislature to make an end run on the Proposition 140 limits in order to protect payrolls of political staffers.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: Jacob Mathews, president of the California Business Alliance; Howard L. Owens, president of the Congress of California Seniors; Children NOW; Robyn C. Prud’homme-Bauer, president of the League of Voters of California; state director of finance Thomas W. Hayes.

WHO OPPOSES IT: Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, co-author of Proposition 140; Lee A. Phelps, founder of the Alliance of California Taxpayers and Involved Voters; Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks); and Mike Ford, director of Marin United Taxpayer

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160 / MILITARY SURVIVORS’ TAX BREAK

WHAT IT IS: State law permits property tax exemptions for homeowners with military-related disabilities or for their unmarried surviving spouses. This measure would extend the exemption to cover the widow or widower of someone who was killed or died in active military service. This is a proposed amendment to the California Constitution placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

ARGUMENTS FOR: Supporters say widows and widowers of those killed in military service deserve the same property tax break given to disabled veterans and their unmarried surviving spouses.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Opponents argue the proposition is just another unfair tax loophole. They point out it does not cover spouses of military personnel who died of service-related illness or injury after being discharged, or widows and widowers who remarry, or spouses of those who served in other dangerous though non-military jobs such as police officers and firefighters.

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WHO SUPPORTS IT: Veterans groups and Assemblyman James L. Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga).

WHO OPPOSES IT: Attorney Gary B. Wesley.

161 / PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED DEATH

WHAT IT IS: This initiative would make California the first government in the world to enact a law allowing doctors to help end the lives of terminally ill patients who request aid in dying. Any mentally competent adult could sign a directive authorizing such help. The document also must be signed by two witnesses unrelated to the patient, who have no claim on the person’s estate and who are not involved in the patient’s care. The directive can be revoked at any time.

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Before the patient can ask for aid in dying, two doctors--including the attending physician--must certify that the patient has an incurable condition that will probably lead to death in six months. Once that is done, the patient must ask for help “on more than one occasion.”

Just how the patients are to be put to death is not spelled out. Doctors would provide the means--presumably prescription medications--and could administer the fatal dose directly. Insurance companies would not be allowed to deny benefits to survivors of the patient. This is a proposed law placed on the ballot by petition.

ARGUMENTS FOR: Proponents say terminally ill patients would be allowed to die with dignity by choosing to end pain and suffering. Although few patients would ask for their doctors’ help to end their lives, many would take comfort in knowing that they could die if they chose. The drafters say they modeled their proposal on the law that allows Californians to sign “living wills"--documents that instruct medical personnel to cease life-support treatment if the patient is unable to refuse treatment later on his own.

The measure deliberately minimizes barriers that would make it difficult to receive aid in dying. Doctors and patients already make life-and-death decisions about medical treatment with a minimum of intrusion from authorities, such as weighing the benefits and dangers of heart surgery.

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ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Opponents say the measure lacks needed safeguards. It does not require a witness to a patient’s final request for help in dying. Nor does it require a witness to the death itself. They argue that medical science cannot do a reliable job of determining that a patient is terminal, or will die within six months. Moreover, the initiative does not require the physician certifying the condition as terminal to be a specialist in the disorder.

The initiative requires only that the patient make the request to die “on more than one occasion” without specifying a waiting period to explore alternatives, seek counseling or consult with family. Strictly speaking, a patient could be put to death in a moment of despair, after asking to die twice in just minutes.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: Gray Panthers chapters, National Organization for Women of California, American Civil Liberties Union, Unitarian churches, Bar associations of Beverly Hills and San Francisco, ex-presidents of the California Medical Assn. and the California Psychological Assn., and the Hemlock Society.

WHO OPPOSES IT: American Cancer Society, American Lung Assn., California Medical Assn., California Psychiatric Assn., California Nurses Assn., California Assn. of Hospitals and Health Systems, California Catholic Conference, Lutheran Office of Public Policy, California Commission on Aging, Republican Party of California, Mexican-American Political Assn. and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

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162 / PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT

WHAT IT IS: This measure would give the governing boards of the state Public Employees’ Retirement System, the state Teachers’ Retirement System and other public pension systems the authority to manage their assets and determine if they are actuarially sound. It would eliminate the control that the Legislature and local pension governing boards have over these funds. The measure also requires that highest priority be given to providing benefits to plan members and beneficiaries. This is a proposed amendment to the state Constitution placed on the ballot by petition.

ARGUMENTS FOR: Supporters say this initiative would stop politicians from raiding the pensions of state employees, teachers, police officers, firefighters and others. They say there have been several such raids in recent years, most notably the use of $1.9 billion in supplemental PERS accounts to help balance the budget last year.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: The measure will not prevent future raids on pension funds, opponents contend, because such actions are barred by the state Constitution anyway. What it will do, they say, is give almost complete control over public pension funds to boards that are not accountable to elected bodies.

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WHO SUPPORTS IT: California State Employees Assn. and other public employee unions and the American Assn. of Retired Persons.

WHO OPPOSES IT: California Taxpayers Assn.

163 / SNACK TAX

WHAT IT IS: This proposition would repeal the sales tax on snack food, candy and bottled water enacted by the Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson in 1991 to help cover a projected $14 billion shortfall. The measure would reduce state tax revenues by about $330 million annually, while cities and counties would lose about $120 million a year. This is a proposed law and constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by petition.

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ARGUMENTS FOR: Proponents say the tax on snacks, candy and bottled water amounts to a tax on the essentials of life. They say the sales tax is the most regressive tax because the poor use a proportionately higher share of their income for purchases and therefore bear a greater burden of the tax relative to their ability to pay.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: There is no formal opposition to this measure, but the argument made for the tax when it was enacted was that the state needed more revenue.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: California Bottled Water Assn., Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Carson), Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame).

WHO OPPOSES IT: No formal opposition.

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164 / TERM LIMITS

WHAT IT IS: This is one of more than a dozen similar propositions on state ballots across the country to limit how many terms one may serve in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. California’s follows the successful passage in 1990 of the state term limits measure, restricting the number of terms that members of the state Senate and Assembly can serve.

This measure would deny ballot access to those who have served for six years or more in the House--out of the previous 11--and to those who have served in the Senate for at least 12 of the previous 17 years. The measure allows for write-in candidates, and the “clock” does not begin ticking until 1993. Colorado in 1990 was the first to pass such a measure. This is a proposed new law placed on the ballot by petition.

ARGUMENTS FOR: Term limits would help shake up the career politician, break up concentrated power and reinvigorate Congress by returning it to the hands of non-politicians. Incumbents are reelected at least 90% of the time, making it very difficult for newcomers to break in. And California would help to begin breaking up the seniority system that gives disproportionate influence to smaller states with longer-serving legislators. The initiative comes at a time when voter anger at congressional perks and legislative logjams is at a peak.

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ARGUMENTS AGAINST: For California to opt out of the congressional seniority system unilaterally would put the state--which has the biggest delegation on Capitol Hill--at a disadvantage, even if several other states approve term limits. The state would get back fewer of the tax dollars it sends in because it would have less clout to fight for state interests. Ordinary citizens will still be unable to run for Congress because the measure does nothing to reduce the high cost of campaigning, nor does it restrict lobbying or political action committee contributions.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: Pete Schabarum, author of Proposition 140; Ted Costa, head of People’s Advocate; the anti-tax watchdog group founded by Paul Gann; consumer advocate Ralph Nader; Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).

WHO OPPOSES IT: Common Cause, the California Taxpayers Assn. and Los Angeles Taxpayers Assn., League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, California Manufacturers Assn., California Farm Bureau Federation.

165 / STATE BUDGET CHANGES

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WHAT IT IS: This proposition would cut welfare benefits and restructure the state’s largest welfare program while transferring some budget powers from the Legislature to the governor. This is a proposed new law and constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by petition. Here are the two aspects of the measure:

Budget Powers: The governor and members of the Legislature would forfeit their salaries and expense money if no budget is enacted by June 15. The governor’s budget proposal is to be introduced by March 1. If no state budget is passed by July 1, the governor could declare a fiscal emergency and order the previous year’s budget to take effect. The governor could order reductions in any area not protected by the state Constitution. These cuts would become law in 30 days unless the Legislature passed an alternative spending plan and the governor signed it. The governor also could declare an emergency and order spending cuts if revenues in any one quarter fell 3% below projections or expenditures exceeded projections by 3%. The governor could cut by 5% the wages of any state employees not protected by collective bargaining agreements.

Welfare Program: Cash grants for poor children and parents who receive public assistance under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program would be cut initially by 10%. After six months all families that include an able-bodied adult would have their cash grants reduced by another 15%. AFDC payments to newcomers would be limited to the amount they would receive in their home states for their first year of residence in California. No cash benefits would be paid to children who are conceived while their parents are on welfare. Teen-age parents could not receive welfare unless they lived at home with their families. Exceptions would be made if the family home was determined to be unsafe. Teen-age parents and pregnant teen-agers could receive a $50 monthly bonus for staying in school and maintaining good attendance and a $50 monthly penalty for poor attendance or dropping out of school.

ARGUMENTS FOR: Proponents say the measure is needed to end California’s string of budget deficits and prevent another stalemate like the one that kept the state from enacting a spending plan until 64 days into the current fiscal year. They argue that the welfare provisions will stop the mushrooming growth of the state’s welfare rolls and save taxpayers money by reducing the cash benefits paid to all recipients and by discouraging poor families from migrating to California. They say the cuts will also encourage welfare parents to get a job to earn back the reductions through work. In addition they say changes in welfare regulations will provide further work incentives by allowing AFDC parents to keep more of what they earn. Teen-age parents will be encouraged to stay at home and complete their educations. They say taxpayers who may defer having children for economic reasons will not be forced to support additional children born to welfare families.

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ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Opponents say the initiative would concentrate too much power in the hands of one individual--the governor. They say it is undemocratic to allow the governor to order cuts in the budget without legislative approval. And they argue that it is unwise to force lawmakers to base important long-term decisions--involving state taxes and education policy, for instance--on whether they can survive for a while without a paycheck.

They contend that the cuts in cash benefits will only plunge most welfare families deeper into poverty because a lack of skills, available jobs and work experience will prevent most single mothers from finding employment. They argue that the reductions will hurt mostly the children of welfare families, denying them adequate food and shelter. If the mother in a welfare family gets pregnant, they say, she in effect will be required to choose between having an abortion or forcing her children to get along on less. They argue that the migration provision would have no effect because it is already state law, having been passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: Gov. Pete Wilson, California Republican Party, California Chamber of Commerce, California Taxpayers Assn., Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., Paul Gann’s Citizen’s Committee, National Tax Limitation Committee, California State Board of Education.

WHO OPPOSES IT: League of Women Voters, California Common Cause, California State Parent-Teacher Assn., California Council of Churches, California Teachers Assn., California Labor Federation, Children’s Defense Fund, California State Employees Assn., California Catholic Conference, Children NOW.

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166 / HEALTH CARE

WHAT IT IS: This proposition would require all employers in California to offer basic health insurance coverage to workers and their families. It would begin phasing in Jan. 1 for employers of 25 or more workers and would cover all employers by Jan. 1, 1997. Eligible employees must work at least 17 1/2 hours per week or 70 hours per month. Most costs would be borne by the employers. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would receive a state tax credit to recoup up to 25% of the expense. Workers would be required to contribute up to 25% of the insurance premium or 2% of their wages, whichever is less. They also would have to pay some of the cost of prescription drugs, office visits and hospitalizations. Insurance companies would be barred from canceling policies for sick people or denying coverage for existing medical conditions.

This is a proposed new law placed on the ballot by petition.

ARGUMENTS FOR: Proponents say the measure will extend health insurance coverage to 4.7 million of the estimated 6 million Californians who lack it. That will relieve the load on financially strapped public hospitals and clinics, saving taxpayers more than $300 million.

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ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Opponents say the measure would saddle small businesses with crippling costs that could drive them out of business or to states free of such mandates. That would mean higher unemployment, and still no health insurance for those forced out of work. About 30% of the state’s employers do not provide health insurance benefits. Opponents also contend that the measure lacks sufficient cost controls. And, they say, it lacks safeguards to ensure that the medical care is of high quality.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: The California Medical Assn., California Teamsters, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, Assn. of California Surgery Centers, California Medical Assistants Assn., Union of American Physicians and Dentists, 24 specialty societies of physicians and 32 county medical associations that are affiliates of the CMA.

WHO OPPOSES IT: Health Access, Children NOW, National Federation of Independent Business, Consumers Union, California Nurses Assn., Congress of California Seniors, California Restaurant Assn., Health Insurance Assn. of America, Merchants and Manufacturers Assn., Southern California Business Assn., California Cattlemen’s Assn., California Grocer’s Assn., California Labor Assn., Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, American Assn. of Retired Persons, Catholic Charities, consumer activist Ralph Nader, among others.

167 / STATE TAXES

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WHAT IT IS: This proposition is a complex package of tax increases and cuts. The measure would raise income taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals while cutting the sales tax and extending renters credits to all renters.

Banks, insurance companies and oil producers would lose tax deductions and the overall corporate tax rate would increase. The measure would establish a 3% tax on oil pumped from the ground, raise the tax on insurance premiums to 2.46% from 2.35%, and empower local governments to levy new taxes and fees on banks. Real estate owned by most publicly held corporations would be reassessed every three years.

Individuals annually earning more than $250,000, and couples more than $500,000, would have their tax rate raised to 12% from 11%.

Sales taxes would drop by 0.25% and the sales tax on snack food, candy, bottled water and newspapers would be repealed. The net effect would be the collection of an additional $1.1 billion to $2.1 billion a year in taxes, according to the state’s legislative analyst.

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ARGUMENTS FOR: Proponents of the measure say it will restore fairness to the tax system by closing loopholes and making the richest Californians and businesses pay a larger share.

Supporters argue that saving consumers $1 billion through the sales tax cut--and the addition of $1 billion to $2 billion in total taxes for new public works, social service and education programs--will spur California’s stagnant economy. And they maintain that improved schools and infrastructure will help retain businesses and jobs.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Opponents of the measure say it would drive businesses out of the state, burden small and minority businesses, tighten bank credit and raise prices. Some taxpayer groups say the cost of Proposition 167, in taxes and higher prices, would top $5 billion a year and raise overall taxes for most businesses by about 20%. Foes argue that more than 100,000 jobs could be lost by businesses that would scale back, shut down or move out of state.

WHO SUPPORTS IT: The California Federation of Teachers, Congress of California Seniors, California Labor Federation, L.A. County Coalition for the Homeless, Campaign to Abolish Poverty, California Democratic Party, California Council of Churches, Service Employees International Union, California Parent-Teachers Assn., Children NOW.

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WHO OPPOSES IT: California Chamber of Commerce, California Taxpayers Assn., United Latino Political Assn., California Farm Bureau Federation, California Grocers Assn., California Trucking Assn., California Assn. of Realtors, Council on California Competitiveness, League of California Cities, Associated General Contractors of California, California Bankers Assn., and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.


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