Propositions Lining Up for Next Ballot

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After all the hand-wringing and bashing over Propositions 226, 227 and others on last week's ballot, voters may not be ready for another rumble over initiatives in November.

But political consultants already have big plans for the fall. Initiative promoters have generated as many as eight propositions for the November ballot, ranging from one to ban animal trapping to a consumer-led attack on the electric utility industry.

None deals with the deeply emotional racial and social issues that have marked initiative fights in recent years. But given the topics and stakes involved, the campaigns could end up ranking as some of the costliest ever waged.

"It's going to be wild to watch," said Jim Shultz, author of "The Initiative Cookbook," a book about the initiative process and the industry it has spawned.

Leading the pack is a measure that takes aim at the utilities, one of the wealthiest and most politically active industries in California. Backers say it would end what they call a multibillion-dollar bailout of utilities for the high cost of nuclear power plants. Utilities say the initiative would wreak havoc on them and on the state.

A second big-ticket proposition would expand gambling on Indian reservations. It is being promoted by several Native American tribes battling government authorities for the right to operate casinos as they choose. Nevada gambling interests, along with business and labor groups and others in California, are preparing to fight it.

In a preview of the coming fights, lawyers for the utilities and for the group opposing the gambling measure sued to block both measures from being put to a vote, saying they are illegal. Court decisions are pending.

Elections officials, meanwhile, are counting petitions to determine whether five of the measures garnered the hundreds of thousands of registered voters' signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the ballot. Three have passed that hurdle: the trapping and gambling measures and one to ban the sale of horses for human consumption.

If they all make it onto the ballot, here's what Californians will be deciding in November:

* Hollywood producer and actor Rob Reiner and Mike Roos, head of the education reform group LEARN, are sponsoring a proposition to raise cigarette taxes 50 cents per pack to pay for various child education and health programs.

The measure would earmark about $700 million for county programs to foster immunizations, child abuse prevention and parenting classes as well as new preschool and child care programs, all designed to help infants and young children.

Given that the measure would increase cigarette taxes, Roos assumes that the tobacco industry will fight it, although the campaign against it is in its early stages.

* Gov. Pete Wilson, in what will be his final campaign as governor, is pushing a measure to ensure state funding for smaller school class sizes, an idea he has championed. His past reduction of class size in the lower grades has been among Wilson's most popular achievements, but the new initiative has other provisions that could elicit opposition from powerful public school unions.

Teachers, according to the measure, would be evaluated partly on student performance and would face tougher requirements for teaching credentials. They also could be fired more easily.

And the measure would create a new office of chief inspector of public schools, appointed by the governor. The inspector would issue public reports ranking schools in several areas, including test scores, dropout rates and truancy.

"I wouldn't put it past the teachers unions to put big bucks in against this," said Sean Walsh, Wilson's press secretary. "But class-size reduction is enormously popular."

* In addition to the initiative to ban the trapping of bears and other mammals--rat and mouse traps still could be used--animal protection advocates want to ban the sale and slaughter of horses, ponies, burros and mules for human consumption.

* Backers of term limits are proposing yet another measure to encourage voluntary congressional term limits. If it sounds familiar, it is. It would be the third time Californians have been asked to vote on congressional term limits since 1992, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said they are unconstitutional for federal offices. The second time was Tuesday, when voters passed Proposition 225, which declared that elected officials should support a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting congressional terms.

The November measure would ask congressional candidates to sign nonbinding statements that they would serve no more than three terms.

* The Planning and Conservation League is pushing an initiative to grant up to $218 million a year in tax credits to people and businesses that buy equipment designed to reduce air pollution. The initiative would be the seventh that the Planning and Conservation League has placed on ballots since 1988. Four have passed, all related to environmental protection.

As it appears now, the initiatives that will generate the most controversy--and the most spending--will be the ones dealing with gambling and utilities.

Among the main backers of the utility measure is Harvey Rosenfield, a Santa Monica attorney and Ralph Nader ally. In 1988, Rosenfield sponsored Proposition 103, the focus of a record $70-million initiative war over auto insurance.

Rosenfield's 1988 measure, the only one of five insurance measures that passed that year, created an elected insurance commissioner and promised to roll back auto insurance rates. It resulted in years of litigation.

The main selling point of Rosenfield's newest proposal is a promise that residential electricity users and small businesses would get a 20% rate reduction starting Jan. 1.

If it survives the court challenge and is approved by voters, the measure also would unravel major legislation approved two years ago that deregulated the electricity industry. As part of the bill, the Legislature authorized utilities to use money from the sale of bonds to pay off debt on costly nuclear power plants and other high-cost plants.

To this end, the state has sold bonds worth $6 billion, although backers of the initiative say the full cost could be more than four times that sum. The bond debt is repaid by electric customers.

"This stops the $28-billion bail-out tax that is going to appear on our bills for the next 10 years at least," Rosenfield said of his new initiative.

The state's major utilities--Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric--have lined up against Rosenfield's initiative. So has the California Chamber of Commerce and major manufacturers who had backed the original deregulation bill.

"The truth of the matter," said James Parrinello, one of the attorneys for the utilities, "is that it'd be a field day for lawyers. There would litigation for many years to come."

Although Rosenfield expects to run a low-cost campaign relying on volunteers to knock on doors and promote the initiative, Shultz, author of the book on the initiative system, predicts that the utilities will spend tens of millions to defeat the measure.

"There is so much at stake that you almost could argue that the utilities have a fiduciary duty to spend whatever it takes," Shultz said. "When you have $28 billion on the line, it's peanuts to spend $20-$30-$50 million."

The gambling initiative could cost similar sums. Native Americans pushing the measure already have spent at least $7 million, and perhaps as much as $10 million, to get it on the ballot.

They mailed petitions to 500,000 voters and deployed an army of petition circulators who were paid up to $2 per signature. In 29 days, they gathered more than a million registered voters' signatures, far more than the 433,00 needed to place the measure on the ballot.

"Californians care about seeing that tribes eliminate the brutal cycle of poverty and welfare," said Waltona Manyon, spokeswoman for the tribes pushing the initiative. "This initiative will mean that tribes stay off welfare and continue to be self-sufficient."

The initiative would permit casinos on reservations to have slot machines and other Nevada-style games that are illegal under California law. U.S. attorneys in California have sued several tribes in an effort to end gambling that authorities contend is illegal.

Manyon would not say how much the tribes intend to spend on the campaign. "The bigger question is how much Las Vegas will spend to influence California's agenda," she said.

Rick Claussen, of Goddard-Claussen/First Tuesday, one of the consulting firms hired to defeat the gambling measure, agreed that there is "a very strong sense of empathy with Indians trying to achieve economic self-sufficiency."

But voters will "not be in favor of wholesale Nevada-style gambling casinos," he said.

Given that Nevada casinos depend heavily on California customers, much of the money to fight the initiative will come from corporations that operate casinos there. But Claussen also said there will be Californians involved too, from horse tracks and card clubs not on reservations to unions, church groups and educators concerned that increased gambling will reduce the purchase of state lottery tickets--which helps schools.

"We're going to have to be competitive," Claussen said.

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