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Lawmakers’ terms and casino pacts on ballot

Times Staff Writer

Although the presidential primary is the main attraction on the Feb. 5 ballot, Californians will also decide on seven statewide propositions, including one that would give many sitting lawmakers more time in office and four that could nullify Indian gambling compacts passed this year by the Legislature.

Voters are also being asked to decide whether community college fees should be reduced and the schools guaranteed a certain share of the state budget.

There are some strange twists. One measure is now opposed by the groups that put it on the ballot, another won support from a union that is now intent on its defeat and a third has been endorsed by one teachers union but opposed by another.

There have also been charges of trickery, collusion and betrayal -- and that’s just on the measure to change term limits. Proposition 93, listed on the ballot as “Limits on Legislators’ Terms in Office,” has generated rancorous debate.

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The measure would shorten the overall number of years someone could serve in the Legislature from 14 to 12 but allow all those years to be served in either the Assembly or the state Senate. Existing law limits legislators to three terms, or six years, in the Assembly and two terms, or eight years, in the Senate.

The measure would allow 34 sitting lawmakers who would otherwise be forced out by term limits next year to run for reelection. Included are Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), who could serve six additional years, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), who could serve four more.

The measure’s opponents, led by state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, say the ballot title and campaign are misleading, written and sold by supporters as an opportunity to impose stricter term limits.

“Proposition 93 is a trick,” Poizner said. “It’s intentionally designed to fool the people into thinking they are voting to reduce terms for state legislators when it actually contains a special loophole to give . . . termed-out incumbent politicians more time in office.”

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Proponents of the measure, including Nunez, said it would give lawmakers time to gain experience and focus on policy rather than on looking for another job.

“We now have a Legislature with a very short-term memory because we are constantly thinking of what we are going to run for next the moment we get elected,” Nunez said.

Richard Stapler, a spokesman for proponents, said the measure would bring more continuity and stability to policymaking: “Proposition 93 is designed to provide a balance between the need for fresh ideas and the need to retain the experienced lawmakers who can solve California’s problems.”

The campaign for Proposition 93 has raised about $4.5 million, much of it from interests who regularly have business before the Legislature. Contributions include $500,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; $250,000 from a California Teachers Assn. political action committee; $200,000 from the California State Council of Service Employees political action committee; and $100,000 each from Chevron Corp. and the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

After initially giving $100,000 to the campaign for the term limits measure, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. changed positions and gave $1 million to the opposing side. Ryan Sherman, a spokesman for the union, said his group felt betrayed when it was not consulted by legislative leaders before they approved a plan to build more prisons in a way that Sherman said would not solve crowding and staffing problems.

“If this is the type of leadership we are going to get, its not in our members’ interest to extend their terms,” Sherman said.

Opponents have raised about $4.2 million, including $1.5 million from a Virginia nonprofit called U.S. Term Limits Inc. and $1.5 million from Poizner.

Those totals pale in comparison to the amount being spent on four measures involving Indian gambling casinos. The four tribes that could be affected by Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 have put more than $30 million combined into the campaign for approval and say they will spend $10 million more in coming days.

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The measures were put on the ballot by opponents of the four compacts. If a majority of voters say no, the Legislature’s approval of the compacts will be rescinded.

The deals, which the Schwarzenegger administration forged with the tribes last year, allow the groups in Riverside and San Diego counties to add 17,000 slot machines to the 8,000 they currently operate. In turn, the tribes agreed to pay the state 15% to 25% of the profits from the additional machines.

The measures were put on the ballot by an unusual coalition, including the hotel workers union Unite Here, which argues that the accords lack worker protections and stymie organizing efforts. Other members are two tribes that say the compacts are more generous than deals they received, and the company that owns two horse racetracks, including Hollywood Park in Inglewood. The firm says it has lost customers to the tribal casinos.

“Each of these entities is looking for fairness -- fairness for other tribes, fairness for workers. The racetracks are looking for fair competition,” said Cheryl Schmit, a paid consultant for the campaign against the compacts. “These compacts give four tribes one-third of the state’s gaming revenue in a state with 108 [federally recognized] tribes.”

Roger Salazar, representing supporters of the compacts, said the agreements maintain the rights of workers to organize.

Proponents argue that California is in the midst of a budget crisis, with a potential deficit of $10 billion looming next year, and revenue from the compacts would help the state pay for services.

Estimates of how much money the compacts could bring the state during their 23-year life span vary widely, with some supporters estimating at least $9 billion and others more than double that amount.

Citing the financial benefit to the state, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell signed the ballot argument in favor of the measures.

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“It is very important that the people are in favor of our compacts, because we again have a financially difficult time in California,” Schwarzenegger said last week at a Capitol news conference. “This money is extremely important to the future of California. I am very happy that the Indian gaming tribes came forward and understand that to contribute to our state is good for them and its good for education, for law enforcement for fire [services], for all the different causes.”

The tribes whose compacts would be affirmed or nullified by the measures are the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in Temecula; the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which has a casino along Interstate 10 near Banning; the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation near El Cajon; and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which owns casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.

The hotel workers union and racetracks have raised a total of $4.2 million to defeat the measure. An additional $1 million combined has come from the United Auburn Indian Community near Sacramento and the Pala Band of Mission Indians in northern San Diego County, both of which operate casinos that compete with those named in the compacts.

On Proposition 92, it is teachers unions that are split. The measure would amend the state Constitution to establish independent public community college districts and boards of governors, and guarantee minimum funding for the system.

The measure would allocate 10.46% of education funding to community colleges and set fees at $15 per unit per semester, with limits on future increases.

Proposition 92 is backed by the California Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers group, with 75,000 members. It is opposed by the California Teachers Assn., the largest teachers group in the state, with 340,000 members.

Fred Glass, a spokesman for the California Federation of Teachers, said it is unusual for the two groups to disagree on an education issue. But he noted that 30% of his group’s members teach at community colleges.

“The CTA’s vision, unfortunately, does not extend beyond K-12,” Glass said. “This measure would lower student fees and make it possible for more students to attend community colleges.”

Sandra Jackson, a California Teachers Assn. spokeswoman, expressed concern that lawmakers forced to fund community colleges to certain levels might have to take funds from other state programs, including schools serving the lower grades.

The measure, Jackson said, “calls for money to go to community colleges but doesn’t say where it comes from. So we are looking at potential cuts to K-12 education, the Cal State system, healthcare.”

Supporters of Proposition 92 have raised about $2 million, including nearly $800,000 from the political arm of the California Federation of Teachers. The California Teachers Assn. has put up nearly $300,000, the sole donation to oppose the measure so far.

No money has been raised for Proposition 91, because the coalition of labor and management leaders that put it on the ballot is now urging people not to vote for it. The measure was written to stop the Legislature and governor from raiding the sales tax on gasoline, which was meant to be spent on transportation projects.

After Proposition 91 qualified for the ballot, voters last year passed a measure to accomplish the same thing, but with flexibility to borrow transportation funds in a budget crisis.

“As a result, Prop. 91 is now an orphan,” said Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs, “and we’re not advocating for its passage.”

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Measures before voters

Seven statewide measures will appear on the Feb. 5 presidential primary ballot:

Proposition 91

Would prohibit the governor and Legislature from tapping gasoline sales tax revenue meant for transportation projects and using it for nontransportation projects.

Was put on the ballot by labor and management groups that now are urging people not to vote for it because similar, more flexible protections were approved by voters last year.

Proposition 92

Would guarantee a minimum of about 10% of education funding to community colleges and set fees at $15 per unit per semester, with limits on future increases.

Proposition 93

Would cut the total number of years a state legislator can serve in the Senate and Assembly from 14 to 12 but allow all to be spent in one house. Nearly three dozen lawmakers who are due to be forced out by term limits next year would be allowed to run for reelection, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland).

Propositions 94, 95, 96, 97

Would let stand state compacts, approved by the governor and Legislature, with four Indian tribes. The deals permit them to triple the number of slot machines allowed in exchange for payments to the state.

Source: Times reporting


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