SACRAMENTO — California voters would be asked to decide the fate of the state’s controversial enterprise zones in November 2014 under a proposal Friday by the head of the state Democratic Party.
John Burton, a former state Senate president pro tem, jumped into a legislative battle over the zones by unveiling a proposed ballot measure to outlaw the zones.
The 27-year-old enterprise zone program currently provides mainly large corporations but also small businesses with about $700 million a year in credits they can use to reduce the taxes they pay the state. The idea behind the 40 local enterprise zones is to create jobs in poor urban and rural areas by providing incentives to employers to hire local workers.
Critics charge that enterprise zones haven’t fostered jobs that wouldn’t have happened without government assistance. The zones also encourage employers to move operations from one part of the state to another and be rewarded by taxpayers for doing so, they said.
“It’s a rip-off of taxpayers’ money,” said Burton.
Burton’s move appears intended to bolster an effort by Gov. Jerry Brown to eliminate enterprise zones and replace them with a new economic development tool.
The threat of an initiative could become a factor in the current legislative debate, Burton said. The governor’s bill might look better to lawmakers, he said, “once they see the depths of hell” posed by the ballot measure. Brown’s bill would spend the same $700 million on other jobs programs, while Burton’s would simply eliminate the current enterprise zones.
Roger Salazar, a spokesman for enterprise zone supporters, denounced Burton’s tactic as “gamesmanship” that could harm both families and businesses in disadvantaged communities.