Written by The Business Journal Staff
When Golden State voters go to the polls this fall, they will weigh in on a raft of initiatives, the most on a single ballot since 2000. And when legislators reconvene in Sacramento later this fall, as many as three additional statewide measures could be added to the Nov. 8 ballot, which will also feature crucial presidential, congressional, state and local contests sure to shape the political landscape for years to come.
Among the most important local races, Fresnans will pick a new mayor.
While Fresno voters will choose either Lee Brand or Henry Perea to lead the city’s ongoing revitalization efforts, they will also have to wade through a ballot-heavy election guide likely to be more than 200 pages long.
This year’s ballot measures, numbered 51 to 67, ask state voters their preference on a host of wide-ranging issues, including authorizing $9 billion in school construction bonds (Prop 51) and extending 2012’s income-tax surcharge on the wealthy in order to fund new schools (Prop 55); allowing earlier parole for nonviolent offenders and more latitude for judges to try juveniles as adults (Prop 57); eliminating the death penalty (Prop 62); requiring adult film actors to wear condoms during sex scenes (Prop 60); limiting prices on state purchases of prescription drugs (Prop 61); tightening gun control regulations (Prop 63); and raising the cigarette tax by $2 per pack (Prop 56).
Prop 64, the ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, is likely to garner the most attention this year, both statewide and nationally. Twenty years ago, California was the first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a well-funded and organized group of supporters are backing the latest pro-pot initiative.
Recreational pot is already legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia. Colorado’s now $1 billion cannabis economy reaps more tax revenue from marijuana than from alcohol — $17 million in just the month of April 2016, according to the state’s most recent tax report.
Overall, the U.S. marijuana industry, both medical and recreational, generated more than $4.2 billion in revenue in 2015 and is forecast to surpass $22 billion by 2020. California’s entry into the recreational marijuana arena would immediately create the country’s single-largest marijuana market and would spawn hundreds of ancillary businesses catering to the cannabis industry.
Lee Brand, a two-term city councilmember and co-founder of a local property management and construction firm, said last week that he is “absolutely opposed” to Prop 64.
“Marijuana is a gateway drug and we’ve seen nothing but problems with it in the city,” Brand said. “I’m not against people using it for medical reasons but I think it would be a terrible mistake to legalize recreational marijuana in California.”
Brand is also opposed to Prop 51, the $9 billion school construction bond measure. “We need more local control,” he said. “Stuff coming out of Sacramento really doesn’t benefit us here in Fresno much.”
Supervisor Perea has yet to take a position on the 2016 ballot measures and said last week: “I haven’t looked at them in detail yet but have a full briefing set up for Friday. I want to take a fully educated position on all of these issues.”
Part of the upcoming briefing, Perea added, will include a sit down with Sheriff Margaret Mims to discuss Prop 64, which the sheriff is already on record as loudly opposing.
The Fresno Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Council (GAC) will be reviewing the full slate of ballot propositions at its regular monthly meeting Wednesday.
According to Nathan Alonzo, the chamber’s government affairs manager, the council will likely take a position on many of the 2016 initiatives.
The chamber already has weighed in on a handful of key proposals, Alonzo said.
“We are opposed to Prop 61 (limiting prices on state purchases of prescription drugs) because of concerns about the potential for price fixing,” Alonzo said. “We also think [the ballot measure] would create the possibilities of stunting medical research and industry competitiveness.”
The chamber is supporting Prop 51. “We think it’s a good investment in infrastructure for local elementary schools and community colleges,” Alonzo said. “It would bring a lot of classrooms statewide up to 21st century standards.”
The chamber plans to oppose Prop 53, which would require voter approval for state revenue bonds $2 billion or higher. “This proposition would significantly delay the funding and completion of important Valley infrastructure work” — including road and water projects, Alonzo said.
The Fresno Chamber also is already on record supporting Prop 54, which would require the Legislature to publish a bill 72 hours before any vote, an initiative meant to curtail so-called “gut-and-amend” style legislation.
This year’s long list of ballot propositions could have been even longer. For the first time this election cycle, a state law passed in 2014 allowed initiative proponents to negotiate directly with the Legislature even after submitting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Backers of a $15-an-hour minimum wage law forced the governor and state lawmakers to pass the measure this past March using the new state law.
Three more proposed ballot measures currently working their way through the statehouse could boost the overall number of propositions to 20. Two of those initiatives propose additional bond measures for various Golden State housing and parks projects and a third seeks to reclassify some property crimes as felonies to shore up some loopholes created by 2014’s controversial Prop 47.
Supporters and opponents of this year’s ballot measures have until tomorrow to submit arguments to be published in the 2016 voter information guide.