Once again, Legislature fiddles with election laws to affect the outcome of contests.
Clay Matthews, the Green Bay Packers’ much-feared linebacker, was penalized after a hard tackle on Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith on Sept. 23, running afoul of new league rules aimed at protecting Smith and other QBs from injury.It was the second straight week that Matthews had been ticketed for making hard tackles on quarterbacks and he complained loudly. The particulars of the incidents aside, they illustrate a cogent point. Changing the rules of the game can change outcomes. If a linebacker can’t go after quarterbacks they way they used to, it gives the offense an advantage vis-à-vis the defense.What’s true in sports is also true in politics. Each legislative session brings a slew of bills to change political rules with the hope of affecting who or what wins or loses.Two of this year’s political rules measures, one signed and one vetoed, underscore the syndrome.The Democrats who control the Capitol have been trying for years to alter the initiative system that allows advocates to bypass the Legislature and take their proposals directly to voters by gathering signatures of registered voters on petitions.Why? Having achieved domination of the Capitol, they and their allies, such as unions, want to make it more difficult for competing interests, particularly anti-tax or business groups, to bypass the Legislature and place their causes on the ballot.Assembly Bill 1947 would have done exactly that by banning organizations from paying professional signature-gatherers for each name they collect. They would have had to be paid by the hour or by the day, instead.The rationale for the measure was that paying by the name encourages signature-gatherers to distort the measures they are promoting, making them sound benign. But the real motive was to make qualification of initiatives, referenda and recalls more expensive, as Brown said in his veto message.Brown rejected a nearly identical bill in 2011, and he repeated his reasoning on AB 1947, saying that paying by the signature is “often the most cost-effective method for collecting the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify a ballot measure.”Brown, it should be noted, used pay-by-the-name signature gatherers to qualify two initiatives himself.The second rule-changing bill, which Brown signed, allows Davis Unified School District to exempt teachers and other school employees from paying a “parcel tax” it would submit to voters for approval.Parcel taxes are levies on private property not tied to value. School districts and other local governments can impose them with two-thirds voter approval.The official rationale for the exemption, as Senate Bill 958’s author, Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat, puts it: “This bill would provide an additional incentive for public educators and school staff to live in the community in which they work, despite the severe shortage of affordable housing.”The more likely reason is that exempting school employees who live in the district from paying new taxes would make them – and their unions – more likely to support the campaigns to get them approved by voters.It’s a classic slippery slope, as critics of the measure pointed out in legislative hearings.Now that Davis school employees have a tax exemption, workers for other local government agencies will certainly demand similar treatment when their employers seek tax hikes. We are creating an entirely new class of citizens who can campaign for and vote on taxes that will benefit them but they will not have to pay.That’s a potentially huge, game-altering change of political rules.
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times...
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