Propositions, pared down

Examining the five initiatives on the June ballot

Propositions are almost always difficult to parse, as their language is often complex. Add the issue of money, as in who is shelling it out to back these things, and it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed. Below we try to take the guesswork out of understanding the five propositions that will appear on the primary ballot next week. For more information, visit

Proposition 13

This is an amendment to the state constitution that would make any upgrades related to seismic retrofitting exempt from a property-tax increase. It has almost no opposition.

Proposition 14

Currently, primaries are organized by political parties. So, when there are multiple Democrats running for an office, the primary determines who will appear on the November ballot. Prop. 14 would remove party designations in primary elections, and the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, would face off in November. If approved it will take effect in 2012.

Supporters say: It will bring in more moderate candidates, as they will be vying for voters in all parties instead of just their own, and decrease partisanship in state government.

Opponents say: It will make it nearly impossible for third-party candidates to make it to the November ballot and result in general-election contests involving just one party.

Proposition 15

This proposition would create an experimental public-financing grant for candidates running for California secretary of state. The grant would be funded through a combination of voluntary contributions as well as fees on lobbyists, lobbying firms and lobbyist employers.

Supporters say: Prop. 15 would pave the way for more minority candidates, as it levels the playing field for those without rich friends. Also, it would eliminate any debt to large corporate donors.

Opponents say: The lobbyist fee could be overturned as unconstitutional, which would mean the money would have to come out of the general fund.

Proposition 16

Prop. 16 could be called the PG&E Act, as that is how people have come to know it. That’s because the utility giant is its primary backer, putting more than $50 million behind it. The proposition calls for a two-thirds majority vote for a municipal utility to expand or for one to be formed in the first place.

Supporters say: Prop. 16 isn’t just about electricity; it’s the “Taxpayers’ Right to Vote Act.” Currently, local governments have the final say in whether to take over a private electric company, and taxpayers should have a say in where their money is going.

Opponents say: By requiring a two-thirds vote, Prop. 16 would make it nearly impossible to opt for public power, which is cheaper than PG&E power, eliminating competition for PG&E.

Proposition 17

Prop. 17 would open up so-called “persistency discounts” to drivers who switch to a new insurer but have been consistently covered for the past five years. This initiative has been almost entirely backed by Mercury Insurance.

Supporters say: Persistency discounts can save drivers up to $250 a year, and by being able to take that discount with them when switching insurers, they will avoid the steep penalty for shopping for a lower rate.

Opponents say: Prop. 17 is a “rate hike in disguise” because in other states where this is already law, Mercury Insurance charges huge fees for drivers who have had lapses in coverage.