Businesses, unions, foundations, political parties and wealthy individuals flooded California with campaign money fighting over 12 state ballot propositions. This year’s spending raised a record-breaking total of at least $785 million to sway voters.
The initiatives covered a wide range of issues, including ride sharing, property taxes, voting, affirmative action and cash bail. Here’s information about some of those ballot measures, along with election results.
Proposition 22 led the way with fund raising, as Uber, Door Dash and Lyft and other companies raised almost $203 million to support the measure. Opponents raised almost $20 million to defeat the “App-Based Drivers as Contractors and Labor Policies Initiative,” which classified app-based transportation (ride sharing) and delivery drivers as independent contractors, rather than full-time employees.
In September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which said that most independent contractors in the state were actually employees. This meant companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash were required to pay wages, sick leave and other benefits to drivers, who generally set their own hours and used their own vehicles for ride sharing and delivery work. AB 5 would have increased costs for consumers of those services.
Those three companies balked at the law and pledged millions to place Proposition 20 on the ballot to overturn AB 5. This was the most expensive proposition battle in California history.
Proposition 22 was opposed by numerous unions and Democrat leaders such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The Republican Party of California, ride sharing and delivery companies, and business associations supported the measure, which passed handily, 58.4% to 41.6%.
Proposition 15 would have required commercial and industrial properties to be taxed at market value, rather than the purchase price. It would have overturned part of Proposition 13, which California voters passed back in 1976, requiring that commercial, residential and industrial property taxes would be based on the purchase price, with an annual adjustment based on the inflation rate.
Teachers unions and the California Democratic Party thought that property taxes weren’t bringing enough income for schools and communities, so a coalition gathered signatures to place Proposition 15 on the ballot. Advocates received contributions of $63 million, including $17 million from the California Teachers Association.
The Republican Party of California, corporations and business organizations stood against the initiative, raising almost $61 million to oppose the measure. Prop 15 was defeated by a slim margin of 51.6% against and 48.3% in favor.
Proposition 16 was a constitutional amendment, placed on the ballot by the state legislature, which would have repealed Proposition 209, passed by voters in 1996. Prop 209 added these words to the California Constitution, “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
The repeal measure, titled “Repeal Proposition 209 Affirmative Action Amendment,” would have permitted the state to consider characteristics such as race, sex and color in hiring. It failed with a vote of 56% voting against and 44% in favor. Supporters, which included a slew of politicians, education groups, unions and corporations, raised $20.3 million to persuade voters, while opponents had only $1.5 million in contributions.
Roger Clegg, at National Review, wrote about the significance of this vote, “So we have our most populous, and very blue, state rejecting by a decisive vote — apparently a greater margin than the 1996 vote – a measure that would reinstate politically correct discrimination, a.k.a. “affirmative action.”
The state had two voting measures on the ballot this year. Proposition 17 allows convicted felons, who were out on parole, to vote. It passed, 59% to 41%. Proposition 18 would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, if they would be 18 at the time of the next election. It failed, 55% to 45%.
Proposition 25 was another initiative where voters overturned action by California’s legislature. In 2018, the legislature passed Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), which eliminated cash bail to release defendants awaiting trial. Then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the law, saying, “Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”
SB 10 replaced cash bail with a system of pre-trial assessments, where suspects were rated as low, medium or high risk. Those at low or medium risk would be released on their own recognizance. If a suspect was a high risk for not appearing in court, or a threat to public safety, they could be held by the court.
California voters preferred the cash bail system, repealing SB 10 with a vote of 55.4% to 44.6%. This was another expensive battle, with a combined $24.7 million spent by supporters and opponents.
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