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California Term Limits, Proposition 140 (1990)

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California Proposition 140, or the Limits on Terms of Office, Legislators' Retirement, Legislative Operating Costs Amendment, was on the California general election ballot in November 6, 1990 ballot in California. It was an initiated constitutional amendment that was approved.

Proposition 140 limits the number of terms that California state senators and representatives can stay in office. Members of the California State Assembly are limited to three two-year terms and members of the California State Senate to two four-year terms. It also imposes a lifelong ban against seeking the same office once the limits have been reached

Proposition 140 was on the same ballot as Proposition 131, which was supported by Ralph Nader. The two initiatives both had a term limits component and were seen as competing with each other.

Although it was outspent by a margin of more than 31-to-1, Proposition 140 passed with 52.17% of the vote.[1],[2]

See also: State legislatures with term limits

Election results

Proposition 140
Approveda Yes 3,744,447 52.17%

Constitutional changes

California Constitution

Proposition 140 added or altered nine different sections in six different articles of the California Constitution:

Ballot language


The ballot title was:

Limits on Terms of Office, Legislators' Retirement, Legislative Operating Costs. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.


The official summary said:

  • Persons elected or appointed after November 5, 1990, holding offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Controller, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Board of Equalization members, and State Senators, limited to two terms; members of the Assembly limited to three terms.
  • Requires legislators elected or serving after November 1, 1990, to participate in federal Social Security program; precludes accrual of other pension and retirement benefits resulting from legislative service, except vested rights.
  • Limits expenditures of Legislature for compensation and operating costs and equipment, to specified amount.

Fiscal impact

Ballot title as it appeared in 1990's official, mailed voter guide
See also: Fiscal impact statement

The fiscal estimate provided by the California Legislative Analyst's Office said:

  • The limitation on terms will have no fiscal effect.
  • The restrictions on the legislative retirement benefits would reduce state costs by approximately $750,000 a year.
  • To the extent that future legislators do not participate in the federal Social Security system, there would be unknown future savings to the state.
  • Legislative expenditures in 1991-92 would be reduced by about 38 percent, or $70 million.
  • In subsequent years, the measure would limit growth in these expenditures to the changes in the state's appropriations limit.



The official voter guide arguments in favor of Proposition 140 were signed by:

  • Peter F. Schabarum
  • Lewis K. Uhler of the National Tax Limitation Committee
  • J.G. Ford, Jr.
  • W. Bruce Lee, II of the California Business League
  • Lee A. Phelps of the Alliance of California Taxpayers
  • Art Pagdan, MD, of the National 1st VP, Filipino-American Political Association

Arguments in favor

Supporters of Proposition 140 made these arguments in its favor in the state's official voter guide:


Excerpt of arguments against Proposition 140 in the official voter guide


The official voter guide arguments opposing Proposition 140 were signed by:

  • Dr. Regene L. Mitchell, president, Consumer Federation of California
  • Lucy Blake, executive director, California League of Conservation Voters
  • Dan Terry, president, California Professional Firefighters
  • Ed Foglia, president, California Teachers Association
  • Linda M. Tangren, state chair, California National Women's Political Caucus

Arguments against

The arguments presented in the official voter guide opposing Proposition 140 were:

Bates v. Jones

In the case of Bates v. Jones, former California Assemblyman Tom Bates and several of his constituents filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California seeking to have the court determine that the lifetime term limits in Proposition 140 violated their federal constitutional rights.

District Court Judge Claudia Wilken upheld the claim of Bates and enjoined California Secretary of State Bill Jones from enforcing the provisions of Proposition 140.[3] In Wilken's ruling, she agrees with the view of the plaintiffs that the voters were unaware that they were imposing a lifetime ban once the limits had been reached.

The National Tax Limitation Committee and Bill Jones appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. At the Ninth Circuit, a three-judge panel heard the appeal. Two of them upheld Wilken's ruling. At that time, a majority of the active judges of the Ninth Circuit vote to rehear the case. When the case was re-heard before the full circuit, Wilken's earlier verdict was overturned and the law went into effect.[4]

See also

External links

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Additional reading