The Tuesday Count: CA pension measure given questionable title, cleared for signature gathering
Edited by Brittany ClingenCalifornia, pitting Democrats against one another based on their allegiance - or lack thereof - to a hot-button ballot proposition. San Jose mayor Chuck Reed (D) is no stranger to standing up for pension reform. He spearheaded a ballot measure in San Jose - known as Measure B - that sought to give the city's public employees the choice of either accepting a lower pension or contributing more to their original plan. On June 5, 2012, the measure was overwhelmingly approved by voters, 69.02 to 30.98 percent.
Reed is now taking the pension battle to the state level, with an eye toward mitigating bankruptcy risks. Vallejo filed for bankruptcy in 2008, with San Bernardino and Stockton following suit in 2012. Several other cities are teetering on the brink due to burgeoning pension costs that are largely unfunded. "Skyrocketing retirement costs are crowding out funding for essential public services and pushing cities, counties and other government agencies closer to insolvency," Reed said in October 2013. Reed explains the measure will amend the California Constitution so as to "enable the people of California to take those actions necessary to attain fiscal sustainability and provide fiscally responsible and adequately funded pension and retiree healthcare benefits for all-government employees and retirees." Other public officials from both sides of the proverbial political aisle have joined Reed in his crusade to put what he's calling "The Pension Reform Act of 2014" before voters in the November 4, 2014 general election.
A decision made by California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) brought the proposition one step closer to the ballot, though not without an ample dose of controversy. As the attorney general, it is Harris' responsibility to give ballot propositions their official titles and summaries. When two pension initiatives landed on her desk in 2012, supporters asserted that her titles and summaries so grossly misrepresented the measures that they could not raise enough money and, therefore, had to drop their efforts. Many people across the state said that Harris, a union supporter, deliberately wrote the language to confuse and mislead voters, thereby helping the unions by preventing the measure from ever reaching the ballot.
On January 6, 2014, Harris released the official title and summary of Reed's 2014 effort, calling it the "Public Employees Pension and Retiree Healthcare Benefits Initiative Constitutional Amendment." Neither the measure's supporters nor the unions were satisfied with the title and summary, which states, among other things, that the measure "eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for current public employees, including teachers, nurses, and peace officers, for future work performed."
"You read this and you don’t know what we’re trying to do," Reed said following the announcement. He also said that the summary focuses on the proposition's "pension takeaways," as opposed to the positive aspects of the initiative. The unions declared their disapproval within minutes of Harris' announcement, saying, "While the title and summary describes the repeal of Constitutionally vested rights to pensions and retiree health care, teachers, nurses, and firefighters – by far the largest groups of municipal public employees – deserve to have voters know exactly how their retirement security will be put at risk with this measure." Despite disappointment on both sides, supporters now have the go-ahead to begin collecting the 807,615 signatures required to place the measure on the November ballot.
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Proponents of minimum wage hike to start signature collection in Arkansas: The Arkansas Attorney General approved a ballot measure proposal to increase the state's minimum wage over three years. The measure, sponsored by Give Arkansas a Raise Now, seeks to increase the state’s minimum wage from $6.25 to $7.50 per hour on January 1, 2015, to $8 on January 1, 2016 and to $8.50 per hour on January 1, 2017. Give Arkansas a Raise Now may now start collecting the 62,507 signatures necessary to get the measure on the ballot. The signatures are due on June 30, 2014. Governor Mark Pryor (D) has endorsed the initiative.
Raise Idaho seeks statewide minimum wage increase: Raise Idaho has started collecting signatures to put a minimum wage increase initiative on the November ballot. The organization needs to collect 53,751 signatures by the April 30, 2014 deadline. The measure would raise the minimum wage to $9.80 per hour by 2017 and index the wage to inflation. Anne Nesse of Raise Idaho said, “The move has been spurred by outrage over Idaho's status as the state with the most minimum-wage jobs per capita in America.” United Vision for Idaho and the AFL-CIO are aiding in signature gathering. Lobbyist for the Idaho Retailers Association, Pam Eaton, claimed an increased minimum wage would hurt businesses. She also noted that, "If businesses think they have some really great employees, they're going to pay them more. The market works."
“Equal Rights Amendment” gains traction in Oregon: "Shouldn’t women be explicitly equal in every constitution? To me, the answer is an absolute ‘Yes, of course," argued Leanne Litreel DiLorenzo, an advocate for the Oregon Equal Rights Amendment initiative. Supporters of the ERA have started gathering signatures to get the measure on the ballot in November. The measure would guarantee that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex." David Didanque, the Executive Director of the ACLU, deemed the initiative "unnecessary" due to a previous Oregon Supreme Court ruling banning sex discrimination. Oregon is one of twenty-eight states without an ERA.
The controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, a method used to increase the yield of oil and natural gas drilling, became a heated issue in Colorado and Ohio in 2013. The battles in these states do not appear to be diminishing in 2014, with more local measures proposed in Ohio and a state-wide measure proposed for voters in Colorado. In 2014, the anti-fracking movement appears to be spilling over state lines and, for the first time, Illinois voters may decide the fate of a local hydraulic fracturing ban referendum on the March 18, 2014 election ballot.
Activists, assisted by the group Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE), in Johnson County, Illinois, submitted exactly 1,001 signatures to the county clerk's office on December 12, 2013. The group needs only 374 of these signatures to be valid to qualify their measure for the ballot. They tried first to encourage the county commissioners to vote to refer a ballot measure banning fracking to the ballot in 2014. However, instead of approving a referendum themselves, the county commissioners encouraged the group pursue a signature petition drive to put the measure before voters through the initiative process.
In Ohio, citizens of the cities of Youngstown and Athens are again trying to ban fracking via the ballot. Voters in both cities faced proposed fracking bans in 2013. In Youngstown, voters twice rejected the proposed fracking ban and accompanying "Community Bill of Rights", once in May and again in November of 2013. Spokeswoman for the movement and geologist Susie Beiersdorfer said supporters believe that because the issue has garnered more public attention, their third attempt in 2014 will meet with approval from the city electorate. In Athens, the proposed 2013 measure sought to prohibit fracking within a 20 mile radius of the city. The Athens County Board of Elections rejected this ballot measure before it was voted on because it extended beyond the scope of the city's jurisdiction. This year, activists are putting a more modest measure before voters on May 6, 2014, seeking only to ban the oil and gas drilling practice inside the city limits.
| 2014 ballot measures|
|Tuesday Count • 2014 Scorecard|
- Ballotpedia's Tuesday Count for 2014
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- Santa CLara County Registrar of Voters, "June 5, 2012 elections," accessed January 7, 2014
- Fox Nation, "Desert Hot Springs, Calif. Closes Fire Co., Face Bankruptcy From Pension Costs," December 30, 2013
- The Sacramento Bee, "Reed files public pension ballot proposal with California AG," October 15, 2013
- Contra Costa Times, "Contra Costa Times editorial: Ballot measures summaries should be written by neutral party," February 25, 2012
- The Sacramento Bee, "California attorney general clears pension-change ballot measure for signature-gathering," January 6, 2014
- Memphis Business Journal, “Attorney General clears way for Arkansas minimum wage ballot initiative”, January 6, 2013
- KATV, “Democrats seek to win Arkansas with minimum wage platform”, December 30, 2013
- KBOI, “Idaho group pushes measure to hike minimum wage”, December 31, 2013
- KVAL, “Petition drive on to put Equal Rights Amendment on Oregon ballot”, December 30, 2013
- Oregon Secretary of State, “Equal Rights Amendment For Women to be Equal to Men”, accessed on January 7, 2013
- KATU, "Signature gathering drive underway for state equal-rights amendment," December 30, 2013
- 12 KFVS, "First fracking referendum in Illinois," December 12, 2014
- The Southern Illinoisan, "Local control being petitioned: No fracking referendum in Johnson County, yet," November 5, 2031
- Youngstownrights.org, "Youngstown Bill of Rights" text, accessed January 6, 2014
- 'The Athens News, "Local anti-fracking group comes back with 2nd attempt at ballot measure," January 5, 2014