Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg pledged today to put forward for the 2014 election a package of major changes to California's initiative process, including a provision to make it easier for legislators to place tax measures on the ballot.
The Sacramento Democrat, speaking at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon, outlined a trio of initiative reforms he said "will both strengthen California's tradition of direct democracy and empower the people elected by their communities...to make clear choices."
He said he plans to put the proposals on the 2014 ballot either through a vote of the Legislature, a task he said could be easier if Democrats secure a supermajority in the upper house this November, or by gathering the necessary voter signatures through the initiative process.
One of the major changes endorsed by Steinberg is lowering the bar for putting a statutory initiative on the ballot from a two-thirds vote to a majority vote. He argued that even with voters' 2010 decision to give the Legislature power to approve a budget with a majority vote, lawmakers are governing with "one arm tied behind out backs" because of the two-thirds threshold for enacting taxes. Recognizing the political challenges of lowering the required vote for new taxes, he said he would at least like the opportunity to give voters the chance to decide for themselves.
"How maddening it was way, way back in 2011, to have a new governor and Legislature make $14 billion worth of cuts and then not allow the people the right to vote to extend existing taxes," he said, referring to the inability to win the GOP votes needed for a deal to hold a special election on temporary tax increases.
Steinberg also endorsed an "indirect initiative" process for statutory initiatives to give lawmakers the chance to address issues raised by proponents of an initiative before backers are cleared to begin gathering signatures, calling it a "quality check." He said he plans to include in his package a provision to let the Legislature amend or repeal a statutory initiative ten years after it has passed.
"Needs and priorities change. They change from one decade to the next," he said. "California needs flexibility."