On June 5, California voters will be asked to make legislative careers shorter and cigarettes more expensive.
Under a proposed measure billed as term-limit legislation, politicians would be allowed to spend fewer total years in the California Legislature, but craft longer careers in either of its houses.
Proposition 28 would limit legislators elected after June 5, 2012, to a lifetime maximum of 12 years in office, rather than the current 14 years.
Assembly seats now have a limit of three two-year terms, or six years total; Senate seats have a limit of two four-year terms, or eight years total. The new limits would allow a 12-year term in either house.
Supporters say the reform would both make politicians more accountable and more experienced by discouraging the current practice of flitting from one office to another to attain their lifetime term limit. It would also close a loophole that currently allows some politicians to serve up to 17 years if they finish out less than half of the term of another legislator.
Opponents call the measure “a scam” funded by special interests and unions that would actually weaken term limits. They say the current term-limit law prevents politicians from accumulating too much power by moving them out of office after six or eight years — although they can then run for another office.
But at least one observer said both sides’ arguments may be missing Sacramento’s most-needed governmental reform — ending partisan gridlock.
“There’s a fairly broad consensus that term limits have made things worse, not better,” said Corey Cook, associate professor of political science at the University of San Francisco. Cook said that opinion can be found among Democrats and Republicans, in academic circles as well as among legislative staffers — although maybe not politicians.
California’s current term limits law, Cook said, has done less than promised to eliminate career politicians. Instead, it has shifted institutional knowledge to lobbyists as politicians are forced to spend more time scrambling toward their next offices.
The second ballot measure, Proposition 29, would raise the state’s excise tax on a pack of cigarettes from 87 cents to $1.87, with the revenue to go toward research on cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. It would go into effect in October and is expected to raise about $735 million in the first year.
The average retail price for a pack of cigarettes in California is currently $5.
Proponents of Prop. 29 include the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association. They argue that boosting the cost of tobacco will help smokers quit and deter more kids from
taking up the habit.
The opposition, funded primarily by the tobacco industry, claims the measure will create yet another government bureaucracy in the form of a committee of political appointees who oversee the revenue. They say there are no guarantees the money will be spent in California.