California ballot initiatives have potential to spread nationwide. Heavy voter turnout is not expected in California - which puts some weighty issues in the hands of relatively few people. Initiatives include funding to buy park lands and limits on state campaign financing.
| Los Angeles
Land preservation and campaign finance reform will be among several ballot initiatives taken up by California voters that may have national ramifications. While the Michael Dukakis-Jesse Jackson act continues to play under the big top, several of these sideshows may turn out to be more important than the Democratic presidential primary. They include:
A measure that would set up a $776-million trust fund to buy and preserve more park land.
Two proposals to overhaul campaign finance laws, including one that could alter the balance of power in Sacramento and give impetus to similar reforms across the country.
Two measures aimed at loosening restrictions on government spending, which will give a reading of the public mood on the role of government 10 years after the Proposition 13 tax revolt.
Despite the importance of the measures, however, they may be decided by relatively few voters tomorrow. With the Dukakis-Jackson primary battle producing few sparks, and most of the ballot measures involving complex issues, some analysts predict a low turnout at the polls.
``I've been following initiatives since World War II,'' says California pollster Mervin Field. ``I've never seen a campaign where so little attention was being paid.''
The environmental measure calls for the sale of general obligation bonds to create the wildlife, coastal, and park conservation fund. It would earmark $414 million for upgrading, preserving, and expanding more than 75 specific park and wildlife projects in the state. Another $362 million would be spent on general park needs.
Proposition 70 is drawing interest outside California as a way to spur more acquisition of lands for preservation. While many states have floated park bond measures over the years, they are usually put on the ballot by the governor or state legislature.
This is believed to be the first such citizen-initiated measure in the country. Thus, if it passes, supporters believe it could become a model for conservationists in other states.
``California is at the leading edge of something that is going to take hold across the country,'' says Russ Butcher, Southwest representative of the National Parks and Conservation Association.
The initiative was launched by a coalition of environmentalists who became frustrated with the political process in Sacramento - particularly the policies of Gov. George Deukmejian. They had been unable to get the governor and legislature to sign off on similar bond measures.
Not everyone is enamored with Proposition 70, though. Opponents include the California Farm Bureau Federation, the state Chamber of Commerce, and the state Cattlemen's Association. They deride it as a ``park barrel'' measure that will result in an uneven distribution of money.
To get the measure on the ballot, supporters allowed local environmental groups to include their pet projects in the bond measure in return for financial support and help in gathering signatures. Thus critics say the measure sets a dangerous precedent of allowing special interest groups, instead of the governor and Legislature, to set funding priorities.
Also contentious will be the two rival measures aimed at curbing runaway campaign spending. The most sweeping is a measure backed by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and numerous corporate and civic groups.
Aimed at state legislative races, it would impose limits on contributions and expenditures, authorize partial public financing of campaigns, and ban the transfer of funds among legislative candidates.
Proposition 68 represents one of the nation's most comprehensive attempts to reform election laws. Although a number of states allow public funding for races for statewide offices, only three have it for state legislative contests.
``If California were to enact public funding for legislative races, it would be the biggest test case in the country,'' says Herbert Alexander, an expert at the University of Southern California.
The rival measure, Proposition 73, would limit campaign contributions, but would not restrict spending nor permit public financing of elections.
Although the two measures are in competition, supporters of reform agree the current system of financing is out of control. They contend spiraling campaign costs are forcing candidates to spend too much time fund raising, giving well-heeled interest groups too much sway over legislative agendas and eroding public confidence in government.
The initiatives face formidable opposition, however - particularly the more sweeping Proposition 68. It is being fought by the Republican governor and most members of the Democratically controlled state legislature.
Critics don't like the idea of taxpayers' money being used to support extremist candidates who might qualify for public matching funds.
Either measure would affect the power of legislative leaders like Willie Brown Jr., the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, who control huge campaign war chests and dole out money to legislative allies.
The two government spending initiatives seek to loosen a state spending cap imposed by a 1979 ballot measure. One, put forward by Paul Gann, the author of the original limit, would ease restrictions slightly - and only for one purpose. A broader measure, backed by state schools superintendent Bill Honig, would allow a general increase in state expenditures.
Pollster Field says passage of both measures would indicate the public is ready for more - but not unrestrained - government.