New Ballot Numbers For November's Water, Budget Propositions

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voting.jpgToday's political lesson: The California Legislature can do pretty much whatever it wants when it comes to shaping, and reshaping, the lineup and look of a statewide ballot.

On Monday, lawmakers crafted a plan to renumber propositions appearing on the Nov. 4 ballot. Two of the measures -- a multibillion-dollar bond for water needs and a constitutional amendment to enhance the state's rainy day budget fund -- will shed the numbers assigned by Secretary of State Debra Bowen of Proposition 43 (water) and Proposition 44 (budget).

Behold the new designations: Proposition 1 for water, Proposition 2 for the budget reserve. By day's end, Gov. Jerry Brown had signed off on the change.

Legislative staffers announced the rebranding of the two legislative ballot measures during the flurry of last-minute negotiations on a new water bond. The existing Proposition 43, an $11 billion state water bond, was crafted back in 2009 and 2010 and has been targeted all year long for a do-over in the statehouse.

But why the new number? And even then, why a new number for the proposition to enhance the state budget's reserve fund -- a proposal placed on the ballot back in May?


One of the new numbers, say officials, was a necessity. A spokesperson for Secretary of State Bowen confirmed that even a new version of a water bond would have required a new proposition number. Hence Prop 43 has now been replaced by Prop 1.

Prop 2, though, seems to have been born for a more practical reason: The two measures, one almost universally lauded (enhanced budget reserve fund) and one not at all universally lauded (water), now will be symbolically linked at the top of the ballot. They will, backers hope, stand out from Propositions 45 through 48 when a voter scans the fall ballot.

(Proposition 49, as we reported yesterday, has been blocked from a vote on Nov. 4.)

Political watchers count on voters seeing such measures as a package deal, even though there are no legal strings between the two. And for incumbents like Gov. Jerry Brown and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature, Prop. 1 and Prop. 2 could be portrayed (accurately or not) as a one-two effort to fix what needs fixing in California as the politicians who wrote them also ask voters for another term in office. Or some message to that effect.

Will it work? Recent history offers backers both hope and despair.

In 2006, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders placed five bond measures on the fall ballot (the same ballot on which Schwarzenegger sought re-election), Propositions 1A through 1E. The $36 billion package was approved by voters and was an electoral alphabet soup for which Schwarzenegger urged passage at almost every campaign event. The takeaway for political consultants: The symbol of the package was more powerful than any one bond measure. In fact, some believe that the weaker propositions were boosted by their more popular ballot siblings.

On the other hand, 2009 showed the downside of a package deal. In that year's special election -- held in the midst of California's fiscal free fall -- voters rejected all five measures crafted by Schwarzenegger and a bipartisan group of legislative leaders. Again, it was up to voters whether to buy the notion of the measures being an all-or-nothing deal ... and it was a huge gamble that came up short.

In fact, a key criticism of the 2009 statehouse election package was that the unified "yes" campaign had no core constituency. It tried so hard to appeal to everyone that it actually didn't appeal to any one group enough.

2014 is undoubtedly a different year. But again, consider the politics. Statewide public polls show the water bond -- even a smaller version -- with a bare minimum of support. The idea of a stronger and bigger budget reserve fund, on the other hand, polls incredibly well. Might Capitol denizens see this as a way to boost the water bond's chances ... by arranging an electoral marriage of what would now be known as Prop. 1 and Prop. 2?