"Our hope has to be that this turns into the David and Goliath story," says Prop 7 supporter David Freeman, former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.
Prop 10's opponents have been slow to raise money. But help may be on the way, because the state's top business and labor groups are against it and may fork over funds to defeat it.
Bonds are good politics, except when times are bad.
This is good and bad news for Prop 10, which is a $5-billion bond. Over the past 32 years, California voters have approved 72 percent of the 109 bonds on the statewide ballot, according to figures compiled by The Field Poll's Mark DiCamillo. But during the last sustained economic downturn in California—in the early 1990s—just three of 13 bonds passed.
Voters, concerned about California's mounting debt and the credit markets, have soured on borrowing, preferring tax increases as a way to fund government programs. Opponents believe Prop 10 is especially vulnerable, because it's a general obligation bond, meaning that the $5 billion would have to be paid back from the state's general fund, which pays for education, health and other popular programs. The cost of repayment is estimated at $10 billion over 30 years. "I think this makes Prop 10 totally beatable," says Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California, which opposes Prop 10. "California is in a budget disaster that is insoluble."
Successful ballot initiatives generally involve issues that lawmakers have failed to tackle.
Propositions 7 and 10 seek to legislate in areas in which the state lawmakers and regulators are already making progress. The state currently has mandates in place on renewables (Prop 7 would strengthen these existing rules), and Schwarzenegger has been a relentless champion of alternative-fuel vehicles that would be subsidized under Prop 10. (One of his Hummers—Schwarzenegger bought the first civilian Hummer ever made—runs on biofuel these days and smells like French fries, he says).
"Initiatives are for things the legislature won't do," says Ralph Cavanaugh, energy program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who says he supports the goals of Prop 7 but opposes the initiative because he believes the legislature should deal with this issue. "In California, you have the strongest pro-renewables governor, legislature and regulators in the country."
In the ballot initiative business, simpler is better.
Props 7 and 10 are two of the most complex measures ever to appear on the ballot. Prop 7 is 42 pages long, Prop 10 runs 23 pages. (By comparison, Proposition 8, a high-profile effort to ban same-sex marriage, is a single sentence.)
Complex measures risk getting lost—even in nonpresidential election years—when there are 10 measures on the statewide ballot, and they also provide no shortage of details for opponents to attack. Already, opponents of Prop 7 and 10 are claiming that various "drafting errors" would produce outcomes that could slow the adoption of renewable energy technologies.
Whatever the merits of these arguments, California voters likely have too many reasons to vote no on the measures. Big Solar and Big Natural Gas have their supporters. But they may prove no match for the state's Big Dysfunction.