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Calls for convention could be tax hike scheme

Reform California says drastic measures are necessary to fix state's political structure

Posted: August 23, 2009 9:17 p.m.
Updated: August 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
A grass-roots group determined to reboot California's political system is being accused by local politicians as being nothing more than a left-wing group bent on raising taxes.

On Aug. 14, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced that Reform California may begin collecting petition signatures for two measures designed to rewrite California's Constitution.

Reform California officials said a constitutional convention is the only way to fix California's political system.

"Every few years people say let's throw the bums (state politicians) out," said spokesman John Grubb. "We feel if we throw the bums out, a new set of bums will take their place."

The first initiative sponsored by Reform California would amend the California Constitution to permit voters to use an initiative to call a new state constitutional convention.

The second initiative actually calls for a state Constitutional convention with 400 specially elected delegates who will draft a new document to guide the state. Reform California said such a drastic measure is necessary to fix the state's political superstructure.

"The state's broke and we don't feel there's a silver bullet to fix it all," Grub said.

Reform California lists the budget crisis, election reforms, the state water project, traffic, education the ballot initiative process and the strained relationship between state and local government as the most important reforms the group is seeking.

"Our education system has slipped from first to near last. Los Angeles has the worst traffic in the country with the Bay Area a close second. We've had a water crisis for nearly 30 years, and we have a state budget crisis every five months," Grubb said.

However, state senator Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, said the proposed Constitutional convention is nothing more than a front to overturn Proposition 13 and raise taxes.

"I think it's an end around to circumvent Proposition 13," said Strickland, who represents parts of the Santa Clarita Valley. "This ballot initiative is for those who believe California is ungovernable, which I don't. This is for those folks who just want to raise taxes."

Proposition 13 was a state initiative passed in 1978 to limit the amount of property taxes paid by homeowners. Critics of the legislation claim the law hamstrings the state's ability to balance its budget.

Strickland said Proposition 13, keeps older Californians from being taxed out of their homes.

"That (repealing Proposition 13) could be an unintended consequence of the state Constitutional Convention," said State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita.

Smyth doesn't support repealing Proposition 13, but he would support a Constitutional Convention if the people call for it.

"I think it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone the level of frustration people are feeling. I have a front row seat at the legislation and I'm frustrated."

Reform California must gather 694,354 registered voters, the number equal to 8 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2006 gubernatorial election to get the measure placed on the November 2010 ballot, Grubb said.

If the ballot passes, a Constitutional Convention will convene in 2011, with the people of California ratifying the new Constitution in November 2012.

Reform California has received endorsements from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and several state legislators, Grubb said.

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