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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

California as a Case Study

Our chapter on elections and campaigns discusses direct democracy. Our federalism chapter analyzes the impact of state tax laws. And our interest groups chapter looks at the ways in which corporations try to move public policy. A story from The Sacramento Bee illustrates all three points:, in a fresh attack on California's new online sales tax law, is pushing a ballot referendum to have the law repealed.

The Internet retailer Monday called it "a referendum on jobs and investment in California." The effort comes two weeks after the law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. It requires online merchants to collect sales tax on goods purchased by Californians.

Amazon hasn't been collecting the tax. The Seattle retailer responded the day the law took effect by severing ties with its 10,000 California affiliates – individuals, businesses and nonprofits that earned commissions by referring customers to Amazon. Dozens of other online merchants have done the same.

A ballot referendum takes the California-vs.-Amazon fight to another level. Unlike the more commonly used initiative process, a referendum effort can produce much quicker results.

Referendums are used to overturn laws passed by the Legislature, and the new sales tax law would be suspended once the Amazon effort qualifies for the ballot, said Chip Nielsen, a lawyer working on the referendum. The next statewide election is scheduled for February, but a pending bill would move it to June 2012.

At Fox and Hounds, Tony Quinn argues that the state's redistricting commission has failed miserably, highlighting issues of government tranparency and political fairness:

Running out of time, beset by rebellious consultants, and manipulated by partisans, the Citizens Redistricting Commission has decided to exclude citizens from the process. The Commission is going dark.

On Saturday, the Commission voted not to release a second set of draft redistricting maps to the press or the public on July 14 as promised. They also voted not to post maps of the districts they are drawing on their own redistricting website. Despite a $3 million budget and hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to their consultants, the consultants told them they had no time for public maps. Outside groups are being recruited for that task.
So what needs to be done with these districts? A referendum must be qualified against these plans if the final districts look anything like they do now. Fortunately for the citizenry, the referendum law was changed by the voters last fall, and all that any group has to do is to collect enough signatures to trigger a referendum and the issue goes immediately to the California Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court staff has already begun making discrete inquiries as to how it might proceed if come this fall redistricting drops into its lap. The law provides plenty of time for the Court to draw districts for the 2012 election.

Having made their process impenetrable to substantive criticism, ignoring meaningful public input or even simple common sense, this Commission has sadly invited upon itself the need to move redistricting to an impartial judiciary.