Anti-HSR Initiative Cleared for Circulation
The Republican-backed effort to kill the California high speed rail project has been cleared for circulation – but don’t expect to see any petitions at a strip mall near you anytime soon:
Republicans Doug LaMalfa, who’s running for Congress, and former Congressman George Radanovich, who are behind the effort to derail the rail project, must collect signatures of 504,760 registered voters – the number equal to 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2010 gubernatorial election – in order to qualify it for the ballot.
Under state law, they’ve got until Aug. 13 to round up the necessary signatures.
The last initiative to qualify for the ballot in California using purely volunteer signature gathering efforts was in 1986 when an English-only initiative qualified. Since then, some amount of paid signature gathering has been used to get initiatives on the ballot. Unless you’re able to fund signature gathering, you’re unlikely to make it.
The cost is not cheap. In order to ensure you have enough signatures that qualify, you want to gather a lot more signatures than you need to qualify in order to overcome the error rate. For the anti-HSR folks, they’d need at least 750,000 signatures, maybe more.
As the election draws nearer, the cost per signature rises. Sponsors are lucky to get $1 per signature – as the deadline nears the rate can rise to $2 or $3 per signature. That’s going to be $1.5 million or $2.25 million just to put an initiative on the ballot.
From there the obstacles only grow. The initiative would require a yes vote to pass, but it’s harder to get yes votes than no votes. Voters tend to default to “no” if they aren’t sure about a proposal, and sowing doubt is pretty easy with an initiative.
The only way to avoid that is to outspend the other side. If an anti-HSR initiative did make the ballot, one can bet that unions, contractors, developers, and urban businesses would spend money to protect the HSR project. So anti-HSR forces would need to raise another $10 to $20 million just to be competitive, primarily with TV ads.
Right now, none of that money has materialized – either to get the initiative on the ballot or to fund a campaign to pass it. If that money did materialize, then we’d have a battle on our hands. Until it does, however, this is just Doug LaMalfa trying to screw with California’s future again. Worth keeping an eye on just in case.