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California Constitutional Convention Movement Put On Hold

A movement to convene a constitutional convention that would tweak some of the impediments the state sees each year as it battles to pass a budget has hit hard times, and organizers said they have paused Repair California's signature-gathering efforts to put such a convention before voters.

The campaign to put two measures on the November ballot -- one to approve calling a constitutional convention, the other actually calling it -- is running out of money and desperately needs more, campaign chief John Grubb told KQED. He said he's "hoping there are some angels out there" with cash for the movement.

KQED reports that group has raised less than $500,000 but likely needs at least an additional $3 million to gather the number of signatures needed to get the measures on the ballot. So far the Repair California movement only has about 140,000 signatures and would need several hundred thousand more.

It's a sad statement in a state where a movement to place a marijuana-legalizing initiative on the same ballot has seemingly breezed through its signature gathering. Then again, the constitutional convention language is vague and would give delegates vast authority -- outside raising taxes -- to change California law.

California's political system has been criticized because voters have straight-jacketed the governor and politicians each year with spending mandates for education, prisons (the three-strikes law), high-speed rail, road improvements, libraries and so on. While Sacramento has spending mandates, it is blamed for its inability to cut and balance the budget.

Prop. 13 also ties the hands of state politicians by limiting the amount of tax the state receives from property taxes -- taxes on home values only increase if property changes hands and those values increase. So a grandma in Beverly Hills could be paying taxes based on a five-figure home value while a couple who just moved in up the street might be paying taxes based on a $2 million value. Fair?

It's a political third rail -- the blue-haired demographic doesn't want Prop. 13 touched -- and it's not clear whether or not a convention would change Prop. 13's formula. (Again. the language says taxes won't be raised, but it doesn't say whether such formulas could be changed).

In fact, the mystery behind what would happen if constitutional delegates were given the power to change California's political rules is probably what has hamstrung the campaign most. While individual initiatives and bonds have wreaked havoc on Sacramento and politicians' ability to shape annual budgets, they are exactly what Californians want -- the ability to affect change, issue by issue.

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