Business Groups Preparing for Costly Ballot Measure Campaigns
California business groups are "gearing up" for costly campaigns that focus on "high-stakes" measures that they expect to appear on the November ballot, including proposals to reduce workers' compensation rates for employers and to repeal a recent state law (SB 2) set to increase health coverage mandates for employers, the Sacramento Bee reports (Evans, Sacramento Bee, 2/7). Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in November proposed cutting up to $11.3 billion in funds from the state's $29 billion workers' compensation insurance program, under which employers pay $5.85 per $100 of payroll -- the highest rate in the nation -- for coverage. Schwarzenegger said he would seek to place a measure to reform the state workers' compensation system on the November statewide ballot if legislators did not approve such legislation by March 1. Meanwhile, SB 2, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, will require employers with 200 or more employees to provide health insurance to workers and their dependents by 2006 or pay into a state fund that would provide such coverage. Employers with 50 to 199 employees will have to provide health insurance only to workers by 2007, and employers with fewer than 20 workers will be exempt from the law. Those with 20 to 49 employees will be exempt from the law unless the state provides tax credits to subsidize the cost of health benefits (California Healthline, 2/6).
Officials working on business groups' campaigns estimate that proposals expected to appear on the November ballot could cost businesses in the state more than $20 billion annually. The groups are expected to spend as much as $100 million on campaigns against the measures they oppose, according to Jeff Randle, a political consultant managing one of the initiative campaigns. So far, the campaigns have hired several campaign consultants, identified major themes, conducted polls and organized focus groups to develop their campaign strategies, although some of the proposals are still in the process of qualifying for the ballot, according to Frank Schubert, whose political consulting firm is managing the campaign on SB 2. Business groups also are monitoring the progress of other measures that may reach the ballot, including proposals that would tax individuals with incomes of more than $1 million annually to fund mental health services and to levy a tax on phone bills to fund emergency services. National labor leaders are preparing to campaign on many of the same measures, but they are not likely to spend as much as business groups, the Bee reports. Officials with labor groups said that business groups are "biting off so much at once [they] run the risk of diluting their core message of creating a healthy business climate," according to the Bee (Sacramento Bee, 2/7).
Additional information on SB 2 is available online.