Prop. 26: A new strategy for big oil companies?

Margot Roosevelt
Monday, November 1, 2010

When Chevron, California's largest company, looked at how it could wield influence in this election cycle, it shunned Proposition 23, the high-profile ballot initiative to suspend the state's global-warming law. So did Shell, Conoco Phillips and ExxonMobil. But if many of the large oil-producing companies judged the global-warming initiative as too controversial, and unlikely to succeed, they found another way to express their views.

In the last two weeks of the campaign, they have poured millions of dollars into promoting Proposition 26, a measure on Tuesday's ballot that would require a two-thirds vote, rather than a simple majority, for the state Legislature and local governments to assess many fees on business.

Proposition 26 proponents, including the California Chamber of Commerce, tobacco and alcohol companies, as well as oil companies, call their effort the “Stop Hidden Taxes” campaign.

Environmentalists and green-tech promoters, who have responded with millions of dollars of their own, call the initiative “Prop. 23’s evil twin” and “a sneak attack.” Until recently, Proposition 26 was so far under the public radar that no public polls asked voters about it. As of last week, internal campaign surveys showed an even split on it among voters who had made up their minds; more than a quarter, however, were undecided — often a sign that a ballot measure will fail.

Chevron has contributed $3.9 million, the single largest donation by a company, to an $18.3-million joint campaign fund to push Proposition 26 and combat Proposition 25, an initiative to overturn California's requirement for a two-thirds vote on state budgets.

Proposition 26, said Morgan Crinklaw, a Chevron spokesman, “closes a loophole in California law.” Mandating a two-thirds vote, he said, “will help get California's economy moving again and promote job growth.”

Environmentalists fear that Proposition 26 will make it almost impossible to enforce regulations under AB 32, the state's ambitious climate-change law as well as to enact fees aimed at combating pollution and hazardous waste.

In robocalls to voters this weekend, actor Leonardo DiCaprio urged a "no" vote, saying the measure "lets polluters off the hook." And in Los Angeles, the Green LA Coalition, an umbrella group, sent out mailers Friday calling for phone-bank volunteers to battle "Prop. 26: the most dangerous measure you haven't heard about."


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