Tuesday, July 23, 2002
UPDATE ON AB 1493: NO REFERENDUM
After reading over various news reports from around California, I finally found a San Diego Union Tribune story which contained this nugget buried near the end:
The auto industry is expected to challenge the legislation in court. Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for a coalition of automakers, said states cannot independently impose fuel-economy standards, which she said is the true goal of the bill.
The industry decided not to go with a referendum, she said. "We wanted to get away from the political games and get into a rational decision-making forum," Bergquist said.
Why couldn't they do both? Can't they walk and chew gum at the same time? Translation: A referendum would have been too expensive and its chance of success too dicey.
I was wrong and Ann Salisbury was right in her comments to my earlier post on whether there was likely to be a referendum. A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California had shown 81% of California adults favoring "a state law requiring all automakers to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from new cars in California by 2009." Of course that is a rather biased wording of the issue, and is certainly not the same as saying that Californians would vote to uphold AB 1493 in a referendum. But that's obviously how environmentalists would strive to frame the issue, while auto manufacturers tried to frame it as a harmful tax and limitation on personal vehicles like SUVs. Apparently anti-AB 1493 political consultants concluded, after extensive private polling and focus group interviews, that they'd have to pour too many tens of millions of dollars into a referendum campaign without sufficient certainty that they'd win.
Besides, AB 1493 really does contain some significant concessions over its previous incarnation, AB 1058. Under the amended AB 1493 version, the new regulations cannot impose additional fees or taxes on vehicles or fuel or mileage, nor can they ban SUVs or force a weight reduction or reduce speed limits or enact mileage travel limitations. Plus any new regulations are subject to a mandatory public hearing by the legislature which can over-ride them; that will discourage the bureaucrats from coming up with rules that are too politically unpopular.
This turns out to be a big win for Gray Davis. A referendum on the November, 2002 ballot may or may not have overturned AB 1493, but the toxic fallout from $50 million in attack advertising could have done a lot of collateral damage to his re-election prospects. Now that danger has evaporated, while Davis reaps the rewards of shoring up his environmentalist and liberal credentials and voter base.