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Business Leaders Launch Effort to Hold Rare State Constitutional Convention

by Indy, published

A day after an angry and frustrated California electorate trounced five of six measures on a special election ballot, an influential Bay Area business group announced their intention to restructure state government by holding a rare constitutional convention.

Dubbed "Repair California," the campaign is being led by the Bay Area Council, a San Francisco-based business and public policy advocacy organization.

During a press conference held Wednesday in Sacramento, the group called for the California Legislature to place a measure on the November 2010 ballot which would ask voters to provide themselves the allowance of amending the state constitution directly, bypassing the legislature. Repair California officials also want lawmakers to place a companion measure on the same ballot asking voters to authorize a future date for such a convention and to approve what issues convention delegates should debate.

Voters at a later election would then be required to approve any changes to the constitution proposed by the delegates. If the legislature does not place the measures on the ballot, the Repair California campaign will use the initiative process to do so, officials with the organization said.

Jim Wunderman, Bay Area Council's president and chief executive officer, said the campaign is well past due and has been carefully considered and vetted from a number of leading California groups.

"We do not make this move lightly," Wunderman said in a prepared statement. "We have spent a great deal of time weighing the pros and cons of this idea, and after meeting with hundreds of groups and citizens across the state, we know the people are with us. Enough is enough. The severity of our problems and the unlikelihood that existing Sacramento structures can provide a solution mean now is the time for decisive action."

According to the campaign's web site, Repair California wants to make these changes to the constitution:

--Governance, including the structure of the legislative and executive branches of government, with the latter to include State agencies and commissions.

--Elections, including the initiative and referenda processes, campaign finance, and term limits.

--The Budget, including the budget process and related requirements, such as the two-thirds legislative vote required to pass a budget, the term and balancing of a budget, and mandated spending.

--Revenue distribution, including the revenue relationship between local and state government
Joining Bay Area Council officials Wednesday in supporting the Repair California campaign was the progressive netroots Courage Campaign, the Western States unit of Common Cause and the conservative Lincoln Club of Orange County among others.

"A Constitutional Convention returns power to the people as was originally intended," said Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of the 700,000 member Courage Campaign. "The Special Election is the latest example of the Governor and the Legislature turning to the voters to make their decisions. A constitutional convention just 'cuts out the middleman' and give voters the power to make California governable."

Repair California's web site suggests that an actual constitutional convention would involve about 120 delegates, could last for several weeks months and could cost state tax payers as much as $23 million -- the amount the state of Illinois paid when it held its constitutional convention last year.

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