Proposition 93 - State Term Limit Modification

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the February 2008 California state ballot.


What it does

Currently, the California Constitution limits the number of terms that elected Assembly members and senators may serve in the Legislature. An individual may serve no more than three two-year terms in the Assembly and no more than two four-year terms in the Senate. Therefore, a legislator generally may not serve more than a total of 14 years in the Legislature. An exception is when an individual serves additional time by finishing out less than one-half of another person’s term.

Under the proposed measure, an individual would be allowed to serve no more than a total of 12 years in the Legislature. However, these years could be served without regard to whether the years were served in the Assembly or the Senate, in contrast to current law. In other words, an individual could serve six two-year terms in the Assembly, three four-year terms in the Senate, or some combination of terms in both houses, of no more than 12 years total. As under current law, an individual could serve additional time by finishing out less than one-half of another person’s term.

Under the measure, Assembly members and Senators in office at the time the initiative was passed would be allowed to serve up to a total of 12 years in their current legislative house, regardless of how many years were already served in the other house.

Why it is on the ballot

In 1990, California voters approved Proposition 140, which limited the terms that state legislators may hold in office. Despite a few attempts to amend the law, most recently with Proposition 45 in 2002, the law’s provisions have remained unchanged since originally enacted. Because voters approved term limits by passing a ballot initiative, the law’s provisions may be amended only by ballot initiative.

A few studies have found that while the public is somewhat critical of the term-limits law, most people take an attitude of “amend it, not end it.” Reports from Public Policy Institute of California and the California Constitution Revision Commission have suggested that the number of years an elected official may remain in office should be extended allow an Assembly member or Senator to stay longer in one house. The PPIC called for the limit to be 14 years.

Prop. 93 was placed on the ballot through the submission of voter signatures. Financial supporters include the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union. Other endorsing supporters include the California Business Roundtable.


Arguments in favor of this measure:

  • Several academic and public policy groups have studied the effects of California’s term-limit laws and determined that the state would benefit from changing the current system. This proposal is based in part on a recent nonpartisan study conducted through the Public Policy Institute of California, though the PPIC does not endorse initiatives and has not endorsed Prop. 93.
  • The state faces many complex and very important public-policy issues. It takes years to craft legislation to address these issues. Additionally, it takes time for a legislator to develop enough experience and policy expertise to properly deal with these issues.
  • As a result of the current term limits, lobbyists are the ones that have the policy expertise, and they exert more control in the legislative process than they should. Some lobbyists try for years to get officials to carry bills favorable to the lobbyists’ clients, and they are able to more easily persuade politicians who lack experience.
  • This measure would allow legislators to engage in more long-range planning as well as to do a better job of providing oversight over the executive branch.
  • This proposal provides for more flexibility in the state’s existing term-limits rules, reduces the politicians’ need to jump from one body to the next to further their participation in the Legislature and therefore makes the system more stable and more able to properly deal with the important issues facing the state.
  • Prop. 93 is a balanced solution that helps retain talented leaders as well as a healthy turnover in the Legislature.


Arguments against this measure:

  • Current law lowers the barriers to run for elective office, bringing into the process people who too often have been overwhelmed by the powers of incumbency.
  • In California, there are very few competitive elections — largely because the incumbents control redistricting. The state needs to reform its redistricting process first before allowing incumbents to stay in office longer. If districts were no longer gerrymandered, elections would be more competitive and there would no longer be a need for term limits.
  • While the general goal of this initiative may be worthwhile, Prop. 93 is unfair because it contains a large loophole permitting 42 otherwise termed-out incumbents to remain in office. In fact, the original draft of the legislation was changed to allow existing legislators more time in office. While this revision was a direct response to comply with legal concerns regarding constitutional equal-protection issues, it comes across as a cynical attempt by some incumbent politicians to hold onto power.
  • Politicians’ primary reason for supporting this measure is to avoid the competition for office that the current term-limits law encourages.
  • If what Prop. 93 proponents are saying about the negative affects of California term limits is true (that is, that it promotes a lack of experience and expertise), one should not support this measure because it actually reduces the number of years an individual may be in office, from 14 to 12. Even the PPIC study from which Prop 93 is said to be partially based wanted the permissible number of years in office to be not lower than 14.
  • The proponents’ position that this measure is needed to provide the state with more experienced legislators and to encourage longer-range planning is undermined by the fact that this measure actually reduces the number of years a legislator may be in office.
  • The “Yes on 93” campaign is financed largely by groups that have business in front of the politicians who have the most to gain from its passage.

SPUR’s analysis

The benefits of Prop 93, as drafted, are mixed. Providing more flexibility in the way the current term-limits law is structured would promote better long-range planning, more experience and more expertise on the part of the legislators, and would help them address the important issues facing the state. This is particularly true given the complexity of issues facing California.

However, by reducing the total number of years a person may remain in the Legislature, this measure may force certain legislators to exit the state Legislature in fewer years than previously required. For example, if Prop. 93 passes and Assemblyman Mark Leno wins the seat in the state Senate for which he is running, he would be able to stay in the Senate only for one term because of his prior years in the Assembly. Under current rules, he would be able to serve two terms in the Senate. Additionally, the Legislature has failed to address some of the underlining reasons for term limits, which are to provide for fair redistricting and to make elections more competitive.

While Prop. 93 does not offer the fullest of reforms of the term-limits system and it was not combined with a redistricting change, it is an important initial step toward reform. Passing Prop. 93 is important to demonstrate broad support for modifying a system of term limits that has negatively affected long-term thinking in our state.

SPUR recommends a “Yes” vote on Prop. 93.