Despite talk in Sacramento of a potential redistricting deal between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders, L.A. software entrepreneur Bill Mundell continues to push for a ballot measure on the issue.


Mundell, who runs an educational software company in Westwood, provided $100,000 in seed money to the redistricting initiative developed by Ted Costa, who helped initiate the 2003 recall effort. The measure is one of three that Schwarzenegger is backing for a potential special election this fall; the other two are changes to teacher tenure and a budgetary spending limit. (Schwarzenegger dropped his support of a public pension overhaul measure earlier this month.)


"The lack of competition in elections is the biggest structural problem in American government, and the most egregious example of this is in California, where not a single state or federal seat changed party hands last year," said Mundell, a Republican who ran for a state Assembly seat 20 years ago and lost.


The Mundell-Costa initiative would take the power to redistrict away from the Legislature and hand it to a panel of retired judges. Most important, it would take effect with the June 2006 primary election.


The measure, which Schwarzenegger endorsed last month, has raised the ire of Democrats who view it as a Republican power grab. It's also caused some concern among Republicans in California's congressional delegation who fear losing one or more of their six committee chairmanships.


For the last several weeks, state Senate president-pro-tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, and other Democrat leaders have been negotiating with Schwarzenegger on the term limits issue. According to various reports, the two sides are in agreement on taking redistricting power away from the Legislature. But they are still far apart on timing: Schwarzenegger is insisting on 2006 while the Democrats want to put off the effective date of the redistricting until after the 2010 census.


Nonetheless, a deal is considered likely.


"Prospects are good for a deal on redistricting," said Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University Sacramento who 20 years ago helped draw district boundaries for the Legislature. "For the first time, the leaders of each house have agreed to turn it over to an independent commission."


Mundell said that he viewed the 2006 effective date as "urgent" and "non-negotiable."


"We are not flexible about the timing of this," Mundell said. "If there's a deal to move the effective date back we will go ahead with our initiative regardless."


Having the initiative qualify could serve as a way for Schwarzenegger to coerce reluctant Democrats and possibly head off a special election.


"There's no question that the governor wants Mundell and the committee to go out and qualify this initiative," said political consultant Allan Hoffenblum, who co-publishes the California Target Book analyzing the state's legislative districts. "But it's up to the governor whether to call a special election or wait until next June's statewide election."


Tax Windfall
The state has pulled in some $100 million more than expected from a concurrent sales and use-tax amnesty that ended March 31.


Sales taxes are paid by companies that have permits to sell goods in the state; use taxes are paid by purchasers of products where no sales tax is collected by the seller.


The Board of Equalization had estimated that it would take in $17 million for fiscal year 2004-05. So far, $121 million has been received, with payments still being processed as of last week.


Like the income tax windfall, the state may not get to keep all of this unexpected bounty. That's because many corporations filed protective claims with their payments, saying the taxes were in dispute. They paid the money up front to avoid onerous penalties should they lose their protest claims.


Board of Equalization Chairman John Chiang advised against state policymakers planning to spend the extra $100 million until the Board of Equalization has a better sense of how much it will get to keep.


As for the underestimation, Chiang said these payments filed under protest are only part of the picture.


"There's a huge underground economy out there that we may have begun to reach," he said, noting that $15 million was received from entities that had never before filed sales tax payments.


L.A. Chamber Goes to Washington
Officials with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce are in Washington this week pushing to get more federal dollars for Southern California.


Topping the chamber's agenda is more federal funding for port security, especially container security. "The federal government must understand the role that the ports play in the economy of the entire nation and then step up to the plate," said George Kieffer, immediate past chamber board chairman.


Chamber representatives will also be pushing for quick federal approval of the multibillion-dollar compromise plan to overhaul Los Angeles International Airport. In December, the L.A. City Council approved the plan put forward by Mayor James Hahn and City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.


Keiffer said chamber officials will also be pushing for additional federal funds for the prosecution of illegal immigrants charged with crimes and the imprisonment of those convicted. And the chamber will lay the groundwork for an upcoming Washington visit by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to seek federal funds for a "goods movement" program, involving improvements to the state's ports, highways, railways and airports.


*Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or by e-mail at hfine@labusinessjournal.com .

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