November, 1996

Proposition 209
Prohibition Against Discrimination or Preferential Treatment by State and Other Public Entities


The federal, state, and local governments run many programs intended to increase opportunities for various groups--including women and racial and ethnic minority groups. These programs are commonly called "affirmative action" programs. For example, state law identifies specific goals for the participation of women-owned and minority-owned companies on work involved with state contracts. State departments are expected, but not required, to meet these goals, which include that at least 15 percent of the value of contract work should be done by minority-owned companies and at least 5 percent should be done by women-owned companies. The law requires departments, however, to reject bids from companies that have not made sufficient "good faith efforts" to meet these goals.

Other examples of affirmative action programs include:

  • Public college and university programs such as scholarship, tutoring, and outreach that are targeted toward minority or women students.

  • Goals and timetables to encourage the hiring of members of "underrepresented" groups for state government jobs.

  • State and local programs required by the federal government as a condition of receiving federal funds (such as requirements for minority-owned business participation in state highway construction projects funded in part with federal money).


    This measure would eliminate state and local government affirmative action programs in the areas of public employment, public education, and public contracting to the extent these programs involve "preferential treatment" based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. The specific programs affected by the measure, however, would depend on such factors as (1) court rulings on what types of activities are considered "preferential treatment" and (2) whether federal law requires the continuation of certain programs.

    The measure provides exceptions to the ban on preferential treatment when necessary for any of the following reasons:

    Fiscal Effect

    If this measure is approved by the voters, it could affect a variety of state and local programs. These are discussed in more detail below.

    Public Employment and Contracting

    The measure would eliminate affirmative action programs used to increase hiring and promotion opportunities for state or local government jobs, where sex, race, or ethnicity are preferential factors in hiring, promotion, training, or recruitment decisions. In addition, the measure would eliminate programs that give preference to women-owned or minority-owned companies on public contracts. Contracts affected by the measure would include contracts for construction projects, purchases of computer equipment, and the hiring of consultants. These prohibitions would not apply to those government agencies that receive money under federal programs that require such affirmative action.

    The elimination of these programs would result in savings to the state and local governments. These savings would occur for two reasons. First, government agencies no longer would incur costs to administer the programs. Second, the prices paid on some government contracts would decrease. This would happen because bidders on contracts no longer would need to show "good faith efforts" to use minority-owned or women-owned subcontractors. Thus, state and local governments would save money to the extent they otherwise would have rejected a low bidder--because the bidder did not make a "good faith effort"--and awarded the contract to a higher bidder.

    Based on available information, we estimate that the measure would result in savings in employment and contracting programs that could total tens of millions of dollars each year.

    Public Schools and Community Colleges

    The measure also could affect funding for public schools (kindergarten through grade 12) and community college programs. For instance, the measure could eliminate, or cause fundamental changes to, voluntary desegregation programs run by school districts. (It would not, however, affect court-ordered desegregation programs.) Examples of desegregation spending that could be affected by the measure include the special funding given to (1) "magnet" schools (in those cases where race or ethnicity are preferential factors in the admission of students to the schools) and (2) designated "racially isolated minority schools" that are located in areas with high proportions of racial or ethnic minorities. We estimate that up to $60 million of state and local funds spent each year on voluntary desegregation programs may be affected by the measure.

    In addition, the measure would affect a variety of public school and community college programs such as counseling, tutoring, outreach, student financial aid, and financial aid to selected school districts in those cases where the programs provide preferences to individuals or schools based on race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin. Funds spent on these programs total at least $15 million each year.

    Thus, the measure could affect up to $75 million in state spending in public schools and community colleges.

    The State Constitution requires the state to spend a certain amount each year on public schools and community colleges. As a result, under most situations, the Constitution would require that funds that cannot be spent on programs because of this measure instead would have to be spent for other public school and community college programs.

    University of California and California State University

    The measure would affect admissions and other programs at the state's public universities. For example, the California State University (CSU) uses race and ethnicity as factors in some of its admissions decisions. If this initiative is passed by the voters, it could no longer do so. In 1995, the Regents of the University of California (UC) changed the UC's admissions policies, effective for the 1997-98 academic year, to eliminate all consideration of race or ethnicity. Passage of this initiative by the voters might require the UC to implement its new admissions policies somewhat sooner.

    Both university systems also run a variety of assistance programs for students, faculty, and staff that are targeted to individuals based on sex, race, or ethnicity. These include programs such as outreach, counseling, tutoring, and financial aid. The two systems spend over $50 million each year on programs that probably would be affected by passage of this measure.


    As described above, this measure could affect state and local programs that currently cost well in excess of $125 million annually. The actual amount of this spending that might be saved as a result of this measure could be considerably less, for various reasons:

  • The amount of spending affected by this measure could be less depending on (1) court rulings on what types of activities are considered "preferential treatment" and (2) whether federal law requires continuation of certain programs.

  • In most cases, any funds that could not be spent for existing programs in public schools and community colleges would have to be spent on other programs in the schools and colleges.

  • In addition, the amount affected as a result of this measure would be less if any existing affirmative action programs were declared unconstitutional under the United States Constitution. For example, five state affirmative action programs are currently the subject of a lawsuit. If any of these programs are found to be unlawful, then the state could no longer spend money on them--regardless of whether this measure is in effect.

  • Finally, some programs we have identified as being affected might be changed to use factors other than those prohibited by the measure. For example, a high school outreach program operated by the UC or the CSU that currently uses a factor such as ethnicity to target spending could be changed to target instead high schools with low percentages of UC or CSU applications.

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