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Driving in Circles

Proposition 33, funded by a billionaire insurance-company owner who says he's acting in your best interests, reappears on the ballot

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"Proposition 33 is trying to make legal what is currently illegal—placing a surcharge on people that, under the current law, wouldn't have had to pay extra," warns Balber. "If voted to pass this year, Proposition 33 would overturn the central protection that Proposition 103 provides."

As of right now, Mercury is the second largest provider of car insurance in the state, and other providers are wary of their competitor's actions.

"We believe in our own loyalty discount program which provides our customers with an incentive to continuously maintain coverage," states Sevag A. Sarkissian, spokesperson for State Farm Insurance, which has taken a middle-of-the-road position on the initiative. He adds that if the proposition is passed, State Farm will analyze it to determine how it can be used to benefit its customers.

"I think that for most of the insurance companies, this is a fight that they're not willing to take on," Balber says. "This is a measure that [Mercury Insurance] has tried and has failed to pass for the last 10 years. If I were another insurance company, I wouldn't want to throw my money away."

Though wording has been altered to address military personnel and the unemployed, opponents point out that many other populations would be negatively affected by the initiative's passage. Those who consciously decide not to drive a car for five years would be ineligible, as would those who choose alternate forms of transportation, like riding a bike or taking public transit. Those who simply couldn't afford a car would be punished as well.

"At the end of the day," Balber says, "if I were a responsible agency, I wouldn't want to be associated with something that could take insurance away from underprivileged populations."

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