Proposition 93 proponents argue that a "Yes" vote will shorten elected state representatives' maximum terms from 14 years to 12. That's the best that can be said for the initiative, which would modify the existing term-limit law voters passed in 1990.

What proponents don't talk much about is how self-serving Proposition 93 is for its principle champion, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, and his counterpart, state Senate Leader Don Perata. Both Democrats' Sacramento careers, and the careers of 40 of their legislative colleagues, could be extended by a "Yes" vote. Mr. Nunez and Mr. Perata otherwise would be out of work at the end of their current terms.

This is yet another Sacramento sleight of hand. Under the guise of shortening legislative terms, the initiative's immediate effect would be to lengthen current lawmakers' terms in office. Why would any voter want to reward Sacramento's current stewards of the public purse with more time in office in light of the $14 billion budget deficit they have created? They've done enough damage with the time already allotted.

The proposition would reduce the cumulative time a person may serve in the Legislature to 12 years from 14 years. But the proposition also would allow 12 years to be served either in the Assembly or Senate, considerably longer than the current six-year limit in the Assembly and eight-year limit in the Senate. Also, the initiative provides a transition to allow current legislators to serve 12 consecutive years in the house in which they currently serve, regardless of prior service in another house.

As opponents point out, Proposition 93's net effect is to, "create a special loophole that benefits 42 incumbent politicians by giving them more time in office." The fine points of the initiative even allow some politicians, "to serve up to 20 years in office - just like before we passed term limits," opponents note.

We generally support term limits, although they can reduce officeholders' effectiveness because they give lifetime bureaucrats and staffers relatively more influence over what is done in the Capitol. For that reason, tinkering with current limitations can be problematic to begin with. But when the real motive for so-called "reform" is so transparently self-serving as it is in Proposition 93, we find no reason whatsoever to support it.

We're not surprised legislators opted for self-protection rather than better representation. But we don't want to encourage them. We urge a "No" vote against Proposition 93.