Auros (auros) wrote,

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Ballot Proposition Summary

Notes on my biases regarding propositions:

By default, unless I can see a really good argument in favor of a proposition, I vote NO. I don't like cluttering up the CA Constitution with silly things, and in an ideal world this kind of stuff ought to be done by our legislature (though I recognize that in many cases, they're terrified of taking strong stands for fear of coming out on the wrong side of public opinion and losing their jobs; easier to just let it go on the ballot and test public opinion directly).

I don't like earmarks, in which a tax is permanently designated for a particular purpose; these taxes are often volatile, which is bad in years where the tax generates a lot of money because it prevents the legislature from shifting the income to other purposes, and potentially even worse in years where the tax under-produces because it becomes politically difficult to move money in from the general fund, because "we already funded it under Prop XYZ". Earmarks are marginally less evil if the funding source is directly tied to the thing being funded.

Lastly, I generally think a bond issue ought to provide the state some kind of benefit. Otherwise, it's like taking out a mortgage to buy somebody else a house -- a nice gesture, but not terribly wise.

1A: Local Gov't Revenues. I haven't made up my mind.

Since Prop 13, the state gov't, in order to balance its budget, has executed a number of accounting tricks that involved fiddling with the budgets of counties and cities. For obvious reasons, this drives those local governments up the wall. As part of a deal with the Gubernator (see 65, below), they've created an agreement under which they let the state pull from their budgets one last time, and then stop doing that. I have considerable sympathy for the argument in favor; it's hard to deal with situations where you're trying to hire new staff for the schools, fire and police dep'ts, etc, when you don't know for certain what your budget is going to be until the end of the annual deadlock created by the requirement to get some of the (stubbornly anti-progressive-taxation) Republicans on board to pass a budget. (Not that I have any biases on that issue or anything. :-P )

On the other hand, it appears to make it somewhat harder for the state to "even out" differences between rich and poor communities (by, say, funding the schools in the poorer communities using some property or sales taxes skimmed from the rich ones). There's also an argument that by ensuring that communities keep all of their sales taxes, they'll have more incentive to allow in stores like Wal-Mart that tend to produce a lot of sales taxes; but I'm not sure I buy that at all. A lot of communities have social pressures against that, regardless of the taxes. And then there's the actual argument in the voter guide, in which the Chair of the Board of Equalization (uh, what is the Board of Equalization, exactly?) suggests that in fact a lot of the localities have, given the opportunity, spent their local fund very poorly (cutting funds for critical services while spending on image -- e.g. a pretty new downtown area in Stockton). It's not clear to me that the best way to deal with that is to have the state take their funding away; if the citizens can't elect a decent local gov't, who says they can elect a decent state gov't? *sigh*

I'm curious to know how mickle leans on this one; if she's leaning NO, even though 1A purports to protect funding and stabilize budgets for localities (which is, in theory, a good thing for schools), I would tend to take that as a strong data point against it.

Prop 59: Public Records, Open Meetings. YES!

Remember the Dick Cheney Energy Commission? The one where he held meetings to decide policy, but refused to let his employers -- the voters of America -- know whom he talked to or what they talked about, even though there plainly was nothing classified or sensitive (except politically) involved? Prop 59 prohibits anyone in the CA gov't from doing stuff like that.

Prop 60A: Surplus Property. YES, though I'm not pleased at how it ended up on the ballot.

This was originally intended as a "sweetener" on Prop 60, but was severed because it was unrelated to that measure. The state owns a lot of real estate. Sometimes it declares a property to be surplus, and sells it. In the past, there have been cases where the state declared a property surplus and sold it, but really only did that to finance its current deficit; then it would buy the property back, at a higher price, a few years later. This is a sneaky way to do the same thing a deficit-finance bond would do, but trades a higher actual cost for avoidance of the political difficulties of a bond. Prop 60A says that, at least until the big $20B deficit-finance bond we already passed in March gets paid off, such surplus property sales would have to go as payments to those bonds; thus, surplus property sales would not increase the general fund in the short-term, and the incentive to do this particular dumb thing would be removed. Money tends to be fungible, and I suspect people could find ways around this if they really tried; but it at least can't hurt.

Prop 61: Children's Hospitals. NO, though I'm waffly. ('Cause, you know -- it's children's hospitals!)

See, the problem with this is that it's the case of taking out a mortgage and giving the money away -- it's a great big bond that gives the money to private institutions. The state gets no tangible capital, and doesn't even gain any oversight over the hospitals involved; the hospitals make capital improvements, and still own the improved facilities. I'd have no problem with a state subsidy for children's hospitals, esp not if it included some oversight rules, and a system for bringing newly-established hospitals into the system and booting out ones that turned out to be poorly-run (overpaid administrators and boards, embezzling, etc; the usual problems that do often crop up with private charities when nobody's looking over their shoulders -- this is, of course, why I'm still a big-guvmint liberal in some ways; the government is easier to hold accountable).

Prop 60: Election Rights of Political Parties. YES, but I'm not terribly happy about it.
Prop 62: Open "Primaries". NO!

Prop 62 alters our electoral system so we have the general election in March (when fewer voters tend to show up). They call this general election a primary, but it plainly isn't -- all parties are on the ballot, potentially with more than one candidate from a party, and everyone can vote for any candidate. Then in the fall, we get a two-person runoff, with the top-two plurality winners from the general election. As I've discussed elsewhere, this is a fabulously bad system. It resulted in eliminating a candidate from the French Presidential election who was probably the Condorcet winner; it got David Duke (a KKK leader) on the final ballot in Louisiana; and its promised benefits (more moderates and independents, despite gerrymandering) don't appear to have actually materialized in the places where it's used -- there are still plenty of wacky extremists in the Louisiana legislature, and there's only one independent in their House of Representatives. We do need to deal with gerrymandering (how about: legislative districts shall be outlined by no more than six segments, each segment being a continuous section of a pre-existing boundary such as a body of water or river, six-or-more-lane highway, county or city border, etc), and with the duopoly and deadlock fostered by our electoral system, but this is not a good way to do that. It may set back the cause of serious electoral reform, and lead to results that confuse and alienate a lot of people. (I should also note that Prop 62 has created some very strange bedfellows -- it's pretty weird to see the arch-conservative Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association agree with liberal groups like the Federation of Teachers and the non-partisan clean-campaigners from Common Cause. All of them oppose 62.)

Prop 60 basically counteracts 62 and keeps the current system, where every party that properly registered to take part in the primary gets to put one candidate on the November ballot. I'm still vaguely waffling on whether to vote NO on 60, on the theory that if 62 gets the majority it needs to take effect, it will be impossible for 60 to overtake it, since you'd have to be pretty dumb to vote for both when the ballot guide quite plainly tells you that they're opposed to each other. But, there are a lot of dumb people out there. I dunno; I don't think it does any serious harm if it passes; it just is kinda pointless, and clutters the state Constitution. :-P

Prop 63: Mental Health Services. YES, because the Chronicle endorsement persuaded me.

This creates a 1% tax on income over $1M. Now, I'm not opposed to soaking the rich. And this is a good cause. However, it's the very worst kind of earmarking; there are about 26k people in the state who make that much, so it would only take a thousand of them deciding to move (even in name only, by buying a house and designating it as their residence) to Nevada or Washington (both states having no income tax) to make a significant dent in the revenues from the tax. Also, the very high end incomes are the most volatile; they go way, way up during booms, but those highs aren't reliable. This isn't so bad if you're just putting the money into the general fund (in a downturn, you expect the general fund to tighten up), but when it's earmarked, it devastates funding for that particular thing. (Also, having this tax in place would make it harder to actually get that 1% hike on the top marginal rate and put the money into the general fund, where it belongs.)

On the pro side are two facts: a) it's funding something we promised to fund when we killed the old system, and b) the current situation is pretty dire. Anyone who's been accosted by a mentally-ill homeless person in SF, and seen the sheer number of homeless around the city, knows this.

Prop 64: Lawsuit Limitations. NO.

This would require a citizen who wanted to, say, bring a suit against a company that polluted his neighborhood by dumping toxins in the local river to prove in court that he, personally, had suffered "injury" in the form of bodily harm or financial loss. It would remove one of the tools that has, over the last several decades, allowed environmental and consumer-interest groups to make CA a leader in environmental and consumer-protection standards for the country. It's part and parcel of the usual "tort reform" BS -- the right-wingers think wealthy businessmen should be able to do whatever they want, and the public should have no right to object.

Prop 65: NO. This proposition has been replaced by 1A. If you favor 65, you should vote for 1A instead. Otherwise, you should vote against both.

Prop 66: Softening "Three Strikes". YES.

You may've heard about the case in which a guy whose third strike was shoplifting a bunch of children's videos was sentenced to 25 years in jail. This law alters the definitions of what counts as a strike. It leads to no automatic releases -- those whose records would be altered such that they no longer have three strikes would have to request a resentencing hearing, in which they'd waive double jeopardy, so prosecutors could re-open discussion on old crimes to bring up new aggravating factors. The parade of horribles provided by DAs are incredibly disingenuous, and so far as I can tell are simply intended to inspire fear and hysteria so that the prosecutors can maintain the largest amount of discretion to threaten people with higher sentences and drive harder plea bargains. The DA who was on Forum the other day lied about what crimes were being removed as strikes -- I paged into the full text of the proposition, in the back of the voter guide, and a couple of things she claimed would not be strikes (such as battery during an attempted-but-failed rape) are, in fact, still listed as strikes after the change.

Prop 67: Funding Emergency Medical Services by Taxing Phones. YES, though I don't like it much.

There is a serious crisis in CA (and elsewhere) in emergency care -- emergency rooms are losing a lot of money because the uninsured don't get any care til they show up at the emergency room. As a result, hospitals end up closing down their emergency services, denying care even to those who do have insurance.

There's a marginal tie between phones and emergency rooms -- specifically, 911 service. And 67 will extend the surcharge for 911 service to cell phones, which don't currently pay into that system, even though they are supposed to be integrated into it soon (which is itself an expensive project for the 911 service providers). But that's only a small portion of the funds involved in 67; most of the money would go straight to the ERs, to cover their services to the uninsured.

Obviously I think a better long-term solution would be to provide real insurance to those people, so they could get preventive care. And possibly if Kerry's health plan passes, that'll happen, and we can cut the Prop 67 surcharge. But for now, this is a tolerable way to deal with a serious problem.

Prop 68: Slots for Race Tracks. NO.
Prop 70: Tribal Gaming Compacts. NO.

A deal was brokered between the state and the Indian gaming industry to give a portion of their revenues to the state, in exchange for not letting other folks in the state start competing. Prop 68 is some businesses trying to override that agreement, to pad their own pockets. It would lead to large new gambling establishments in locations like the track that sits right near Berkeley and Albany -- the implications for traffic are mind-boggling. Prop 70 is a couple of the tribes trying to override their side of the deal, to exempt their casinos from gov't oversight (including environmental and labor regulations) and even prevents the CA gov't from auditing to determine whether the income of the casino is being properly reported.

Prop 69: DNA Sample Database. NO.

Currently, CA keeps a database of DNA of all convicted felons. I might not object to expanding this even to all indicted felons. But Prop 69 expands it to everyone who is even arrested on suspicion of a felony. If you've ever participated in a public protest in which some people were hauled away by the cops -- those folks would, under Prop 69, now be in the DNA database. As the database gets more saturated, it becomes more likely that there will be false positives leading to innocent people getting harassed. The method for getting oneself out of the database has pretty plainly been made cumbersome with the willful intent of keeping people in there even if they're exonerated. (Reminds me of the story, a while back, about a pair Green Party activists who found themselves on the No-Fly List, and were unable to get off of it, because no individual or agency acknowledged responsibility for handling requests from innocent people that they be removed.) Also, there are very poor restrictions on the use of the database, so information in it could, in the long run, potentially be used to discriminate against people in hiring, or passed to health insurers, or unpleasant things like that. All in all, a bad idea.

Prop 71: Stem Cell Research. YES, but I'm still waffling a bit.

I always wanted to support this one, but almost talked myself into voting against. I'm all for medical research, and I'm all for slapping the president in the face for his thoroughly idiotic ravings about "deep moral questions".

I had been given the impression that it did not ensure that a) the money gets spent in California, and b) the state gets a chunk of the patent royalties from the research it will be funding. It turns out these two impressions were false, so that's good. If that hadn't been the case, I would've voted against.

On the other hand, it's a huge bond at a time when our debt rating is only one level above junk bonds, and when a lot of people think we probably will need at least one more bond issue to finance our debts if we don't want to cut deeply into stuff like schools and healthcare.

In the end, our votes may be irrelevant -- last I heard, polls were showing 71 winning by a huge margin. If you want to protest the idea of adding $3 billion to our already $20 billion in debts, vote against. On the downside, your protest may get interpreted as fundy opposition to the research. If you prefer to register a protest against Bush/Xian stupidity, and you are, like me, waffly but kind of inclined in favor anyways, then vote for.

Prop 72: Health Care Coverage. YES.

This measure requires businesses that employ more than 50 people to supply healthcare coverage to their employees. There are complaints that it may make it harder for marginally-employed part-time workers to find jobs at all, since if companies have to provide healthcare even for that type of worker, it will make more sense to just spend the effort on finding one full-time worker instead of a few more flexible part-timers. It's not entirely clear to me that this is an argument against; don't we want more people to have stable full-time jobs? OK, I get that some people -- typical examples are students and single mothers -- tend to have a hard time working full hours over long periods. But is the temp market really that bad, that we'd favor reducing the number of full-time positions -- potentially consigning some people who want full-time work to part-time or short-term positions -- to help out those who actually want those positions?

The other arguments -- about how it will reduce employment among all low-income workers -- follow the usual pattern for arguments against minimum wage increases, and improvements in labor conditions in general; as such, I'm pretty much ignoring them.

In any case, this is a law that passed in the legislature and got signed by the governor, having gone through plenty of scrutiny on whether it was going to have some kind of horrible impact on CA businesses and devastate the economy. Apparently it only affects a small minority of the businesses covered, since the others already do provide healthcare. Then, having failed to block it the usual ways, some large business interests -- Wal-Mart and McDonald's are of course involved, since they don't like spending anything on their employees, if they can avoid it -- pushed the measure onto the ballot to try to defeat it there. I believe the CA gov't will be providing some tax credits and offering to sell access to the insurance plan it provides state employees, but opponents' claims about a "government run" health scheme are the usual right-wing scare tactics, same as Bush's characterization of Kerry's similar national plan (which, in the long run, if it passes, might render 72 obsolete).

That's all, folks. I'm voting Democratic across the board for the federal and state-leg positions. I haven't had time to make up my mind on the judicial position, the school board, or the local measures -- locals who have opinions on those are welcome to comment.

Friends posting on these matters (let me know if you want to be added): jrtom.

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