Auros (auros) wrote,

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Ballot review.

To start with, I should note two things: I always make the presumption, on Propositions (other than the kind that is already approved by the legislature, like bond measures), that the default answer is NO. Statutes in general should be possible to resolve through the legislative process. And I don't trust the people who put stuff on the ballot not to try to sneak something by "the People", because the People are not savvy about legal language. This goes double for this grand-standing special election, called by the Gubernator under rather suspicious circumstances. (This is the last election before the voter-verified paper trail rule goes into effect.) That said, on to the propositions...

Prop 73: Imposes a "parental notification" rule for minors getting abortions -- before providing an abortion, a clinic would need to either a) get permission from a parent, b) wait 48 hours after giving notification and not hear anything back, or c) see a waiver that the girl got from a judge. This is slightly less odious than the "parental consent" rules imposed by some states, but it's still bad. The idea that a desperate 17-year-old girl, who's scared enough of her parents to not talk to them about something like that, will have the wherewithal to go through a hostile judicial process, is absurd. Furthermore, in at least one radio discussion of 73 that I heard (I think on the California Report), the pro-73 person made the argument that the juvenile court judges deal with stuff like this all the time; so they went and talked to several j-court judges from more and less conservative areas/backgrounds, and were universally told, "Um, no, and we're worried that adding this burden will make things much harder for an already-overburdened system." This is an easy NO.

Prop 74: Raises the period for becoming a "tenured" teacher from 2 to 5 years, and "streamlines" the firing process if a teacher receives two consecutive bad performance reviews. Now, I do have some concerns about what I've heard about the process for removing a bad teacher. In particular, it sounds to me like there ought to be some way for the union to evaluate a case and say, "We'll represent you, but only if you sign an agreement to take some training / put in some more effort / etc, because we don't like keeping members who make us look bad." There are cases where a vindictive principal gives bad reviews just because he/she is a jerk; but clearly there are also some small number of cases where the teachers just suck. (Unions, across the board, need to find a way to penalize members who treat the security ensured by the union as an excuse for lousy performance. I don't believe there are many such people, but their existence hands huge amounts of ammo to the far right to characterize union workers in a negative light -- "We're paid by the hour, so work slowly!" and all that sort of thing.)

With Prop 74, it's important to note that:

a) Probationary teachers have essentially zero job security -- they can be fired (including by that hypothetical vindictive principal) basically at will, with no appeal.

b) The performance review rule also would, in essence, allow a nasty principal to fire tenured teachers at will; it'd take a little longer than for the probationary teachers, but it's still providing a too-easy way to route around the standard grievance process. (Yes, I said I'd favor some reform to that process; that doesn't mean it should be thrown out entirely!)

c) Probationary teachers make less money. The extra three years before making the tenured salary, plus the job security issue, will make it even harder to attract highly skilled people (who can make a lot more money elsewhere) to the public schools.

Lastly, given the presumptions outlined at the top (especially the "no victories for Arnie!" one), this one falls solidly as a NO.

Prop 75: Makes it harder for public employee unions to spend money on political ads and donations to campaigns.

Essentially, in order to donate money to a campaign, the union would need to get permission from each member to spend the portion contributed by that member. A 10k-member union which wanted to make a $5k donation to a candidate would have to get permission for each 50-cent unit. Yes, they could roll up all their donations for a campaign cycle on a single ballot, but this is clearly adding a huge amount of expense and effort, and would weaken the unions' voice in politics -- which is, of course, what Arnie wants. This is the man who said of the unions of firefighters, policemen, nurses, and teachers, that he wanted to "kick their butts."

Bear in mind that unions already have an internal democratic process to select their leadership, and already do poll the membership on some allocations of funds. In fact, the union process is somewhat more (small-d) democratic than the corresponding process by which corporate management allocates funds to PACs (without even a requirement to consult the Board of Directors, let alone individual shareholders).

I also find it particularly offensive that the pro-75 people have made the argument that we have to prevent unions from allocating taxpayers' money to politics. How dare they presume that, just because the government signs somebody's paycheck, that means the government has the right to dictate how they spend their money? What's next? Coporations being allowed to restrict employees' Constitutional right to organize, by saying they can't spend any money from their paycheck on union organizing? I'm sure there are plenty of Republicans who'd love that.

After a public employee gets paid, that employee owns the money. The dollars that the employee pays in union dues are not "the taxpayer's" money; they're the employee's. And, just as a shareholder can vote for a board that would make different choices about PACs and dividends (or can sell off shares and buy something else), a union member can vote in new leadership, can move to private enterprise (private and charter schools, private security firms, etc), or can find a new line of work entirely. Nobody is holding a gun to their head and making them stay in the union.

So, again, a pretty easy NO.

Prop 76: Rolls back rules put in place by an earlier ballot measure (98) that set minimum funding levels for the education; gives the governor much more power to strip funding from individual programs (basically a "line-item veto" on budgets -- he declares a "fiscal emergency", and then anything goes); changes the budget process so that there is little political consequence for a minority that just blocks budgeting forever, by duplicating the previous year's nominal allocations (meaning that, after inflation, real allocations would be falling -- the GOP minority could cut the budget for everything over a period of years by simply not allowing a budget to pass; and don't tell me you think they wouldn't try it). Prop 76 also puts in place rules to "protect" dedicated funding streams, such as the allocation of gas taxes to transportation projects -- which has mostly meant roads. (I actually disapprove of "dedicated funding" in general -- we should simply balance income and spending, not say what sources will feed into what needs; that leads to situations where fluctuations in individual income streams, that could be balanced out, instead lead to silly fluctuations in spending. Also, I particularly dislike the gas tax rule, as it encourages a vicious cycle of development -- more roads, more cars, more gas consumption. If we're going to lock in how gas taxes are to be spent, they ought to be spent on things that reduce oil consumption -- credits for high-efficiency cars, alt-energy, etc.) The measure also puts time limits on when the state must pay back counties and cities when it mandates services but does not immediately pay for them. It does this in a disciminatory way: five years for most things, but fifteen years for education. This virutally guarantees that in future budgets, if the Leg and Gov want to borrow money from somewhere, they'll take it out of the education pot. And because of the rollback of Prop 98, the schools will not have any grounds to protest.

It's worth considering the history behind Prop 76. Immediately after Schwarzenegger came into office, he started negotiating a deal with the school districts and teachers where he suspended, for two years ('03 and '04), the funding increases mandated by Prop 98, while agreeing to start paying back this "loan", and move back towards the regular funding schedule, starting this year. He has reneged on that promise, and is essentially trying to legitimize the (possibly illegal under Prop 98) actions he has already taken.

I actually wouldn't mind some sort of spending limits similar to those contemplated in one section of 76 -- basing spending growth on a rolling average of actual past revenue growth. If a rule in this spirit, along with PAYGO budgeting -- the rule the Clinton Dems put in place where new spending had to be directly matched with new revenue, and reductions in revenue (i.e. tax cuts) had to be directly matched with spending cuts -- was put on the ballot, I'd vote for it.

But Prop 76, on top of the ugly stuff I already outlined, includes a number of other complex changes -- two papers (I think the Oakland Trib and the SF Chronicle -- the latter being, actually, fairly conservative, especially for this region) have remarked that it probably should've been separated out into at least four separate pieces, and maybe as many as ten. The fact that it actually amends our Constitution with all this gobbledygook is highly disturbing. Yet again, this is a pretty easy NO.

Prop 77: Changes to the redistricting process. We'd have a small panel of "special masters" -- retired judges appointed by the Governor -- who would draw up the districts. They would supposedly be disallowed from looking at party affiliation data, and would be required to avoid breaking up cities and counties "as much as possible". (All of the measure's restrictions on how district lines can be drawn are followed by weasel words like that.) It would additionally require Senate and Board of Equalization districts to be built directly from contiguous Assembly districts, an idea which has strong merit.

The new district map would be submitted to the voters for majority approval; if the majority did not approve, a new panel would be formed, and a special election called for the new map. Now, there is a certain appeal to this voter-approval-of-districts thing. But I don't think it works so well if you approve the map as a whole; maybe having people approve the district they reside in would make sense, and if one or more districts reject, a new panel redraws just those districts (and a few neighboring districts as necessary) and then there's a new election just for the changed districts. On the con side, regardless of how you dealt with this, it clearly has the potential for creating a long series of special elections, and in the meantime, you have the old districts, which may no longer be equal in population. Also, in the version actually proposed by 77, the new map could gerrymander one region (e.g. minimizing representation for the Bay Area, while playing fair with areas like San Diego and the Inland Empire) and still win approval because the people who got screwed don't form a majority.

As I've said many times, the right way to fix the redistricting process is by putting restrictions on how the lines can be drawn; 77 include some language suggesting it does that, but weasels out of most of those restrictions with things like "where feasible", "as much as possible", etc.

Additionally, 77 calls for new districts to be drawn, with a special election called for July '06. If the new districts were approved, they would be in force for the election in Nov '06, meaning they'd probably change the makeup of our House delegation. It's pretty tough to read this part as anything but a GOP power grab. Yes, CA may be artificially tilted slightly towards the Dems, and in a perfect world, I wouldn't mind making it fairer. However, back here in the real wolrd, we really need to do this with a Federal Constitutional Amendment, so that we don't have Dem states playing fair, while Texas, Florida, etc, remain gerrymandered.

Yet again, a NO, though with some credit for at least addressing a serious issue.

Props 78 and 79: These are competing propositions; if each one gets a favorable majority in its own contest, only the one with the higher number of YES votes will go into effect. (Note that this means that if the scores were 1000/0 and 2000/1999, the latter would win -- abstention is equivalent to NO.) Each is based on plans currently in place in other states, but too young to evaluate as clearly successes or failures; 78 is based on a GOP-backed Ohio plan, while 79 is based on a Dem-backed Maine plan.

Both would create a state "drug discount card" program. The program would negotiate "bulk discount" prices, the same as insurance companies do. (And the same as every other first-world country does on behalf of their entire populations, but since this isn't a real Single Payer proposal, I'll let that lie.) Lower-income citizens, not already having drug coverage under state or employment-based insurance, would be eligible. Under Prop 79, more people would be eligible: 78 makes the income limit 300% of the federal poverty line ($29k for singles, $58k for a family of four). 79 uses 400% of the poverty line ($38k/$77k), and also includes people who have higher income but can demonstrate that in the previous year, more than 5% of their unadjusted income went to medical expenses. Prop 79 also (subject to federal approval from the MediCare/MedicAid administrators) links the discount program to our existing MediCal program, creating an even larger bargaining bloc. To further grow the bargaining bloc, 79 allows buy-in from small businesses and unions, allowing them to provide drug insurance to their employees or members, probably at a lower cost. (This really ought to be seen as a business-friendly provision -- just, not so friendly to PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacture Association. PhRMA, incidentally, has spent tens of millions on advertising for 78 and against 79. Note that this link is to the conservative Orange County Register, which says: "The spending trend is leading to lopsided television battles, such as the one between competing prescription-drug measures Propositions 78 and 79, backed by drug companies and consumer groups, respectively. The former have spent $37 million on TV ads, while their opponents have spent nothing, state records show.")

The biggest difference -- and the one that is driving the PhRMA ads -- is that 78 is purely opt-in for the drug companies. They are free to walk away from the negotiating table and not provide a lower price, if they don't want to. Now, as kragen points out, this does make it "Pareto efficient" -- it creates new transactions that benefit everyone. The drug companies make sales, at a cheaper (though still profitable, on a per-pill basis) price point, taking in some money from people who would not have been able to afford the regular price at all. I'm not sure I believe, however, that we are under any obligation to make drug companies better off. It would probably be socially optimal to cut the profit margins of drug companies (esp if we then took some of the money saved by society and pushed it into the NIH and other basic research, and large "contest" grants for producing treatments and cures for awful-but-rare diseases). Prop 79 gives the "discount" program some teeth by creating a nine-member board to review the pricing situation, and bring suits to fine companies that walk away from reasonable offers in order to engage in profiteering (as established under existing profiteering precedents for other goods), discriminatory pricing between different groups of people eligible for the state discount plan, or conspiracy to restrain trade (i.e. refusing to provide drug A, or demanding a higher price for drug A, unless the program offers a higher price for drug B; this is similar to how Haagen Daaz tried to undermine Ben & Jerry's by refusing to sell H-D ice cream to stores that carried B&J's).

I was pretty thoroughly persuaded into supporting 79 by the Forum program on the topic. The two surprising things were that a) the Stanford policy analyst (note that Stanford policy analysts tend to run conservative -- Stanford is the home of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank), after some hedging, said he was voting for 79, and b) the best argument the pro-78 guy could offer was, essentially, that 79 would be tied up in a court for a few years and might ultimately be rejected. This pro-78 argument is kinda weak -- we should pass a weaker plan because if we pass the good one, the drug companies will sue us to maintain their profit margins?! -- and it's belied by the fact that Maine already won the litigation (with a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling!) on their almost-identical program. So we have Supreme Court precedent backing us up if they sue. (It's worth noting that in your voter guide, the pro-78, anti-79 people say that the program in Maine has been abandoned, and that it failed. This is a gross exaggeration based on the fact that it was amended slightly after initial passage by the ME legislature. In fact, the program is still in force, and seems successful, though for a clear judgement we'll need to wait a few more years.)

As a short note to address something that came up at the meeting: Might you want to vote NO on both? Honestly, I have trouble imagining any reason to vote NO on both of these. Yes, both will have some administrative costs, but we're talking on the order of one dollar per year per resident of CA. (Also, we should see an improvement in our economy thanks to less lost productivity when people are sick and can't afford drugs, when people end up in emergency rooms with expensive problems instead of being able to afford treatment earlier, and so on, and so on.) Even PhRMA has clearly made its peace with 78. If you're a pro-corporate market-fundamentalist loon, I suppose you might feel that collective bargaining by purchasers of drugs is somehow a bad thing. But that's a seriously weird position to take; as Kragen advises, even 78 offers a Pareto efficient improvement over our current situation. My problem with 78 is that it's a half-measure that might get in the way of building political momentum for further reform along the lines of 79.

Final decision: Clearly YES on 79. The question is whether you feel like voting for 78, on the theory that you'd rather end up with 78 than nothing, and you're willing to risk boosting 78 over 79. I think the vast majority of people will be voting in favor of at least one of these -- the advertising for 78 is immense -- so I don't think there's actually much chance of that. So, I personally will vote NO on 78.

Prop 80: Rolls back much of the disastrous deregulation plan put in place by Pete Wilson at the behest of energy companies like Enron, and formalizes some of the patches that have been put in place to avoid rolling-blackout situations in the last few years. You might think this is a good idea, but it turns out this measure is opposed by a lot of liberals involved in the renewable energy field. For example, my friend dushai, who attended the gathering last night, has a friend in the solar energy field who posted this. She full-text-quotes two articles, one from a liberal alt-energy advocate and consultant for Consumer's Union (founded by Nader, publishers of Consumer Reports) and Common Cause, the other by the former head of Research and Development at PG&E (probably somewhat conservative/libertarian, but still an advocate for alt-energy). Both dislike Prop 80.

Also, Prop 80 contains some weird measures that restrict the ability of individuals and businesses to negotiate to change their power supplier. It allows cities and counties to negotiate (either for lower prices on behalf of the buying bloc of people who live there, or for a shift to alt-energy), but it's not clear that this is granting any rights we don't already have.

We probably do need to overhaul our energy system -- we especially need public investment in our transmission grid, in exchange for which we can demand stronger oversight of the production and transmission companies, to prevent a future Enron from exploiting any loopholes in the rules that may someday be found. But it doesn't sound like Prop 80 moves us in the right direction.

I understand why people may favor it -- we probably were better off before the deregulation -- but I think we should aim to get deregulation right, not reregulate ourselves in a way that will make it harder to end dependence on fossil fuels. Thus, I'll be voting NO on 80.

I still haven't made a lot of progress on my decisions about the Palo Alto offices; I think I've settled on Tom and Mitchell for school-board, and Klein for Council. But I still have four approvals available for Council, and I think there's also an election for one slot on the Foothill-DeAnza Community College Board of Trustees. Regarding the Council, there's a "soft slate" among Holman, Kishimoto, and Drekmeier, which I have heard conflicting stories about -- they work well together and would make the board more efficient and consensus-driven, but some critics have suggested that they tend to be better at blocking bad things than doing good ones (i.e. they'd rather block development entirely than really look at ways to develop sensibly). The reason I like Klein, actually, is that he has a record of working with landowners and developers to accomplish positive goals -- he was the driving force behind creating, through various purchases and land-swaps, the huge Open Space District along the west side of Palo Alto, out around Arastradero and 280.

Anyone know anything more about the Council or FDACC BoT? If I have time to do more research, I'll post again. :-/

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