Sunday, October 19, 2008

California Propositions

You are all no doubt following the presidential race with avid interest and have already made up your minds as to who you're going to vote for! But you may not have focused yet on the rest of the ballot. If you vote in California, I am referring the bewildering array of propositions that we're going to have to weigh in on---a full dozen state-wide propositions and various local propositions. If you're wondering what to do with these state-wide propositions, this post is here to help. I've looked at the propositions and the recommendations of the LA Times and the SJ Mercury News to put together this post (complete with my recommendations). I'd love to hear your opinion on these recommendations. Also please do vote on Nov 4th---even if you think your vote won't matter in the presidential election, it could well matter for many of these important propositions.

Let's start with a summary of my recommendations:

Vote Yes on propositions 2, 3, 11, and 12. Vote No on all the rest.
(You may want to research proposition 1A a bit more, since that's the vote I'm least confident about. Also, the above are recommendations for the state-wide propositions. For the county and city propositions, I'm leaning toward voting Yes on Santa Clara County propositions A, B, C, and D and a definite Yes on Palo Alto proposition N.)

Now to the details of the propositions and the basis for these recommendations. A couple of guiding principles I used were the following. First, say No to unfunded mandates. It makes absolutely no sense to say that $X billion dollars must be spent on some cause (however wonderful) without saying where the money is going to come from. Second, say No to constitutional amendments unless you truly believe there's a constitutional principle at stake. As Patt Morrison notes in the LA Times, California makes it way too easy to add to its constitution: a simple majority of the voters who show up at the polls suffices. As a result there are almost 500 constitutional amendments, compared to only 27 amendments to the US Constitution. Don't add to this mess. Finally, if you're interested in the back story for each proposition, check out this article.

Here then are my recommendations and recommendations from the LA Times (LAT) and the SJ Mercury (SJM).
  • Proposition 1A: High-speed passenger train. Vote No on 1A.
    LAT: Yes on 1A. SJM: No recommendation yet.
    This is a difficult one. The goal is to build a bullet train connecting SF with LA and later expanding to Sacramento and San Diego. The basic SF-LA line is expected to cost $33 billion, with 75% of it raised from federal and private sources. This bond is to raise almost $10 billion. LAT articulates the promise of this high-tech bullet train: "A high-speed rail line would not only provide a cleaner and faster alternative to automobiles, it would encourage transit-friendly development." On the down side, LAT notes: "If voters approve Proposition 1a, it seems close to a lead-pipe cinch that the California High-Speed Rail Authority will ask for many billions more in the coming decades, and the Legislature will have to scrape up many millions of dollars in operating subsidies."

    I should be excited about the prospect of a bullet train in California. But I fear this is going to be just a sink of money that, at best, will result in a bullet train that won't be used effectively to make a difference. Nothing I've seen of public transportation in California gives me confidence that the government knows how to get it done effectively. I think of San Jose's Light Rail as an example of a pretty ineffective form of public transportation. And so while I would love to be proven wrong, I have to recommend a No vote here. Read the LAT Yes case and make up your own mind.

  • Proposition 2: Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty. Vote Yes on 2.
    LAT: No on 2. SJM: Yes on 2.
    This proposition is all about the treatment of egg laying hens (pig and veal farming is small in California). Egg laying hens are treated quite inhumanely, being confined to cages the size of a sheet of letter paper. While LAT agrees that this is inhumane, the No argument is that this proposition won't have the intended effect---it will only serve to make California eggs expensive thus driving the industry out of California. The inhumane treatment would then be meted out in neighboring states on in Mexico. SJM responds that the extra cost isn't expected to be that high, that there's plenty of time for farmers to adapt, and that the growing demand for cage-free eggs will give California a competitive advantage in the future. My own feeling is that treating these hens more humanely is the right thing to do, so this proposition deserves your support.

  • Proposition 3: Children's Hospital Bond Act. Vote Yes on 3.
    LAT: Yes on 3. SJM: Yes on 3.
    Authorizes nearly $1 billion dollars in bonds to expand and upgrade California's 8 regional and 5 UC children's hospitals (including Lucille Packard, UCSF, and Oakland Children's here in the Bay Area). This seems like a critical need. As SJM notes: "Children's hospitals throughout the state are overflowing with the seriously ill and injured. ... At Stanford, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital is forced to turn away more than 400 children every year." And LAT notes that Medi-Cal rates are so low that these hospitals can barely pay for operating expenses with nothing left over for capital expenses. This is money well spent.

  • Proposition 4: Waiting period and parental notification before termination of minor's pregnancy. Vote No on 4.
    LAT: No on 4. SJM: No on 4.
    Both LAT and SJM give compelling opinions on why this constitutional amendment is deceptive. For example, SJM says: "From top to bottom, Proposition 4 is the most deceptive measure on the California ballot this fall. It might look like yet another well-meaning but misguided effort - the third in four years - to force minors to notify their parents before seeking an abortion. But this year's version is more insidious. Voters should run to the polls in November to reject it." Read both opinions before you even consider voting yes. Also check out this piece by Francesca Ratner.

  • Proposition 5: Non-violent offender rehabilitation act. Vote No on 5.
    LAT: No on 5. SJM: No on 5.
    On the surface this looks like a proposition worth supporting: non-violent drug addicts using crime to feed their additiction would get rehab instead of jail, thus saving money for jails. But in fact, it's full of loop holes and would unleash complete chaos. The Con case in the voter guide says that "Loophole allows defendants accused of child abuse, domestic violence, vehicular manslaughter and other crimes to effectively escape prosecution" (presumably by saying that "drugs made me do it"). LAT strongly agrees with this: "If it passes, Californians would soon learn that they had swept away the state's few successful diversion programs, inflicted chaos on the parole system, layered on a staggering new bureaucracy and set back the cause of modernizing drug treatment."

  • Proposition 6: Save neighborhoods act. Vote No on 6.
    LAT: No on 6. SJM: No on 6.
    This is one of those unfunded mandates: requires almost $1 billion extra for law enforcement without identifying a source of funds. It also mandates 30 revisions to California's criminal laws (not clear these are needed), adds new bureaucracy, and builds in a provision that amending it requires 75% of the legislature (the recent budget battle only required 2/3rds of the legislature, and we saw how that went). As SJM notes: "Initiatives like this have distorted state priorities and tied up the budget in knots."

  • Proposition 7: Solar and clean energy act. Vote No on 7.
    LAT: No on 7. SJM: No on 7.
    Requires utilities to increase electricity generation from renewable sources. Sounds good, doesn't it? But turns out everyone opposes it: major environmental groups, major utilities, renewable energy providers, consumer groups, taxpayers association, unions, both political parties---they all oppose it! Read the op-eds to see all the things wrong with this proposition. And don't feel that a no vote means less renewable energy. LAT notes: "Under a law passed two years ago, the state is on a path to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. There's broad agreement among policy-makers, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that in order to reach this goal, the state must get 33% of its power from renewable sources by 2020." So it's going to happen without this proposition.

  • Proposition 8: California marriage protection act. Vote No on 8.
    LAT: No on 8. SJM: No on 8.
    This is a constitutional amendment that eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry. Do you really want your constitution eliminating rights rather than granting rights? LAT, in its strongly argued piece, says: "We fervently hope that voters, whatever their personal or religious convictions, will shudder at such a step and vote no on Proposition 8." Proposition 22, passed in 2000, also eliminated same-sex marriage, but it was overturned by the California Supreme Court as being unconstitutional (thus the constitutional amendment here). LAT notes that: "Californians have accused the state Supreme Court of obstructing the people's will on marriage before -- in 1948, when it struck down a ban on interracial marriages."

  • Proposition 9: Victims bill of rights act. Vote No on 9.
    LAT: No on 9. SJM: No on 9.
    This is one more of the constitutional amendments that duplicates many rights that victims already have in the law and adds many others. It is a naive attempt to protect victims, but only serves to provide them new and inappropriate roles in prosecution. LAT notes: "The level of punishment a criminal receives should not depend on how persistent a particular family is in pleading for punishment or blocking parole. Civilized justice rejects vendetta and instead places retribution in the hands of the entire society. It may seem depersonalizing, but that's a goal, not a defect, of our system."

  • Proposition 10: Renewable energy and clean alternative fuel act. Vote No on 10.
    LAT: No on 10. SJM: No on 10.
    Authorizes bonds worth $5 billion to fund various clean energy initiatives. But a bulk of this money, some $2.875 billion worth, is reserved for alternative fuel vehicles with most of it going to vehicles using natural gas rather than for things like plug-in hybrids. That's not surprising since this proposition is sponsored by Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens who co-founded Clean Energy Fuels Corp. that operates natural gas filling stations. There are lots of other problems with this proposition (see LAT and SJM for details). A much better way to get to the goal of more clean energy is to mandate vehicle pollution limits (which the Bush adminstration prevented California from enacting).

  • Proposition 11: Redistricting constitutional amendment and statute. Vote Yes on 11.
    LAT: Yes on 11. SJM: Yes on 11.
    Here's a constitutional amendment that is worth supporting, and it does feel like a constitutional issue. It puts the power of redistricting for state elections (though not Congress) in the hands of a 14 member commission rather than in the hands of the State Legislature. In the current situation, LAT observes that: "Voters are supposed to choose their representatives, but in California, political parties select their voters." SJM notes that: "Proposition 11 would deny incumbents the ability to use redistricting to their advantage. ... Legislators put self-interest first when they control redistricting. Minorities and everyone else will benefit from taking that power out of their hands."

    This is a case where I've changed my mind! In a past election I recommended voting against a similar proposition. This was at the height of the Bush era when Texas was using redistricting to cement Republican control, and I didn't want the Democratic party to be at an unfair disadvantage in California. This view was perhaps short-sighted, and LAT addresses it squarely: "By the same token, it would be foolish for Democrats to oppose the measure out of a belief that it would cost their party its majority in Sacramento. It won't. For every district it puts in play that currently elects Democrats, it is just as likely to put in play a district that currently elects Republicans. It would simply ensure that legislative Democrats (and Republicans) would heed voters and not just party bosses."

  • Proposition 12: California veterans bond. Vote Yes on 12.
    LAT: Yes on 12. SJM: Yes on 12.
    This is the most straightforward Yes vote. It provides a $900 million bond for farm and home aid for California veterans. The aid is in the form of loans to veterans, so historically it has not cost the state anything. Californians have approved this 26 times before, and there's no reason why we shouldn't support our veterans again this time. And what ever you may think about the war in Iraq, supporting veterans is a no-brainer.
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