Decision 2016 Ballot Analysis: Prop. 51 through 59 (3/5)

userpic=voteThe upcoming November ballot, at least in my precinct in Los Angeles, California, is large. As the Donald might say, it is “Yuuuuuge”. So I’m splitting my regular sample ballot analysis into five posts: one covering the Presidential ticket (although you know where I’m going there), one for the down-ticket races, two covering the state-wide propositions on the ballot (50-59, 60-67), and a final post covering the county, city, and special district measures. I’ll also include one additional post summarizing all my positions. This post covers the first 9 statewide propositions, Proposition 51 through Proposition 59. As always, if you have different views, I urge you to comment and try to convince me to change my mind.

Note: Propositions Haiku by Damion Carroll.

Proposition 51: School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities. Initiative Statute.

Nine billion dollars
Of bond funds for school buildings
Term: thirty-five years

Summary: Authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds for new construction and modernization of K–12 public school facilities; charter schools and vocational education facilities; and California Community Colleges facilities. Fiscal Impact: State costs of about $17.6 billion to pay off both the principal ($9 billion) and interest ($8.6 billion) on the bonds. Payments of about $500 million per year for 35 years.
[Websites: Yes fb | No]

Analysis: Essentially, this sells bonds to pay for new construction and updates to school facilities. Unsurprisingly, teachers, parents, and school districts are in favor of it. Why not? It will improve schools. Also in favor of it is the building and housing industries. This also isn’t a big surprise: Builders win when they get construction contracts. Housing wins when neighborhood schools are better. This will also mean, in the short term, jobs for many on the construction lines. The official NO website calls it the developers bond, but otherwise hasn’t been updated. However, a number of newspapers: Mercury News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, and the LA Times oppose it. Why? According to the Sentinel: “Prop. 51 is primarily bankrolled by the construction industry, which would benefit from its open-endedness by having taxpayers underwrite what should primarily be the responsibility of developers.” The LA Times notes “the grant program is emblematic of a state system for funding new and renovated schools that is badly outdated, inequitable and inefficient. The system needs to be fixed rather than perpetuated, which is why voters should reject Proposition 51 and press for a revamped measure to come before them in the next election.” The bond was put on the ballot by the developers, not the Governor, and the Governor opposes it. The LAO notes: “the existing program fails to treat school facility costs as an ongoing expense despite the recurring nature of facility needs, allows disparities based on school district property wealth, fails to target funding according to greatest need, results in excessive administrative complexity, and lacks adequate accountability mechanisms.”

On top of all that, I’m leary about the state adding more bonded indebtedness, which the taxpayers ultimately have to cover.

ConclusionThumbs Down  No on 51.

Proposition 52: Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

A hospital fee
Matched with federal dollars
Funds Medi-Cal boost

Summary: Extends indefinitely an existing statute that imposes fees on hospitals to fund Medi-Cal health care services, care for uninsured patients, and children’s health coverage. Fiscal Impact: Uncertain fiscal effect, ranging from relatively little impact to annual state General Fund savings of around $1 billion and increased funding for public hospitals in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
[Websites: Yes fb ]

Analysis: Essentially, what this appears to do is extend a fee on private hospitals that was set to expire this year, and uses the new funds to create state savings, increase payments for hospital services to low-income Californians, and provide grants to public hospitals. Of course, this means private hospitals are against it, public hospitals are for it. It’s all about where the funds collected go. The yes side claims this generates over $3 billion a year in federal matching funds that pay for health care services for children, seniors and low-income families, while prohibiting the Legislature from diverting this money for other purposes. The No side says that $3 billion goes to hospital CEOs with no independent audit and no requirement the money is spent on health care. The No side is supported by the unions, presumably because they believe the hospitals will use the funds to lobby against them.

So where do the endorsements fall? Yes claims the major newspapers in the state support them (and they quote from the endorsements). The “No on 52” page is… blank. The SF Chronicle notes: “While the proposition lacks organized opponents, it’s just the sort of wonky, complicated and arcane type of measure that frustrates voters and makes them likely to skip that box on their elections form or to simply vote “no.”” Basically, the fee from this program reduces the loss hospitals have when they deal with Medi-cal patients. Prop. 52 would indefinitely extend the hospital fee and would make sure the money isn’t diverted for other purposes.

The original opponent, Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, has withdrawn its opposition and is now neutral. Union leaders had argued the measure would divert funds from patients and favor corporations and hospital executives.

Given the unanimity of support, and the fact that this really doesn’t increase government costs, I’m inclined to support it as well.

ConclusionThumbs Up Yes on 52 fb.

Proposition 53: Revenue Bonds. Statewide Voter Approval. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Bonds for big projects
(Like high speed rail and Delta)
Would need people’s vote

Summary: Requires statewide voter approval before any revenue bonds can be issued or sold by the state for certain projects if the bond amount exceeds $2 billion. Fiscal Impact: State and local fiscal effects are unknown and would depend on which projects are affected by the measure and what actions government agencies and voters take in response to the measure’s voting requirement.
[Websites: Yes fb | No fb ]

Analysis: Here’s what this is. Normally, the state doesn’t require approval for revenue bonds; that is, bonds whose interest and principal is paid by the user of the facility built with the bonds. This proposition changes things for bonds over $2 Billion, with that amount increasing over time for inflation. So what bonds will be affected by this? According to the Legislative Analyst, “Two state projects that are over $2 billion and might use revenue bonds are (1) the California “WaterFix” project, which would build two tunnels to move water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta; and (2) the California High‐Speed Rail project. ” In other words, this measure would put funding for these two projects on hold. It might also impact similar very large projects, which almost always will be some form of major infrastructure. Another problem with this measure was noted by the Legislative Analyst: “This is because the measure does not define a “project.” As a result, the courts and the state would have to make decisions about what they consider to be a single project. For example, in some cases a project could be narrowly defined as a single building (like a hospital). In other cases, a project could be more broadly defined as including multiple buildings in a larger complex (like a medical center). A broader definition could result in more projects meeting the $2 billion requirement, thus requiring voter approval.”

So who is funding this? The Yes on 53 website notes a number of “taxpayer” organizations, such as the Howard Jarvis organization. These folks tend to be against large projects and large government expenditures that have the possibility of increasing taxes. The LA Times also notes that a wealthy Stockton farmer funded the effort to qualify this measure, and hopes to force a future election on the financing for Brown’s ambitious Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water project. Why? According to the Times, “Some of his properties would be affected by the giant Delta water tunnels the state has proposed to better manage the state’s water supply, but he insists that his opposition to the tunnels isn’t driving his support for the proposition. Instead, he says his motive is purely to give state voters a say over projects that many of them will have to pay for — albeit through user fees, not taxes.” The No on 53 side is a coalition of public safety, local governments, healthcare organizations, water districts, businesses, community organizations, and major newspapers. They are likely opposing this because they fear that large projects would not be approved — in particular, they likely fear that both the HSR and the Delta Water project would be impacted.

These are revenue bonds. They will be paid back by user fees. The money comes from whoever uses the asset the bonds were used to build. Even if the tolls, fees or other revenue tied to the project fail to cover the bond payments, investors can’t go to the agency that issued the bonds and demand to be made whole by the taxpayers. When properly designed, a revenue bond completely insulates taxpayers from liability. The projects they fund are major infrastructure projects, which could easily be held back by NIMBYs mobilizing. The LA Times notes: “Proposition 53 presents itself as a safeguard against unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats running up state residents’ costs through revenue-bond issues for bloated construction projects. But it’s founded on an exceedingly shaky premise, and it’s written so broadly that it could give state voters veto power over large but purely local projects in which they have little or no stake.” They also note: “because the state contributes to the financing of many large local projects — for example, the Orange County Toll Roads, or a replacement for a major bridge — the proposition would give voters across the state a say over projects they may never use. Similar veto power could apply to bonds to create or expand a campus in the University of California or California State University system. Even a private, non-profit hospital, which issues revenue bonds through the state and may rely on state Medi-Cal funds to help pay them off, could have to win approval from state voters, rather than just the investors who will shoulder the risk.”

To me, it appears this proposition is very poorly written, and provides the possibility that projects needed by the state could be denied funding by another part of the state. This just appears to be a bad bad idea.

ConclusionThumbs Down No on 53 fb.

Proposition 54: Legislature. Legislation and Proceedings. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Bills must be posted
On the web, for three days straight
Before they are passed

Summary: Prohibits Legislature from passing any bill unless published on Internet for 72 hours before vote. Requires Legislature to record its proceedings and post on Internet. Authorizes use of recordings. Fiscal Impact: One-time costs of $1 million to $2 million and ongoing costs of about $1 million annually to record legislative meetings and make videos of those meetings available on the Internet.
[Websites: Yes fb | No]

Analysis: I’ll note there’s one thing not shown on those summary: those recorded proceedings that are posted on the Internet. They have to be made available for 20 years. Just think about where the state of our video technology was back in 1996, 20 years ago. Now imagine where our video technology will be 20 years in the future, and what the Internet will be like. For technology, 20 years is a long long time.

Who is in favor of this? The Yes side is supported by the League of Women Voters, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Chambers of Commerce, and major funding by Charles Munger, the vice-chair of Berkshire Hathaway. It has loads of pro-Newspaper endorsements, including the majors in the state. The No side argues that it might prevent last minute agreements on issues. Its primary supporters are the California Democratic Party, and the California Labor Federation. Even the papers that the “no” side says have come up against the proposition have actually endorsed the proposition.

Here are my thoughts. Most people do not understand the legislative cycle in California. I have some understanding, as I monitor bills for my highway pages. Most people don’t know that all bills are posted to the Legislature’s web site, and that they can comment on them. They also don’t know that there is a specific date (I want to say August 31) by which all bills must be passed if they are to be sent to the governor. The last minute bills are typically bumping up against that deadline. In fact, often the deadline is the nudge required to get an issue solved. If you impose that 72 hour posting requirement, will that prevent the last minute negotiation. My opinion: No. It will just move it up a few days; the deadline will now  is going August 27 or something like that: in time to get things posted for review.

On the other hand, I do have some problems with this bill. It does nothing to prevent “gut and amend” bills. Recall I mentioned the legislative process. There’s a certain date — I’ll guess in July — by which any bill must be introduced if it is going to be considered that session. So what does a lawmaker do if they want to introduce a bill but it is past that date? Simple: They find a bill that has already been introduced and amend it to throw away the original content and replace it with the new content. Often, in fact, state legislators will create placeholder bills that are non-substantive changes (changing “which” to “that” or some other grammatical nonsense), introduce it, and then just let it sit waiting on a committee. This gives them a bill they can later amend. The problem is that it is very hard to identify the bills that have been gutted when you’re looking at the website. I would really like it if “gut and amends” were clearly identified. I also have a problem with the 20 year requirement for keeping recordings of sessions and making them available on the Internet. Given the pace of technology, I think that could become extremely painful.

Modulo my issues, the no argument is that it gives special interests more power — specifically, it would provide them the ability to somehow torpedo legislation that might, so to speak, “gore their ox”. Thus, for example, land interests might torpedo a water bill, and so on. However, to do that, all the legislators would need to cooperate to change the bill, and I’m not sure that will happen. I have difficulty seeing how transparency works in favor of the special interests.

There are other problems with the proposition. For example, not only does it require the video to be stored and available for 20 years, but it would allow that video to be used in political campaigns. That’s bad, because politicians in committee will then be thinking how doing the right thing can be used against them. Now, consider who primarily funded this: two influential Republicans: former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee and wealthy GOP donor Charles Munger Jr. Why would they do so? Answer: The legislature is heavily Democratic, and all that committee footage.

Although I can see some advantages to the increased transparency, and think it would just adjust some deadlines, I don’t think that’s the real intent of this bill. I think it is the video — and the potential abuse of the video — that is a big problem to me. There should be no provision for use of public video in partisan advertising. Combine that with the 20 year storage problem, and the fact that bills are already posted to the Legislature website, and I don’t see the significant benefit this bill gives.

ConclusionThumbs Down No on 54.

Proposition 55: Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

For high-earning folks
An income tax that funds schools
Would remain in place

Summary: Extends by twelve years the temporary personal income tax increases enacted in 2012 on earnings over $250,000, with revenues allocated to K–12 schools, California Community Colleges, and, in certain years, healthcare. Fiscal Impact: Increased state revenues—$4 billion to $9 billion annually from 2019–2030—depending on economy and stock market. Increased funding for schools, community colleges, health care for low–income people, budget reserves, and debt payments.
[Websites: Yes fb | No fb ]

Analysis: On the surface, this proposition seems like a no brainer: extend a tax that is already in place, and dictate to specific purposes. Who’s behind it and endorsing it? Loads and loads of elected officials. School boards. Community organizations. Chambers of Commerce. Federations of teachers. But only four small newspapers: the Sacramento and Modesto Bee, the Mercury News, and the Bakersfield California. The ballot summary listed no “No” organization, other than Howard Jarvis. No surprise there. So why, with all this support, are only four papers in favor. Something’s wrong with the evidence.

So I dug a little deeper. It turns out, there is a no campaign. And, yes, you’ll find the usual anti-tax folks there. But you’ll also find the major papers in San Francisco and LA coming out against this. Why? The Chronicle says, “Our issue is not with the goal of Prop. 55, it is with the dubious means of achieving it. California needs a significant overhaul of its antiquated tax structure to reflect a modern economy. In 1950, personal income tax accounted for 12 percent of state revenue; it now exceeds 60 percent. In 1950, sales taxes (a more stable funding source) accounted for 61 percent of state revenue; compared with 30 percent today. The passage of Prop. 13 in 1978 created great inequities in the property tax burden, not only among neighbors, but between residential and commercial holdings. The state cannot continue to just keep putting patches on a tax structure destined to periods of undue destitution. Our legislators and governor need to do the hard but essential work of reforming the tax structure with measures such as extending the sales tax to certain services and addressing some of the inequities in property tax, especially its treatment of commercial property.”

Hmm. What does the Times say? “Proposition 55’s proponents now tell us, things will be different. [If it passes,] Lawmakers will really have the breathing room to get serious about tax and budget reform and will design a fairer and more stable tax system. Nonsense. If Proposition 55 passes, lawmakers will have no reason to do any of that work at all. It’s hardly a coincidence that the tax extension would last 12 years — the maximum allowable time anyone can serve in the Legislature. That means not a single person now sitting in the Assembly or Senate, nor anyone elected this November, will have to deal with California’s next fiscal cliff.”

So, the basic argument according to the major dailies is that Prop. 55 kicks the can of actually fixing our broken tax down the street for 12 years. Current legislatures can avoid doing the job they need to do, which is namely: rework Proposition 13 so it exempts business property, and correct the inequities in our tax system, establishing a stable funding source for schools. The current funding source of income (they argue) is too volatile; capital gains can’t be guaranteed. Further, the wealthy might leave the state. Does that sound familiar? Remember that we’re dealing with a Presidential campaign about just that: do we tax the wealthy more to address income inequality, or will they just take their money elsewhere. Will they manipulate the tax system, as Donald Trump allegedly (wink wink) did, to not pay any taxes at all?

Here are my thoughts on this. First, if this tax was going to drive away the rich, that would already have happened. Those that remain stay here because of the benefits that the state provides, or because it provides them access to the technical capabilities that they need. The wealthy leaving is a spurious argument. Further, we’ve seen the 1% grow during the past 10 years, at the expense of the middle and lower classes. Therefore, there should be a growing number of people able to pay this tax, which doesn’t kick in your income is quite high. Continuing it should be no brainer.

But whether to continue it is a question of risk. On the continuation side, there is the risk of an economic downturn, the bursting of the Wall Street bubble, the risk of another housing bubble. On the elimination side, there is the question as to whether shutting off this spigot will force the legislature to touch the third rail of California politics — Proposition 13 — or whether to save their political selves, they will either let the schools suffer or just put up a different proposal.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, the rich will potentially be taxed more (if Congress agrees, which is a big “if”), and more funds will go at the national level to public schools. Wall Street will also be reined in. But I think in general Clinton will result in economic growth for all. If Trump wins, the wealthy will see their incomes rise, on the expectation they will trickle it down (which they won’t). In either case, continuing this tax would be a no brainer. Although I can see the argument from the big papers about the need for taxation reform, I don’t really believe that taking us to an education cliff will force them legislature to do the right thing. It is a dangerous game of chicken, with the children and young adults of this state being the losers. I have go to against the Times on this one — I think we should continue this tax, AND work to elect assembly and senate critters that will develop a longer-term stable solution to this problem.

ConclusionThumbs Up Yes on 55 fb.

Proposition 56: Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

The cigarette tax
Would go up, two bucks a pack
E-cigarettes, too

Summary: Increases cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, with equivalent increase on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes containing nicotine. Fiscal Impact: Additional net state revenue of $1 billion to $1.4 billion in 2017–18, with potentially lower revenues in future years. Revenues would be used primarily to augment spending on health care for low–income Californians.
[Websites: Yes fb | No fb ]

Analysis: Even without going to the arguments, I can predict who the supporters and opponents are. Supporting the measure are health-care organizations, American Cancer Society, citizens concerned about the impacts of smoking, and likely many elected officials. Against it will be the large tobacco companies, and those involved with the e-cig industry. Looking into it, I was right. On the YES side are American Cancer, Heart, and Lung societies, various pediatric and school groups, unions, hospitals, health insurers, and the link. On the NO side are taxpayer associations (who oppose anything that looks like a tax) and public service organizations, and, oh, lookie here, the tobacco industry, which in August alone provided over $200 million for the attack. How do they hide their attack on the tax? By making it look like a money grab, because they money goes into a special fund for health care for low-income people, as opposed to going into the general fund. If it went into the general fund, the opponents argue, it could go to the schools.

Then again, the No side could just be blowing smoke. Both the LA Times and the SF Chronicle have come out in favor of 56. The Times notes that “thanks mostly to the tobacco lobby, the excise tax is just 87 cents per pack — one of the lowest state cigarette taxes in the nation, lower than all the states that border California. In the Legislature, 35 attempts to increase the tax have failed to win passage over 34 years; the last increase was approved at the ballot 18 years ago.” The Chronicle notes “The drafters of Prop. 56 have done a responsible job of apportioning the up to $1.4 billion in new revenue from the tax to efforts to either prevent or offset the public burden caused by smoking. The major beneficiary would be the Medi-Cal program, which would receive between $710 million and $1 billion in 2017-18, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Smaller amounts would go into education and cessation programs. It would limit administrative spending to no more than 5 percent.”

I’m opposed to cigarette smoking, as well as to e-cig smoking. I think anything the brings particulate matter into the lungs is problematic, and nicotine (a plant poison) is particularly problematic. Big Tobacco wants to prop up their dying industry. Some advice to Big Tobacco: “Give up on Tobacco, it is a relic of a bygone era — just like cocaine in Coca-Cola. I hear there is money to be made in the Wacky Tobaccy.”  I think increasing the taxes per pack will encourage more to stop smoking. I acknowledge it will impact the poor more, but that’s just short term. If they stop smoking, they will see more in their pockets right away and they will have lower health care costs down the road. Further, I don’t believe we should be adding a revenue stream to the general fund that, if it works, will be shrinking. That’s the definition of stupid. Directing the revenue stream as this proposition does is the responsible way to do so.

ConclusionThumbs Up Yes on 56 fb.

Proposition 57: Criminal Sentences. Parole. Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Earlier parole
Of prisoners serving time
For non-violent crimes

Summary: Allows parole consideration for nonviolent felons. Authorizes sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, and education. Provides juvenile court judge decides whether juvenile will be prosecuted as adult. Fiscal Impact: Net state savings likely in the tens of millions of dollars annually, depending on implementation. Net county costs of likely a few million dollars annually.
[Websites: Yes fb | No fb ]

Analysis: Going into this proposition, it is very important to understand the context. California’s prisons are overcrowded. Severely overcrowded. So overcrowded that it violated 8th Amendment rights. California initially addressed the problem through Prop 47. Conservative and “law and order” types were appalled because of the resultant releases (just look at the Republicans running in our down-ticket state legislature races, if you don’t believe me). Prop. 47 lowered the penalties for many crimes. For example, possessing small amounts of illegal drugs, shoplifting, receiving stolen property, writing bad checks, forging checks and stealing automobiles, firearms or farm animals, in most cases, were classified as felonies but are now misdemeanors as long as the amount involved is $950 or less. In January 2016, California’s prisons dropped below 137.5% of the prisoners they were designed to hold — the threshold set by federal courts — for the first time in recent memory. California’s total prison population declined by 45% since its peak in 2006.

Now, note that number. 137.5%. Although that’s the court’s level, they are still overcrowded (which is over 100% of design capacity). So this proposal continues to reduce the population by allowing certain offenders early release. If passed, certain state prison inmates convicted of nonviolent felony offenses would be considered for release earlier than otherwise. The state prison system could also award additional sentencing credits to inmates for good behavior and approved rehabilitative or educational achievements. Youths must have a hearing in juvenile court before they could be transferred to adult court.

So how have the parties lined up for this one? On the YES side is Governor Brown, leading Democratic elected officials, the ACLU, teachers, the California State Law Enforcement Organization, and a few papers, including the San Francisco Chronicle. Essentially, this is an effort by Gov. Brown to, in part, undo what he helped create almost four decades ago: a system where prison sentences became less flexible and helped fuel the largest inmate population in the nation. On the NO side, which predictably is using scare tactics, are prosecutors, police, victims, and an number of other newspapers, including the San Diego U-T (notably conservative). Their argument is that the measure is poorly written, and that a number of the “non-violent” crimes are still pretty heinous and scary. Such as, you ask? Here’s the list from the No website:

  • Rape by intoxication
  • Rape of an unconscious person
  • Human trafficking involving sex act with minors
  • Drive-by shooting
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Taking a hostage
  • Domestic violence involving trauma
  • Supplying a firearm to a gang member
  • Lewd acts upon a child
  • Hate crime causing physical injury
  • Failing to register as a sex offender
  • Arson causing great bodily injury
  • Felon obtaining a firearm
  • Discharging a firearm on school grounds
  • False imprisonment of an elder

What about the LA Times, you ask? They just came out in favor of the proposition. The Times notes that the proposition “is Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to recalibrate California’s criminal justice system by returning to judges, parole boards and prison officials some of the power that craven lawmakers and frightened voters have, over the years, unwisely transferred to prosecutors. It’s a welcome and needed measure, although less simple than the brevity of its language or various assertions on both sides would suggest.” The Times notes that the real concern is the second half of the proposition: “Proposition 57 would make some prison inmates eligible to seek parole once they have served the base portion of their terms — but before they have served time for any of the add-ons that lawmakers, and sometimes voters, have used to “enhance” sentences for, say, having previous convictions or belonging to a gang. Under Proposition 57, some inmates could apply for parole hearings and get parole after they have completed their base terms and have begun serving the enhancement portion of their sentences.” The nature of the parole here is what is called “real parole”. The Times notes: “Real parole is release from prison after a parole board finds that the inmate has behaved properly and has presented persuasive evidence of reform and rehabilitation. The process includes arguments from the prosecutor, opportunities for the board to hear from crime victims and their families, and an assessment of the risk that the inmate would pose to society if released. It requires final sign-off from the governor.” So it isn’t the blatent release the scare tactics would have you believe: the potential parolee would have to convince the parole board and the governor that they have changed their ways.

Our prisons are still overcrowded, and that isn’t right. Dollars spend on prisons are dollars taken away from education, and education is the best way to keep people out of prison.

ConclusionThumbs Up Yes on 57 fb.

Proposition 58: English Proficiency. Multilingual Education. Initiative Statute.

Kids learning English
Won’t need a waiver to take
Bilingual classes

Summary: Preserves requirement that public schools ensure students obtain English language proficiency. Requires school districts to solicit parent/community input in developing language acquisition programs. Requires instruction to ensure English acquisition as rapidly and effectively as possible. Authorizes school districts to establish dual–language immersion programs for both native and non–native English speakers. Fiscal Impact: No notable fiscal effect on school districts or state government.
[Websites: Yes fb | No fb ]

Analysis: Like it or not, this proposition is really a veiled referendum on immigration. That becomes clear when you look at the ballot arguments. The Pro argument is: “Teachers, parents, school principals, local school board members, and Governor Jerry Brown support Proposition 58 to help students learn English as quickly as possible and expand opportunities for English speakers to master a second language. Proposition 58 gives school districts local control to choose the most effective instruction methods for their students. ” Whereas the No argument is “Prop. 58 is not about modernizing the way we teach English. It’s about eliminating parental rights to an English–language education for their children. English–language success has been spectacular. Immigrant children are learning English faster than ever before and record numbers of immigrant students are gaining admission to our universities. ” By “English-language education”, what they mean is “English-only language immersion”, which is a controversial way of teach English, but is the result of the “English Only” proposition that passed many years ago. Even the “No” side’s website,, plays to this “English Only” attitude. Essentially, what this proposition does is replace the general ban on teaching language-learning children only in English, with rules that allow county offices of education and school districts to make the final decision.

The key backers of Prop. 58 are teachers, school administrators, and service unions. When you think about it, these are the people on the front line of the bilingual language fight. They are the ones teaching the students. They are the immigrant parents raising children who are not native English speakers. Who is opposing them isn’t completely made clear, but it is clear that (a) this is more than just a California effort, and (b) the primary motivator is Ron Unz. Who is Ron Unz? According to Wikipedia, Unz is a former businessman, best known for an unsuccessful race in 1994 for the governorship of California and an unsuccessful attempt this year to make it to the Senate campaign, and for sponsoring propositions promoting structured English immersion education. He was publisher of The American Conservative from March 2007 to August 2013. He now publishes The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection: A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media. In 1998, Unz sponsored Proposition 227, which aimed to change the state’s bilingual education to an opt-in structured English language educational system and which was approved by the voters despite opposition from language education researchers. Proposition 227 did not seek to end bilingual education, as special exemptions were made for students to remain in an English immersion class if a parent so desires. However, there were limits (such as age restrictions) for the exemptions, and there were provisions to discipline teachers that refused to teach solely or predominantly in English. The book English for the Children: Mandated by the People, Skewed by Politicians and Special Interests by Johanna Haver (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013) recounts the controversies and political action resulting from Unz’s California and subsequent ballot initiatives: Arizona Proposition 203, Colorado Amendment 31, and Massachusetts Question 2.

Endorsing Prop. 58 is a broad coalition of organizations from educators to first responders to communities to civic organization, major elected officials, school districts, and many papers in the states including the majors (LA Times, SF Chronicle). The LA Times notes: “There are 1.4 million English language learners in the California schools — one in five students. Even with the reduction in bilingual education as a result of Proposition 227, California’s ELL students are still taking far to long to become fluent. Meanwhile, dual-language immersion programs — in which native English-speaking students and those who started with another language at home are brought together to learn in both languages — are increasingly popular and, early signs suggest, effective. There is also heightened recognition of economic globalization, and the greater diversity and multilingualism of California, that make bilingualism attractive.” The Times also describes the impact of Prop. 58: “Schools would no longer be required to teach [students] in English-only programs unless parents specifically requested otherwise, but could offer a variety of programs, including bilingual ones. Parents of English-language learners would no longer need to sign waivers to allow their children to participate in bilingual programs.”

This, basically, puts control back into the hands of parents and schools, and moves to a more effective program. Further, it encourages bilingual education for all, which is increasingly important.

ConclusionThumbs Up Yes on 58 fb.

Proposition 59: Corporations. Political Spending. Federal Constitutional Protections. Legislative Advisory Question.

Asks to overturn
Citizen’s United, but
Shucks, it’s non-binding

Summary: Asks whether California’s elected officials should use their authority to propose and ratify an amendment to the federal Constitution overturning the United States Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Citizens United ruled that laws placing certain limits on political spending by corporations and unions are unconstitutional. Fiscal Impact: No direct fiscal effect on state or local governments.
[Websites: Yes fb]

Analysis: First, note that this is an advisory vote only. No one is compelled to do anything, which means if your elected senators or congresscritters or state legislative critters don’t like the idea, they won’t do it. Raise your hands if you believe they will vote to keep corporate money out of their campaign coffers? One, two, oh, and you in the back.

Seriously, the lines on this one are clearly drawn. Those who oppose Citizens United are in favor of this: progressives, primarily. Those who oppose Citizens United — conservatives, corporations, PACs, and so far — oppose this. Of course, they aren’t saying that don’t want the ability to influence elections. Nope. Here’s how they couch it: “The Legislature should stop wasting taxpayer dollars by putting do–nothing measures on the ballot that ask Congress to overturn the Supreme Court. Instead of wasting time and money on do–nothing ballot measures, politicians in Sacramento should focus on transparency and bringing jobs to California.”

Ultimately, this one boils down to whether you want to send a message. The LA Times notes, regarding this measure and Citizens United: “That ruling opened the door to unlimited spending on federal campaigns by corporations and unions, and could be overturned only by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Given the very high hurdle for any constitutional amendment, this ballot measure is largely a way for California voters to express their opinion on money in politics.”

Endorsements, you ask? The Yes side has a website, and it notes the endorsements of some papers: Sacramento Bee, Bakersfield California, SJ Mercury News, and SF Chronicle (as well as the Democratic Party). Notably absent is anything from Southern California. That’s because the LA Times (together with papers such as the San Diego U-T, the Fresno Bee, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and the VC Star (as well as the Republican Party)) opposes Prop 59, noting “If we had had our way, this question even wouldn’t be on the ballot. We urged Gov. Brown to veto the legislation that put it there because, unlike other propositions placed before the people in this citadel of popular democracy, Proposition 59 has no binding force. Although its proponents claim that it’s designed to “instruct” state legislators and members of Congress, those officials are entirely free to disregard it. (It also seems like preaching to the choir. Perhaps in an exercise of clairvoyance, the state Legislature had already voted in 2014 to petition Congress to convene a constitutional convention to approve an amendment overturning Citizens United.)” Their argument is that an amendment is not necessary: Citizens United, which was decided only six years ago by a mere 5-4 majority, could plausibly be reconsidered or narrowed with a change in the court’s membership.  Further, the Times claims that many of the evils for which it has become a metaphor — undisclosed “dark money” in political campaigns, for example — can be addressed by simple legislation.

While I agree with the Times that an amendment may not be necessary to overturn Citizens United, I don’t agree with their reading of the measure. The statement says “including, but not limited to, proposing and ratifying one or more amendments to the United States Constitution”. This means that all the measures specified by the Times could, and likely will, be done (given the high barrier to an amendment — after all, the ERA still hasn’t made it through).

I think that Citizens United is a bad decision, for it places too much power in the hands of corporations, allowing them to spend money that (a) might not represent the views of shareholders, and (b) could be used for other purposes. I think we need to send a message that something — be it judicial reconsideration, legislation, or if necessary, an amendment — needs to be done to correct this.

ConclusionThumbs Up Yes on 59 fb.