Lunchtime Musings: Preliminary Thoughts on the Ballot Propositions

Well, information has started to come out on the propositions that will be on the November California ballot. Although the numbers may change, I doubt any will disappear, so let’s do some preliminary thinking — based solely on the newspaper descriptions and first impressions. These may change as we learn more about what they actually say:

Proposition 30 – Taxes. Increases personal income tax on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years. Increases sales and use tax by ¼ cent for four years. All money goes to education. Complete text.

Tentatively For. This is Gov. Brown’s proposal. It goes to both K-12 and state universities, both of which have been killed it the budget wars. Even though I don’t like the fact it is dictated for specific purposes (such dictates are part of the reason California is in such a mess), I don’t believe that’s sufficient to vote it down. I think they didn’t make it a general levy because they knew that wouldn’t get through, simply because there is no trust that the legislature wouldn’t use the money for some boondoggle. Do I have a problem with the tax itself? Based on this description alone, I have no problem with the personal tax increase–I don’t believe it will impact small business as claimed, nor do I think the additional tax will cause loads of folk to leave the state. The sales and use tax is more problematic as it impacts the poor more, although it is so little as to be, literally, pocket change for most purchases. More significant will be the fact that Amazon will be collecting use tax, and there will be more of a push to get people to pay use tax.

Proposition 31 – Budget. Establishes two-year state budget cycle. Prohibits Legislature from creating expenditures of more than $25 million unless offsetting revenues or cuts are identified. Permits governor to cut budget during declared fiscal emergencies if Legislature fails to act. Complete text.

Unsure. I’m not sure about the 2-year budget cycle. Although this means budgets will be more stable, it also means that the state will be less nimble. I’m also not sure about the $25 million proposal. I can see the intent — don’t create large programs without ways to fund them — but I’m not sure the $25 million number is the correct number; further, it is unclear what is to be done if the expenditure is a federal mandate. The last bit is interesting about the governor cutting the budget, but I’m curious about the definition of “fails to act”; we’ve seen how effective that can be in docking legislator pay.

Proposition 32 – Campaign contributions. Prohibits use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes by unions and businesses. Permits voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly, in writing. Prohibits unions and corporations from contributing to candidates and candidate-controlled committees.  Complete text.

Tentatively for. I think unions being involved in politics is a bad thing, beyond providing endorsements. In particular, I think union-financed campaigns are bad things. That said, there is some benefit in union-supported PACs or advocacy groups that can provide technical expertise in crafting legislation. My concerns with this proposal are: (1) would this give undue leverage to corporate-sponsored groups, especially in light of recent Supreme Court rulings; (2) what is the definition of “for political purposes” — if it is too broad, then this is a bad thing. As I said, there are things unions should be able to do (endorse candidates that agree with union positions).

Proposition 33 – Auto insurance. Allows insurance companies to give discounts to drivers with prior insurance coverage and to increase cost of insurance to drivers who have not maintained continuous coverage. Complete text.

Tentatively against. This one has been tried a few times. As I recall, it was written by Mercury Insurance. Two primary concerns here: (1) how are new drivers treated (i.e., does this gouge the new driver), and (2) how do they define continuous coverage — same company or just having insurance? I’m leaning against this one because I believe that experience should be sufficient, and that is already a rating factor. I don’t see how simply being insured demonstrates that one is a better driver; rather, it is claim history and the nature of the particular claims.

Proposition 34 – Death penalty. Repeals death penalty and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Complete text.

Unsure. The big problems with the death penalty are (a) it isn’t cheap, with all the appeals; (b) it is difficult to carry out, with the supreme court rulings; (c) mistakes happen, and new evidence can’t bring someone back, and most importantly, (d) I don’t believe it has been a deterrent. On the other hand, life imprisonment is also very expensive, and there is only so much prison space available. I’m going to need to see more detailed analysis.

Proposition 35 – Human trafficking. Increases criminal penalties for human trafficking, including prison sentences up to 15-years-to-life and fines up to $1.5 million. Requires person convicted of trafficking to register as sex offender. Complete text.

Tentatively for. I’m not sure about the sex offender bit, but I have no problems with increased penalties for human trafficking.

Proposition 36 – Three strikes. Revises three strikes law to impose life sentence only when the third felony is serious or violent. Authorizes re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if third strike conviction was not serious or violent and judge determines sentence does not pose unreasonable risk to public safety. Complete text.

Tentatively for. Three strikes is one reason our prisons are so crowded, and stealing budget away from UC. I agree with the notion that the final strike needs to be something significant.

Proposition 37 – Genetically modified food. Requires labeling on food to identify if it was made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits labeling or advertising such food as “natural.” Complete text.

Tentatively for. We need to know when our food is modified. Note that requiring this labeling in California will likely benefit the entire country.

Proposition 38 – Taxes. Increases income tax rates for annual earnings over $7,316 using sliding scale from .4% for lowest earners to 2.2% for individuals earning over $2.5 million, ending after twelve years. During first four years, 60% of revenues go to K-12 schools, 30% to repaying state debt, and 10% to early childhood programs. Thereafter, allocates 85% of revenues to K-12 schools, 15% to early childhood programs. Complete text.

Tentatively against. First, I don’t like the fact this is K-12 only. It does nothing to shore up our decimated state university systems. I’m also not sure about the income tax rates: the numbers here seem awfully low unless they are just the deltas. Lastly, $7,316 seems really low for any additional tax.

Proposition 39 – Taxes. Requires multistate businesses to calculate their California income tax liability based on the percentage of their sales in California. Complete text.

Tentatively for. If I recall correctly, this undoes a deal done a few years ago that reduced how much multistate businesses had to pay to California.

Proposition 40 – Redistricting. Replaces the newly drawn state Senate boundaries with interim boundaries drawn by court-appointed officials for the 2014 elections. Complete text.

Tentatively against. Sorry folks. You voted for the new independent redistricting commission, and I think they did a pretty good job. Nothings perfect. You don’t get to call a  “do over” if you don’t like the results.

LA County Measures… Lastly, we have the measure that is likely to come up (sigh) in LA County. This measure would require actors in adult (i.e., pron) films to wear condoms. This is a really hard (sigh) issue to discuss, not only for the puns that keep rearing their ugly heads. There are a lot of problems with this measure. First, it is unclear if it is enforceable legally  (does freedom of speech extend to whether one wears condoms?) or how it would be enforced (can you imagine the outcry if the county had to pay people to attend pron shoots, or even worse, paid people to watch locally-produced pron all day to identify those without condoms)? Second, there is the issue itself: the segment of the community that watches (and presumably enjoys) pron might not want to publicly admit that they prefer non-condom pron, and thus to save face, will support the measure. The segment that do not want pron-production in the county will support the measure obstensibly to support safe sex, with the hidden agenda to drive production somewhere else. Certainly, one cannot imagine the major pron procedures doing ad campaigns against the measure (or how the hell they would get them on TV). I’d also imagine that gender will be a factor in support of this. Lastly, segment that actually want to protect the actor will get drowned out by all the other voices on this. This is going to be a measure that no one would want to touch with a ten-foot pole, even if it is covered in latex.

My prediction: this will get on the ballot, pass because people are too embarrassed to vote against it, and the production will just move to non-permitted, underground production, protecting no-one.