California Ballot Analysis Part I: The Propositions

On November 6, most of you will have the opportunity to vote. I hope you do so, and I hope you study and make intelligent decisions about which candidates and positions to support. This means supporting a candidate or position on the basis of your own research and the facts, not the pablum spewed by commercials nor the invective spewed on the Internet. I never have a problem with a political position arrived at honestly and based on facts (meaning I have no patience with those that believe the lies spewed around — so (for example) if I read that Pres. Obama is a socialist (he isn’t; learn what socialism is), a Muslim, or a non-citizen, I’ll dismiss any further discussion with you. Similarly, if I see similar invective about Gov. Romney (he’s the devil; he’s out to make America solely for the rich), I’ll dismiss any further discussion. The same goes if you categorically reject the possibility of any new tax, or believe the government is always evil. I want discussions based in reality, not fantasy worlds.

To that end, every year I go through my entire sample ballot and present you with my positions on everything. This allows me to research it all, present that research, and allow others to possible convince me to change my current position before the election. As I just received my State of California Voter Information Guide, I figured I would start with the propositions this morning. Here’s the summary for the TL;DR crowd:

30 Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding. Initiative Constitutional Amendment Strong Yes
31 State Budget. State and Local Government. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute Leaning No
32 Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Contributions to Candidates. Initiative Statute Strong No
33 Auto Insurance Companies. Prices Based on Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage. Initiative Statute. Leaning No
34 Death Penalty. Initiative Statute. Leaning Yes
35 Human Trafficking. Penalties. Initiative Statute. Leaning No
36 Three Strikes Law. Repeat Felony Offenders. Penalties. Initiative Statute. Leaning Yes
37 Genetically Engineered Foods. Labeling. Initiative Statute. Leaning Yes
38 Tax to Fund Education and Early Childhood Programs. Initiative Statute. Strong No
39 Tax Treatment for Multistate Businesses. Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Funding. Initiative Statute. Leaning Yes
40 Redistricting. State Senate Districts. Referendum. Strong Yes


Proposition 30: Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Prop 30 is an initiative primarily supported by the Governor Brown intended primarily to fund education and public safety. It increases the sales tax rate by ¼% through the end of 2016, and increases the personal income tax rate on incomes over $250K single, $500K joint for 7 years. This additional money would flow into the general fund, and could be used to support public schools, public universities, health programs, social services, and prisons. Having more funds would increase the minimum guaranteed funding going to K-12 and community colleges, and make more funding available for public universities. The funds would supposedly be deposited into an Education Protection Account, of which 89% goes to K-12 and 11% goes to Community Colleges. This would free up other funds in the general fund; those funds could then be used for public universities and such. The funds would also be available to help balance the budget. The 2012-2013 state budget provides that if this measure fails, there will be significant cuts to education: $5B to K-12 and community colleges, $250M to each of UC and CSU. It moves local public safety programs to local controls, and guarantees new revenue will be used for school funding. Although the title talks about public safety funding (and there is some text in the initiative), it is not in the legislative analysts summary, leading me to conclude that the public safety aspect is more in budget stability and the guaranteed funding to the county and local level.

The argument against this is that it does not provide new funding for education — which it doesn’t, except as it increases the minimum guaranteed. The argument also indicates that it does not reform pensions or eliminate school bureaucratic problems. That’s right, it doesn’t.

My thoughts… I now have a child in the UC system, which has been devastated by budget cuts. Passing this measure prevents an immediate cut to CSU and UC, and will make more funds available for those systems in the future by providing a steadier source of school funding. It is not a perfect measure and does not solve the structural problems, but one rarely sees a perfect initiative.  The financial impact for most Californians is small (slight sales tax increase), and the net tax rate increase for the upper brackets is smaller than the competing measure. I think this measure needs to pass to help the state find financial stability and to help fund UC and CSU. Strong Yes.

Proposition 31:  State Budget. State and Local Government. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

 This proposition makes revision to the state’s budgeting process and how things are funded. It creases a two year budget cycle, and requires that almost all bills that have expenditures or cuts of $25M or more (adjusted for inflation) have offsetting cuts/revenue. It requires that bills be posted for 3 days before passage. It also creates something called Community Strategic Action Plans, where states or local governments indicate how they will implement a law, or take a functionally equivalent approach. It shifts some sales tax revenues to local governments, and allows transfer of local property taxes. It requires a regular review of public programs.

My thoughts… Reading through the proposed law and the ballot arguments, there are things I like and things I don’t. I like the two year budget cycle. I like the notion of offsetting spending with cuts, or tax cuts with revenue elsewhere, but the implementation in this proposal is ambiguous and probably won’t be effective at all. I’m not sure I like the “functionally equivalent” approach to implementing state requirements, simply because not all nuances will be captured. The 3 day visibility aspect is likely noise, and bills are already posted on the web. This sorta leads me to a “no” position, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. Leaning No.

Proposition 32: Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Contributions to Candidates. Initiative Statute

This is one of the big battleground propositions. It bans unions in particular (and corporations or government contractors, if they did it) from collecting money from paychecks for political activities without written consent. It prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-control committees. Other political expenditures are unrestricted. It also prohibits government contractor contributions to elected officers or officer-controlled committees.

My thoughts… This seems balanced, but really isn’t. Unions are prohibited from collecting money from members (their sole source of income) and using them for candidates, although they could create PACs. The same is true for corporations and govt. contractors, but those entities have other sources of income. So, essentially, this ties the hands of unions by restricting the money they can collect while still permitting corporations to use profits to fund political activities. Let’s put it another way. Assume Chik-Fil-A was unionized. This would prevent the CFA Union from collecting funds from workers without written consent; thus, they would have limited funds to work for gay rights. Yet Chick-Fil-A would be free to take the profit from every sandwich you buy, without your consent, and use it to work against gay rights. That’s not fair. Strong No.

Proposition 33: Auto Insurance Companies. Prices Based on Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage. Initiative Statute.

This proposition is a modification of previous proposals that permit insurance companies to set prices based on whether the drive previously carried auto insurance with any insurance companies. It allows discounts if there was some history of prior insurance coverage (with increases if there isn’t continuous coverage). It defines continuous coverage as <90 days, or < 18 months if there is loss of employment or military service. Children residing with a parent could get the parent’s discount.

My thoughts… This is a retry of an initiative from Mercury Insurance that failed before. They make some tweaks, and qualified it again. On the surface, it seems like a reasonable idea: you shouldn’t have to go back to Square Zero with respect to a persistency discount when you switch insurance companies; this could prevent people from switching and hurt competition. But there is no such thing as a free lunch with a corporation: if they are giving a discount, it won’t come out of profits, but because someone else is paying more. So who pays more? Looking at the measure, there are some clear omissions. Its lapse period, except for veterans, those unemployed due to layoff or furlough, is only 90 days. That’s awfully short. Most people are on 6 mo or 1 year policies, so this measure will affect those on month-to-month insurance much more. It has no provisions that address dropping insurance due to a long medical condition, nor provisions that affect those out of work due to a company going out of business, being fired, quitting. It indicates that children can get a parent’s discount, but doesn’t define the age of those children. Thus older children in college who don’t have insurance might be penalized. So, again, this seems like a good idea but a bad implementation. Leaning No.

Proposition 34: Death Penalty. Initiative Statute.

This proposition essentially repeals the death penalty and replaces it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It applies retroactively, and requires those guilty of murder must work in prison. It also directs $100M to law enforcement to investigate homicide and rape cases.

My thoughts… I’ve never been a big fan of the death penalty. It’s never been shown to be a deterrent, primarily because no one is ever swiftly executed. There are appeals upon appeals, which cost lots of money. Further, technology is permitting us to discover that some judged as guilty were really not; it is wrong for the state to execute someone who is innocent. Passing this law also is likely to save the state quite of bit of money. The argument against blames the ACLU and indicates it lets criminals escape justice. I find that specious. It doesn’t release them: they are still in prison. I’m inclined to support this measure, unless I’m presented with clear statistics that the death penalty is a stronger deterrent than life imprisonment, and that no innocent person has ever been jailed wrongly. Leaning Yes.

Proposition 35: Human Trafficking. Penalties. Initiative Statute.

This proposition increases the criminal penalties for human trafficking, and requires the fines collected to be used for victim services and law enforcement. It classifies the trafficker as a sex offender, and requires sex offenders to provide information regarding Internet access and the identities they use.

My thoughts… Human trafficking is a bad thing. However, it is also rare: only a few people have been sent to state prison for it, and there are currently only 18 such offenders. Do we need to increase the penalties for these crimes? Unclear. With parole and such, it would keep them in longer, but what is unknown is what percentage are repeat offenders. If they don’t repeat after prison, the increased penalties as merely punitive.  Of greater concern for me is expanding the sex offender category to include them. I already believe we are overly punitive in that area, for not all crimes classified as sex offenses are equal. Someone who forcibly abducts a child and sexually abuses them is something very different than consensual sex between a 19 year old and a 17 year old, but both are sex crimes and brand the offender for life. Furthermore, it changes the definition of the crime of trafficking to include the creation and distribution of obscene materials depicting minors. I was once at a computer security conference where someone said the easiest way to get somebody was to break into their system and plant child porn. Based on the expansion of these provisions, I just don’t like this proposal. Leaning No.

Proposition 36: Three Strikes Law. Repeat Felony Offenders. Penalties. Initiative Statute.

This proposition revises the three strikes law to impose life sentences only when new felony convictions are serious or violent. It authorizes re-sentencing for those currently serving life sentences if the third strike was not serious or violent and there is not risk to public safety, except for certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses, or if the prior convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation.

My thoughts… I always get worried when the argument against starts blaming the ACLU. Remember what I said earlier about cogent arguments? Looking at the text of the measure, it generally tightens the restrictions of three strikes to be for serious or violent felonies — words that were not in the original measure. Most papers seem to be in favor of the measure, as are major district attorneys. In general, this seems to be doing the right thing: tweaking the law to ensure that state resources are used to lock up serious and violent offenders, but not imposing life sentences unnecessarily. It fits my notion of justice. Leaning Yes.

Proposition 37: Genetically Engineered Foods. Labeling. Initiative Statute.

This proposition has seen a lot of advertising. It requires labeling of raw or processed food if it is made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specific ways, and calling such food natural. It exempts foods that are certified organic, unintentionally produced with GM materials, made from animals fed or injected with GM materials but not GM-themselves, processed with or containing only a small amount of such material, sold for immediate consumption in a restaurant, or alcoholic beverages. This was placed on the ballot by natural food manufacturers and concerned consumers; it is opposed by almost every major food processing company.

My thoughts… We don’t know if GM food is safe. Testing shows it appears to be safe, but we really don’t know the long term effects. So, siding on the side of forewarned is forearmed, it would make sense to inform consumers. What’s the downside of this? First, a number of things are exempted, so if you believe this measure will keep GM material out of you, you’re wrong. Thus it gives a false sense of security. Secondly, it applies only to California. This means that manufacturers will either have to create packaging just for California (highly unlikely), or use California-compliant packaging in the rest of the country. That might not be a bad thing — look at what California emissions standards have done for fuel standards overall. I agree with my wife on this one: As flawed as this measure is, I’d still like to see the labels. Leaning Yes.

Proposition 38: Tax to Fund Education and Early Childhood Programs. Initiative Statute.

This proposition is primarily backed by Molly Munger. It increases personal income taxes on almost all Californians (starting with those earning over $7.3K), and allocates 60^ of the revenues to K-12 schools, 30% to state dept, and 10% to early childhood education (ECE). After four years, that goes to 85% to K-12, and 15% to ECE. K-12 funding is on a school-specific, per-pupil basis.

My thoughts… I don’t like this measure for a number of reasons. Primarily, this measure provides no funding for higher education: community colleges, UC, and CSU. It provides specific dictates on funding that cannot be amended. It is very heavily focused on ECE. I don’t like this rigidity; I don’t like the extent of the tax increase on those who can least afford it. Further, if it gets more votes than Prop. 30, it will mean a $250M cut to each of UC and CSU. I cannot stomach that. Strongly No.

Proposition 39: Tax Treatment for Multistate Businesses. Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Funding. Initiative Statute.

This proposition requires multistate businesses to calculate their California tax liability based on the percentage of sales in California, and repeals an existing law giving permission to choose a different formula. It dedicates the increase in revenue for energy efficiency and clean energy jobs.

My thoughts… The basic argument against this is that businesses in California will pay more taxes, and thus want to leave California. I’m not sure that’s the case. This was created in a budget compromise a few years ago, and it was a bad idea then.  Right now, I’m inclined to support this. Leaning Yes.

Proposition 40: Redistricting. State Senate Districts. Referendum.

This proposition approves the new State Senate districts drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission; if rejected, the boundaries will be adjusted by officials supervised by the California Supreme Court.

My thoughts…I voted for the Citizens Redistricting Commission, and generally like their work. The opposition has indicated they no longer seek a no vote. No brainer. Strong Yes.


As always, if you wish to convince me otherwise on these propositions, I welcome cogent and coherent arguments. Subsequent posts will look into the positional campaigns (President, etc.) and Los Angeles local measures (including the condom referendum).

ETA: (Part II: Federal Offices; Part III: State and Local Offices, Local Measures)


14 Replies to “California Ballot Analysis Part I: The Propositions”

  1. I largely agree with your assessments.

    The problem I have with Prop. 31 is its complexity, and what it adds to a state constitution that (mainly thanks to ballot initiatives) is beginning to resemble a telephone book. I’m inherently skeptical of any measure that makes a lot of wide-ranging changes to the constitution, as this one does.

    Prop. 33 is yet another attempt to chip away at Prop. 103. Prop. 103 has been a thorn in insurance companies’ sides because it passed in 1988 despite the efforts of insurance companies to defeat it with millions of dollars and two distracting initiatives. The fact that Mercury’s CEO is sponsoring this and spending millions of dollars on it should give anyone pause. The opponents make a compelling argument that insurance company CEOs rarely spend millions of dollars on something that will save customers money.

    Prop. 35 is one of those solutions in search of a problem. The Legislative Analyst notes not only that state laws already address this (rare) problem, but when this crime does occur it’s typically prosecuted in federal court under federal law.

    The measure does add additional punishment for sex offenders, requiring them disclose their Internet identities to police (presumably to protect children). The problem is that “sex offenders” constitute a very wide range of people, from truly dangerous rapists and pedophiles to college students guilty of “mooning” pranks. Indiscriminately painting them all with the same brush does nothing to improve safety, and also creates additional costs of monitoring compliance and prosecuting “status offenses.”

    Regardless, I’m sure it will pass overwhelmingly. One reason the United States leads the world in per capita incarceration is that neither politicians nor voters can resist voting for increased punishment of criminals.

    I’m not sure about 37. Like you, I’d like to see labels. But as most food products now contain GM ingredients, it’s hard to see the benefit when nearly every product will have a label. And there are enough exemptions to undermine whatever usefulness the labeling might offer consumers. But then, the real benefit of the labels might ultimately be to provoke the debate we should be having, rather than letting corporations make the decisions unilaterally.

    As for Prop. 39, it’s an understatement to call the tax provision it repeals “a budget compromise a few years ago.” Corporate lobbyists called on the legislators they bought and paid for to stealthily insert it into the law during final reconciliation behind closed doors as the budget deadline loomed. The Legislature passed the package without debating the tax provision; most legislators probably didn’t even know it was in the budget. It completely circumvented whatever limited democracy we have. So this is an opportunity for voters to weigh in on both the tax provision and the way it was literally inserted into a bill through the back door.

    1. Oh, I’m well aware the money goes into an education fund, which frees up other funds for other places in the state budget. That’s what I want! In particular, it frees up funds to be used for CSU and UC, and prevents at $250M cut to each campus. Said cut, if it occurs, will drastically raise tuition for students attending UC/CSU (including my daughter). We hear so much about money going to K-12, but this is the one that will help get some money retained at our state universities.

    2. Here are two positions you might enjoy reading:

      What’s interesting is that they are both right: Higher education needs the funding, and Prop 30 is probably not the best way to do it as it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem.

      I don’t think right now higher education can afford to wait until the legislature comes up with the best solution. The question is: what is a “good enough” solution that will get us moving forward enough that there can be breathing room so we can get the best solution proposed. I think Prop 30 gives that breathing room, but it isn’t the long-term answer. Sometimes you just have to go with “good enough”.

    1. As I said, convince me. Present to me an argument as to why it is a bad idea. Just saying “bad scam” is not convincing, especially when the major food producers are outspending the health food producers 10 to 1.

    2. To elaborate (as I have a few minutes before Survivor): The arguments I’ve seen against this boil down to:

      a) But the genetically modified stuff is safe. My thought: We thought that about BPA as well, and its taken a while, but we’re finding otherwise.

      b) It doesn’t indicate the type of modification. My thought: True that, but some information is better than no information. At worst, we have something like the Prop 65 notification.

      c) It exempts some foods but not others: Again, true that, but I’d rather have some labeled than none labeled.

      The real argument I see against it is that it will cost manufacturers of food a lot of money to inform people what is in their food, especially for the California market. They thought that in PA too, but eventually folks just labeled for all markets, so everyone benefits.

  2. Okay, going through my due diligence now… Prop 30 sounds like the money is going to a special education fund that can’t be touched, and also won’t cover all the costs of education. So what’s to stop the TPTB from doing exactly what they did with the lottery? Essentially, saying they budget x dollars for education, provide x-Prop 30 money from the General Fund, and move on? That’s what I’m reading it does, so not really new money overall. My concern is what’s preventing TPTB from saying they will budget less than x in the first place, a portion of which will be Prop 30 funds?

    1. That may very well be what they are doing. But also recall that the “guarantee for education” is for K-12. So what this does is free up the other funds so they can be used on post K-12 education (UC and CSU). The increase also increases the guarantee to education under the funding formulas. It frees up money for roads and improvements. Basically, it brings in more income so that the cutbacks that we have been increasingly facing do not continue. That’s a good thing.

Comments are closed.