As I wrote in Part I, which covered the major offices, the general election is just about two weeks away, and that means it is time to go through the ballot to revisit how I should vote. I do this afresh each election, and I post my analysis here for you to review. If you disagree, let me know with a convincing reason why I should support the other side. But more importantly, I encourage you to do the same: Go through your sample ballot, where ever you are, and study the candidates and make an informed decision. Put some critical thought behind your vote. Don’t just vote a slate without thinking — on either side. Don’t just vote against the other guy; vote for the positions you like. This is your chance to make a difference. Most importantly, remember to vote. Many many many, and even many more, have given their lives so that you have the ability to vote. Respect them, and exercise your franchise. Even if you disagree with me.
(Note: Although this post is posted at lunch, it has been in development since the weekend)
On to Part II: the propositions. Part III, the minor offices, will be in a future post.
“Beer’s for drinkin’. Water’s for fightin'”
California’s history seems to revolve around contentious water projects. Los Angeles went to the Eastern Sierras to get water from the Owens Valley. San Francisco was no better: it convinced a President to permit damming of a National Park for its water. The Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers built numerous projects to name loads of Sierra and far northern California rivers, and aqueducts have been built to the Colorado. Then, of course, there was the State Water Project. Each was necessary for the survival of the state, its urban areas, and its farmers; but each was accompanied with its shares of lies and deceit.
The legacy of Jerry Brown’s father was the State Water Project, an aqueduct that brought cheap water to the farmers of the San Joaquin, but justified by the needs of the urban areas to the south. In a time where we are facing a major drought (I’d say unprecedented, but it has happened before); in a time where the realization has come that we have been overdrawing our groundwater aquifers beyond the ability to replenish them; and in a time where we are just realizing that fracking for natural gas is contaminating beyond repair those self-same aquifers… we get a water bond on the ballot.
This water bond is a compromise: it isn’t what the Democrats wanted; it isn’t what the Republicans wanted. This, in and of itself, is a good thing — it is how government is supposed to work. This will build more water infrastructure, more storage areas, and provide protection for our water sources and water quality. It is expensive, but it may be vital to our way of life.
Now that you know the history, let’s look at the positions. The No on 1 camp feels that the water bond is a waste of money; a giveaway to the farmers of the central valleys. They think it is tilted to the grower interests. The groups against it are the fishing industry, a lot of northern California environmental groups, local Native American tribes. The Yes on 1 camp includes all of the major papers, all of the major politicians, conservation groups, farmers, and more. They feel it is necessary to ensure water supplies for the future.
What does the proposition actually do, other than authorize bonds. Let’s start with the first claim, that it raises taxes. This proposition authorizes $7.9Bln of new bonds, and redirects the funds from a number of resource related bonds already authorized for water resource uses (but this is under $½Bln). These bonds are repaid out of the general fund. On the surface, that doesn’t raise taxes. However, if the state runs a deficit, it might need to raise taxes to cover those obligations. There appears to be no mention of user fees (such as might arise from selling the stored water). So a slight tax risk exists, depending on what you think future economic conditions will be. Note, however, that more stable water will result in a better economy.
Where does the money go? $4.235Bln (more than half) goes to water supply improvements — water storage, water recycling, and other water related improvements. $1.45Bln (about 18%) goes to watershed and habitat protection and environmental conservation (e.g., protecting water sources). Another $1.4Bln (again, about 18%) goes towards cleaning up groundwater pollution and wastewater treatment. Lastly, a paltry $395Mln (less than the diverted bonds) goes towards Flood Protection. There are no specific projects cited, although funds are allocated to specific regions of the state, and in some cases, specific watersheds. Spending within those regions is decided by the California Water Commission (seemingly, in a manner similar to the California Highway Commission).
It should be noted there are no grandiose plans such as new water projects from the Trinity or the Columbia Rivers, although there are some tunnels under the San Joaquin.
I think we can all agree that increased water storage is good, as is increased water cleanup and conservation. Is it worth it, and do we need it? After all, all the good and cheap water storage sites (read “dams”) have already been built. The “No” side has the following primary arguments: First, they complain about the cost. This is an argument that will be made for any bond. The alternative, however, is direct taxes or to have the cost be borne by the users, and that’s unlikely. So we have to decide if the potential cost is worth it. Their next argument is that it is a taxpayer giveaway. The question is: to whom? All projects are in the state, which will put money to work in the state. Their third argument is that it won’t solve the water problems, and will divert more water from our rivers and streams, make our environment less stable and expose us to new problems. But there are no new water projects per se in the legislation. Lastly, they feel it will benefit wealthy agriculture corporations who want more access to California’s water. That’s been a common complaint since the early days, but the central valley are the folks that are really suffering in the drought, and agriculture is critical to state wealth overall. They want a better solution, but the key point is: they never convinced a legislator to propose their “better solution”, and to get them to pass it and get the governor to go along.
(In a related vein, here’s an interesting article on the Westlands Water District. It’s a good example of the problems wrought by reclamation in the wrong place)
In short, while I’m sure this bond project is not perfect, it is a compromise that has brought together both sides of the aisle, the governor, and the major papers. It will likely impact the environment, but even state projects are not exempt from Federal environmental protection laws. Given that (at least for Southern California) deliveries from the Colorado are down due to commitments to other states, and the LA Aqueduct has lower deliveries due to agreements with the Owens Valley, we need the storage. Given the deplenishment of groundwater and contamination from chemicals, clean up and protection is important. I think we need this. But we also need to rethink how we use water — and what water we use — in the state. Particular, we need to rethink the amount of wasted drinking water used in agriculture and manufacturing processes when reclaimed water or treated water might be perfectly suitable.
- Conclusion: Yes on 1.
This proposition requires annual transfer of state general fund revenues to budget stabilization account, and that half the revenues be used to repay state debts. It limits use of remaining funds to emergencies or budget deficits. It is part of Jerry Brown’s strategy to stabilize state finances in the face of swinging income and economies. Set aside money when times are good; spend it when times are bad. The Yes Camp includes all the major papers, both parties, the Howard Jarvis association, and most politicians. Who’s against it? The No Camp focuses on the effect on schools — it views the diversion of funds to the rainy day fund as a diversion away from the schools. There appear to be no endorsements on the No side; in fact, there seems to be no major funding on the No side.
So, what is the impact on the schools. School, after all, have some guaranteed funding in the state constitution. The Times endorsement addresses that question head-on:
The proposal would create a separate rainy-day fund for public schools to smooth out ups and downs in school funding. Many school districts already have their own reserves, however, and therein lies a problem. At the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown and the state teachers union, the Legislature passed a law this year that would force many districts to slash their reserves if and when the state started collecting money in its new statewide piggy bank for public schools. That’s bad policy — local school officials are far better positioned than state voters to decide how much money to keep for contingencies. But that shortcoming doesn’t mean voters should defeat Proposition 2. It means lawmakers should repeal the statute that limits local reserves.
In short, I don’t believe the No camp’s argument is sufficient to overcome the need to strengthen the building for a rainy day.
- Conclusion: Yes on 2.
Ah, Prop 45. The source of loads and loads of TV advertising. According to the ballot summary, this proposition would require the Insurance Commissioner’s approval before a health insurer can change its rates or anything else affecting the charges associated with health insurance (similar to the power already provided for automobile insurance). It provides for public notice, disclosure, and hearing, and subsequent judicial review. It exempts employer large group health plans, so if you get a plan through work, you can keep it (well, you know what I mean). It is funded from fees paid by health insurance companies.
I’m sure you can guess who is against this one. The No on 45 camp is calling this a power grab, and is supported by a coalition of hospital groups, unions, chambers of commerce, ethnic organizations, taxpayer associations, and, although it isn’t on the website, health insurers. In fact, they’ve contributed a majority of the funding to defeat the proposition, most likely because they are worried they will have their rates capped. Doctors are worried this will lead to lower reimbursements.
Who is in favor of this one? The Yes Camp is endorsed by the nurses association, numerous consumer watchdog groups, attorneys, a large number of unions, the insurance commissioner, most major state politicians.
In terms of the papers, the LA Times, Daily News, Sacramento Bee, and San Francisco Chronicle all are on the “no” side. The rationale is the usual things that kill initiative statues: it is poorly written. Specifically, the Times notes that Prop 45 was written before Covered California opened for business last year, and doesn’t acknowledge the exchange or any of the other major changes wrought by the 2010 law. As such, “Proposition 45 would undermine Covered California’s ability to bargain with insurers to create a range of options for consumers by letting the insurance commissioner reject practically any element of each plan the exchange approves.” A similar argument is made by the Sacramento Bee, the Daily News, and the San Francisco Chronicle. As for the folks at Covered California, they have concerns about the proposition, but don’t want to come out against it because they don’t want to align with the insurance companies. Neither side acknowledges the interaction problems well.
I showed the article linked above to Ted Marcus, a friend of mine who is strongly in the Yes camp for 45. He wrote back: “I see the concerns (and also note that the link is to the organization that sponsored Prop. 45). Those concerns are apparently too complicated to fit into the insurance industry’s campaign, which seems to be based on the conservative party line about the inherent evil of government. But I still think Prop. 45 is a good idea. If the insurance companies are clear and transparent about justifying their pricing (as the initiative requires), they should have no problem getting approval. The need for approval and transparency may also have a beneficial effect on the negotiation process. (And by “beneficial effect” I mean beneficial to the public and to insured people. It would, of course, be detrimental to the executives and shareholders of insurance companies. But that zero-sum game has very strongly favored the latter for too long.) Despite the concerns about compatibility with the Covered California process, I think the insurance industry needs transparency and oversight. That consideration outweighs the potential incompatibilities, which would surely be fixed once the new law is in place. The fact that insurance companies see it as a enough of a threat to to spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat it only reinforces that need.”
Are insurance companies a problem? This recent statement from Dave Jones, the Insurance Commissioner, makes it clear they are attempting to abuse the rates they are setting, and he is currently powerless to correct the matter. The question is whether the independent rate commission that sets the rates for Covered California will be able to keep control. The bigger problem is that the rate commission for Covered California only covers Covered California, not the small group market that is caught in the middle between Covered California and the large employer groups.
The insurance companies counter that trial lawyers are behind 45. I think the truth is that no matter which side wins, the trial lawyers clean up.
I don’t buy their complaint about this creating a new bureaucracy: we already have the insurance commission and the folks behind Covered California. I don’t buy their complain about this putting too much power in one individual: we already have the Insurance Commissioner, and I can vote him or her out of office. I can’t do that with the CEOs of the major insurers. As for the sides, I think both insurance companies and lawyers are often concerned more for their self-interest than the public (public-interest lawyers excepted).
Ultimately, my decision on a proposition hinges on what it says, not who supports it. The question is how much I believe that “That consideration outweighs the potential incompatibilities, which would surely be fixed once the new law is in place.” Will they be fixed? In either case, this doesn’t affect me personally, as I have employer provided insurance. But my daughter will be entering the insurance market when she falls off my policy in a few years, and I want a working Covered California then. I also want affordable small business policies in the state, as that affects the ability to do business.
My inclination, for most initiative statutes, is to vote “no”, because usually the people who write these things don’t think them through. This seems to be such a case here. But then again, the health insurers have shown themselves a greedy bunch over time. Perhaps the threat of the rate disapproval will keep tighter control on things.
- Conclusion: Yes on 45 (but I keep going back and forth on this — so convince me even more either way)
Yet another initiative statute. This proposition requires drug testing of doctors. It also requires review of statewide prescription database before prescribing controlled substances. It increases the $250,000 pain/suffering cap in medical negligence lawsuits for inflation.
As usual, some insight is gained by supporters and endorsers. On the Yes side are a lot of Democratic clubs, consumer groups, … and it is funded heavily by consumer attorneys of California. The No side has all the major doctor groups and major health groups, unions, public safety groups, civil liberties groups, political groups from all sides of the spectrum (Democrats, Republicans… and Socialists), Education groups, Childrens groups, Business groups… the list goes on. All the major papers are against this.
In short, this looks like an attempt by the lawyers to simply have more medical lawsuits.
- Conclusion: No on 46.
Another petition for the ballot. This one would reduce the sentence from a felony to a misdemeanor certain drug and property offenses. It would not apply to persons with prior conviction for serious or violent crime and registered sex offenders. It basically saves the state a lot of money, but puts people convicted of what the authors believe to be low risk crimes back on the streets. What are these? The Yes side says low-level nonviolent crimes, such as simple drug possession and petty theft (but they remain felonies for registered sex offenders and anyone previously convicted of rape, murder or child molestation). The No side adds that it will reduce penalties for stealing guns and for possession of “date rape” drugs, as well as putting felons back on the street. 47 is opposed by law enforcement, victims of crime, prosecutors, and Republican leaning papers (The “Bees”, San Diego U-T). The yes side has a lot of law enforcement as well, judges, elected officials, faith leaders, schools, and other major papers (LA Times, SF Chronicle).
Why do the papers say what they say? The LA Times says “Proposition 47 would do a great deal to stop the ongoing and unnecessary flow of Californians to prison for nonviolent and nonserious offenses and would, crucially, reduce the return flow of offenders from prison back to their neighborhoods in a condition — hardened by their experience, hampered by their felony records, unready for employment or education, likely mentally ill or addicted — that leaves them only too likely to offend again.” The Times notes the familiar tactics of the opponents: “Opponents offer arguments that are familiar for their fear-mongering tactics but are new in some of their particulars: baseless yet ominous warnings that waves of dangerous criminals will be released; odd predictions about, of all things, date rape; acknowledgment that current sentencing is often excessive and counterproductive, but excuses for not previously having made sensible changes.”, but correctly notes that the real problem is that this is an initiative (when the sentencing commissions and the legislature should be solving the problem. Why does the Sacramento Bee, on the other hand, urge a no vote? It will turn criminals loose.
A note regarding the “date rape” drug: The proposition only addresses possession of such drugs, not the use. Use remains illegal. In general, is it a crime to possess something if it is never used? If so, why don’t we arrest people that own guns? After all, doesn’t ownership imply use?
Here are my thoughts: The state is already under Federal sanctions for having a prison population it can no longer take care of. We need to reduce the number of people in prison. We will never be able to do it perfectly, but this seems to be on the correct side for much of the problem — enough so that schools, faith leaders, and many others support it.
- Conclusion: Yes on 47. (but again, this is one where I’m looking for strongly convincing arguments from either side)
A simple proposition: A “Yes” vote approves, and a “No” vote rejects, tribal gaming compacts between the state and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and the Wiyot Tribe. The big question is: why? After all, voters haven’t had to approve every other gaming contract. Further, this was put on by a petition. So what is special here?
The Yes Camp shows support from the LA Times, state officials, local officials in the county in question, and tribal groups. The No Camp is supported by a number of Bay Area papers, the SoCal papers affialiated with the Orange County Registrar, Dianne Feinstein, and a number of other officials. The major funders of the No side are Table Mountain Rancheria and Brigade Capital Management. The Table Mountain Rancheria is a federally recognized tribe of Native American people from the Chukchansi band of Yokuts and the Monache tribe. They operate the Table Mountain Casino near Fresno. Brigate Capital Management is an investment firm; in particular, they are the money behind Mohegan Sun casino in MA.
The Yes page describes the project as follows: “Proposition 48 affirms two tribal gaming compacts negotiated by Governor Brown, ratified by a bipartisan majority of the State Legislature, and supported by local, state, and federal officials as well as business, labor, and environmental leaders. These compacts allow the North Fork Tribe near Yosemite and the Wiyot Tribe near Humboldt Bay to create a single project on Indian land in the Central Valley.” Specifically, what appears to be happening is the two tribes are working together to move a project from environmentally sensitive land the Wiyot Tribe has near Humboldt to 305 acres the North Folk tribe has next to Route 99 near Madera. This is all within the rules that appear to go with the Tribal Gaming Law. The No Camp is trying to stop this to prevent competition, pure and simple, no matter what else they say. SF Gate has a good summary of both sides. The LA Times editorial explains the whole land purchase discussion, and why that is a non-issue.
This project has the potential to create a lot of jobs and employ a lot of people, with lots of support businesses. All other things being equal, we should side with the state who negotiated the compact. The competing tribe and the other existent casino interests are simply being bullies, spending an order of magnitude more money to defeat the measure ($6.7 Mln to defeat, whereas the yes side has raised $400K).
Here’s my problem: This is in the San Joaquin Valley, and the SJ valley is suffering worst in this current drought. This compact was negotiated in 2012, long before these water problems. Does the area today have the water to support this development, and would the water usage be less than any agricultural usage the land currently has. So I reviewed the Water and Wastewater Study from the Final EIR for the casino. It looks like it could require up to 400K gallons per day. That’s a lot of water.
I want the tribes to do better — the North Fork Tribe is economically depressed. I want the Central Valley to do better — many of the cities there are in dire financial straits. I also don’t believe that one should be able to stifle competition through the ballot box — we permitted the state to make compacts, and if that means competition for other tribes, so be it. But I read articles such as water agencies declaring supply emergencies, or cities such as Porterville that are having to live on bottled water, and I ask myself: “Is this the right place for this growth?”. The delays on this compact created by this bill have permitted us the ability to revisit this question. It is not the argument the “No” side is making, but it is the argument they should be making. It boils down to a hard decision: extra jobs, vs increased demands on the aquifers in the area. Money can’t buy everything, so although I’m against voting “no” for competition reasons, I think the water situation leads me to one conclusion.
- Conclusion: No on 48. (but again, convince me otherwise if you feel strongly)
Proposition 49. Withdrawn.
This is a measure put on the ballot by the Supervisors to charge a $23/parcel tax to ensure continued funding from an expiring voter-approved measure for improving the safety of neighborhood parks and
senior/youth recreation areas; assisting in gang prevention; protecting rivers, beaches, water sources; repairing, acquiring/preserving parks/natural areas; maintaining zoos, museums; and providing youth job-training. The Yes side has a strong measure of support. The LA Times is strongly against it. The Times’ argument is that (a) it isn’t needed urgently now; (b) it was developed with no community input; (c) it doesn’t specify the parks and projects it will help; and (d) it will help the space aliens take over the world. Well, maybe not that last one. Oh, they were concerned it was a parcel tax vs. added to the tax rate. On the whole, the Times arguments seem to resonate: come back when there is time to do right.
- Conclusion: No on P
And that finishes Part II of the analysis. Keep your eyes open over the weekend for Part III, which should address all the Judicial stuff.