Sunday, October 16, 2016

November 2016

Sorry, but life events, and the unwieldy number of propositions, has made a sober, well-researched review of the props impossible this election cycle. For now, I'm inviting my readers to visit another site I respect - Pete Rates the Props. His opinions have inspired and influenced my own over the years.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

History of Propositions

There are two ways for a proposition to get onto the ballot. The first is by the state legislature submitting an issue directly to the voters. The second is by a group of people gathering enough signatures of registered CA voters (currently 373,816). Sometimes known as “Direct Democracy”, this process was created as a way for the voters to bypass an unresponsive state government and institute a law or constitutional amendment. The high number of required signatures ensured that the proposal had enough popular support to be placed on the ballot.

However, the creators of this process did not foresee the use of paid signature gatherers. These are most of the people you see circulating the petitions for ballot initiatives, and they are usually paid about two dollars per signature. These “ballot mercenaries” have replaced the armies of passionate volunteers that were originally envisioned when the referendum process was started.

As a result, anyone with about $2 million can get an initiative on the ballot, forcing voters to debate a proposition that may have no real merit to begin with. The best solution would be to ban the use of paid signature collectors. This would not only return the system to its original intent, but would drastically reduce the number of propositions that currently overwhelm voters every election.

Unfortunately, the courts have declared that money is a form of speech, and cannot be impinged. This is a position that has been challenged by many people, without success.

So, please, READ the summary before you sign it. The person circulating the petition may not be telling you the whole story.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Proposition 50

Until recently, State Senators and Assembly Members had only one codified way to discipline a fellow legislator: Expulsion. This required a two-thirds majority of the legislature and brought an early end to that person's term in office. The last time this happened was 1905.

In 2014 three State Senators got themselves into a heap of trouble. Two were indicted for corruption, and one for fraud. The other senators, not wanting to wait for the results of the trials, decided that they could suspend the senators until their criminal cases were dismissed. A suspension had never happened before, but the move was found to be legal. However, the one thing they couldn't do was suspend the three Senators' paychecks or benefits. That means that the alleged criminals continued to receive their salary, even though they could not vote.

Prop 50 would allow the Senate and Assembly to suspend one of their own by a two-thirds vote, as well as stop the legislator's pay and benefits during the suspension.

The opposition contends this is ploy to allow the majority to exact political retribution on some members by suspending them for indefinite periods of time, thereby violating the legislator's right to due process. Consequently the member's entire district will be left without representation, as their legislator cannot vote. While this may be true, it does not change the fact that suspension is already the law of the land. This bill is about an insignifigant amount of money (the legislator's salary) and the appearance of being "tough on crime".

Your Political Friend says, "whatever", and then votes YES.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

November 2012 Ballot - A Look Back


Prop 28

Currently, members of the CA State Senate are allowed to serve for a maximum of 8 years. Prop 28 would increase that to 12 years.

If a State Assembly member finishes his term and then serves a full term in the State Senate, he will have served a total of 14 years. Prop 28 would reduce the total number of years a politician can serve in the state legislature to 12 years. In short, the bill decreases the number of years a politician can serve, while, at the same time, increasing it. Or vice versa.

That's the bill. How you will vote on it depends on your feelings about term limits. The proponents of Prop 28 say that, with the current system,  "the only way legislators can complete their lifetime limit is to move from office to office" forcing legislators to start fundraising for the next office as soon as they are elected. This bill, they claim, would allow them to focus on their job serving their current constituents.

The bill is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (strange bedfellows?). The backers includes a bunch of real estate magnates, several of whom have large development projects up for review by the legislature.

Prop 28 is opposed by the California Republican Party, who point out that the initiative will actually extend term limits for members of the Assembly, because they will be able to serve 12 instead of 6 years in that office. For this reason they have sued to change the official summary which, in their opinion, leads voters to believe the bill will do the opposite.

Your Political Friend has never been a fan of term limits. While entrenched career politicians can be a serious problem, voters should be able to elect, and keep, whomever they like. Term limits just force out the good along with the bad.

Your Political Friend is voting Yes.

Prop 29

The Legislative Analyst's Office projects that Prop 29 would generate about $735 million a year in new tax revenues. About 60% of the money would go to research, with the remainder funding prevention programs and loans for facilities and equipment. No more than 2% could go to administration.

Prop 29 was put on the ballot by a variety of Cancer related organizations, including Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong and the American Cancer Society. Together, the two have spent nearly $7 million on the campaign. It is opposed by (wait for it...) Philip Morris, the California Republican Party, and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

Your Political Friend is generally against "Ballot Box Budgeting" measures like this one, in which voters are asked to dedicate tax dollars for a particular cause, usually to the detriment of all others. If only the funds went into the General Fund, Prop 29 would be an easy choice. Another concern is that the bill provides little oversight of the distribution of these funds, so some of the money would undoubtedly go to politically connected organizations regardless of merit. What is more, there is no stipulation that the money be spent in California, so the benefit to our economy is not guaranteed.

On the other hand Prop 29 creates it's own revenue stream. The money it provides would not come at the expense of the general budget. Also, it is a tax that need not be paid by everyone. Smoking is, ultimately, optional- people quit all the time. By raising the price of cigarettes, Prop 29 would have the immediate effect of discouraging smokers to continue destroying their own bodies and the health of those around them. More importantly, it would discourage teenagers from becoming smokers in the first place.

As noted above, it would be nice if the committee created to distribute the funds had some government oversight. There is no doubt that much of the money raised by the initiative will be squandered due to fraud and abuse. But, unless you're a smoker, why should you care?

The tobacco industry is spending $40 million to convince us that this is a dangerous proposition. That alone should be enough reason to support the measure.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Prop 30

Prop 30 would temporarily increase the state sales tax rate by 1/4 cent, as well as raise the personal income tax on incomes over $250K. The sales tax increase would last four years, while the personal income tax increase would last seven. The additional revenues raised by the initiative would be dedicated to public education, with 89% of the funds allocated to K-12 schools, and the remainder going to community colleges.

Last June the state legislature passed a budget that assumes Prop 30 will pass. If Prop 30 fails, the $6 Billion it would have provided will instead be cut from the budget. This means, voters must pass the initiative or the schools will see drastic cuts to existing programs.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Prop 31
Prop 31 has three main points. First, it restricts the Legislature’s ability to pass certain bills that increase state costs or decrease revenues unless new funding sources and/or spending reductions are identified. Second, it expands local government’s control over the disposition of property taxes, provided they participate in state programs to coordinate their public services. Third, it grants the Governor expanded budget control while requiring additional public oversight and audit of state budgets. I’ll try to explain these three below:

1) The measure would require any bills and amendments be available to the public for three days before the Legislature may vote on them. This could cut down on some of the back-room, Friday night deals that often appear in legislation. That is a good thing.

2) Instead of being written every year, the state budget would shift to a two-year cycle, which would help avoid the wild fluctuations we see in the budget when revenues go from good to bad. That is also a good thing.
3) Under current law, the Governor may declare a fiscal emergency and call the Legislature into a special session to propose changes to the budget. However, if the Legislature fails to act, there is little the Governor can do. Prop 31 would grant the Governor the ability to reduce General Fund spending, but not by more than is required to balance the budget. That is a maybe good thing.

4) The measure requires the legislature to offset spending increases of more than $25 million with spending reductions and/or revenue increases. The requirement applies to bills that create or expand new state departments or programs, or create state-mandated local programs. Prop 31 would also require the Legislature to show how bills that decrease state taxes or other revenues by more than $25 million in any fiscal year would be paid for with spending reductions, revenue increases, or both. Paying as we go is a great thing, but this part of the measure is troublesome because it exempts spending that is required by the Constitution or federal law—such as education, debt service, pension contributions, and some health and social services programs. These make up the vast majority of state spending. That is bad thing.

5) Finally, under this measure, local governments will be able to create their own plans how they provide state funded services to the public. These services may include economic development, education, social services, public safety, and public health, so long as they are “functionally equivalent” to the objectives of the existing state law. As an added incentive, the measure offers participating counties additional control over the disposition of property taxes, as well as a bigger portion of sales tax revenues. That sounds okay, but it is a mystery why it is here at all. What services are we talking about? Is this the real reason California Forward put the prop on the ballot? It's one of those clauses that makes you hesitate signing the contract.

Despite all the great stuff, the last two parts should give one pause. Your Political Friend is voting NO, but hoping for a cleaner prop to come along soon.

Prop 32

Prop 32 would prohibit unions, corporations, government contractors, and state and local government employers from spending money deducted from an employee’s paycheck for “political purposes.” Of course, corporations and contractors do not use payroll deductions for their political contributions. Unions do. This initiative is only meant to hurt them.

Your Political Friend is all in favor of efforts to remove money from politics, but Prop 32 isn't really about doing that. The measure will not add any transparency to the political process, nor will it prevent "special interests" from corrupting our democracy. It will, however, further increase the disparity between the voice of workers, as represented by unions, and the powerful influence of corporations on our government.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Prop 33

As it is, insurance companies can base their premiums on three main factors: (1) the insured's driving safety record, (2) the number of miles they drive each year, and (3) the number of years they have been driving. In addition insurance companies may provide discounts to individuals for being long-term customers. They are prohibited, however, from offering this discount to new customers who switch to them from other insurers.

According to the official summary, Prop 33 will "allow an insurance company to offer a 'continuous coverage' discount on automobile insurance policies to new customers who switch their coverage from another insurer."

So, did Mercury Insurance write Prop 33 so they could lure the more desirable customers away from other companies? Probably.

Well, that, and raise fees on drivers who do not have a history of continuous insurance coverage. This means that any driver who has had a break in coverage for more than 90 days in the last 5 years will pay a higher premium. It does not matter why you had a break in coverage - you sold your car, you worked abroad, you were in the hospital - you will pay more to restart your policy.

Voters rejected this same measure in June 2010. So Mercury Insurance, the majority source of funding for this measure, has reintroduced it with one tweak: it grants an exemption to people who’s lapse in coverage was due to military service. USA! USA!

Opponents call it a surcharge. Mercury Insurance calls it a discount. One thing is certain, it will result in more uninsured drivers on the road. This will cause premiums for all drivers to go up. And so, the cycle of profit continues.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Prop 34

Prop 34 would repeal the death penalty in California and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The measure would also require that those inmates work while imprisoned and have their wages garnished for victim restitution fines or orders against them.

The Legislative Analyst estimates that repealing the death penalty will save the state about $130 million per year. This is because the proceedings that follow a death sentence can take 20 years to complete, during which the state incurs millions in court costs.

The theory that the death penalty deters future crimes is a controversial one, as is the belief that it serves as a morally just punishment. However, there is a much better questions that any supporter of capital punishment should ask themselves: "Do I believe that our justice system is infallible?" In other words, do you believe that only guilty people are convicted? A simple review of death row exonerations, many due to previously unavailable DNA evidence, proves that some convictions have been in error. That means that we are executing innocent people. Now ask yourself, "Can I support a system that kills even one innocent person?"

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Prop 35

Prop 35 would do several things. First, it would expand the definition of human trafficking to include the production or distribution of child pornography. It would also increase the penalties for all types of human trafficking. The maximum prison sentence for labor trafficking would increase from the current 5 or 8 years (depending on whether a minor is involved) to 12 years. For sex trafficking, it would increase from 5 or 8 years to a maximum of 20 years for adults or life in prison if a minor is involved. If the victim suffered bodily injury, an additional 10 years could be added to the sentence (currently it's only five). For each prior conviction, a defendant could also have an additional 5 years tacked on to the sentence. And anyone convicted of human trafficking would now be required to register as a sex offender.

Prop 35 would protect victims as well. First, a person could not be prosecuted for criminal sexual conduct, such as prostitution, if he or she committed the crime while a victim of human trafficking. Nor could a person's sexual conduct be used to discredit them in court proceedings.
Everything about Prop 35 seems right and reasonable, but for one exception- it has no business being on the ballot. Human trafficking is already illegal. We, the voters, don't know how great the problem is, nor do we know whether harsher punishments are necessary. That is the bailiwick of criminal experts and prosecutors, judges and law enforcement. Not voters.

The legislature could pass this bill without the slightest controversy. Instead, California Against Slavery and the Safer California Foundation have placed this on the ballot, bypassing the legislature with what is no doubt a vanity project for Facebook millionaire, Chris Kelly, who likely has political ambitions.

There is no doubt that Prop 35 will pass, as it allows voters to feel that they are striking a blow against people who commit the terrible crime of human trafficking. Unfortunately, this is a vote that should be happening in an open legislature, not a closed voting booth.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Prop 37

Prop 37 would require foods containing genetically modified (GMO) ingredients to be labeled. It exempts foods that are certified organic (organic standards already exclude GMOs), sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant, made from animals fed GMOs but not genetically modified themselves, and alcoholic beverages.

It would also prohibit the labeling of advertising of such foods as "natural". This is a big deal. In the United States, the word "natural" has had no legal meaning. Twinkies can be called "all-natural".

The opposition to this measure is huge- paid for by corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, and processed junk food companies like PepsiCo and Nestle. They would have you believe that Prop 37 bans GMOs, or would increase food costs. In reality, these companies know that GMOs have a bad connotation in the average consumer's mind, and any label admitting to such contents would be marketing suicide. If that is the case, then they should set about educating the public on the safety of GMOs, not hiding their presence in the food they sell.

There are several studies which show that GMOs are perfectly safe for consumption. My personal objection to them is more environmental (they increase the use of pesticides) and economic (they increase the patenting of life forms, driving small farmers worldwide to bankruptcy).

Unfortunately, Prop 37 has one flaw, and it's a major flaw. The measure makes retailers, not manufacturers, responsible for making sure that foods are properly labeled. This means that your local market, not Kellogg's or General Foods, must prepare stacks of documents verifying the ingredients of the foods they sell. If they don't, they will be open to lawsuits by any individual citizen or group. It will be a boon for lawyers, but a nightmare for everyone else.

I should disclose that I have donated money to the Yes on 37 campaign. I volunteered to gather signatures early on in the effort. That is why it pains me so much to vote against this prop. We, as consumers, have the right to know what is in our food. However, the retailers shouldn't bear the burden of verifying everything on the labels of the foods they sell.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

November 2010 - How We Did

The results of this election were mixed, mostly bad. It seems too many of us are still being influenced by the television commercials and mailers. With Prop 22 and 26, we shot ourselves in the foot, budget-wise. The only bright spot was the failure of Prop 23.

Prop 19
- Failed
Here's what will happen if Prop 19 passes: People over 21 will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as grow it in an area of up to 25 square feet. The plant must be solely for their personal use and not for sale to others. Consumption of marijuana would only be allowed in "non-public" places, and never in the presence of a minor. Driving under the influence would still be illegal, and a person who knowingly gives marijuana to a minor would be fined and/or jailed.

Local governments would have the option to license and regulate the commercial production of marijuana, as well as of hemp. These establishments would be subject to all federal, state, and local taxes imposed on similar businesses. Additional fees could be charged to offset the cost of marijuana regulation.

It is uncertain how much money will be raised by this measure, as we cannot know how many local governments will decide to allow commercial marijuana production. However, we do know there would be a savings for our courts and prisons, as the number of marijuana offenders is reduced.

Of course, all of this could be made moot if the US government decides to enforce federal laws against marijuana possession. In 2009, the Obama administration announced that they would not prosecute users of medical marijuana, made legal in CA by Prop 215 in 1996. It is uncertain to what extent they would fight this expanded legalization.

It is this disparity between state and federal laws which opponents say could cost CA billions in federal grants and contracts, as companies would not be able to comply with the federal government's drug-free workplace requirements. The measure would also prohibit employers from discriminating against an employee unless the marijuana consumption directly impairs his or her job performance. In addition, opponents point out that Prop 19 provides no indication for what is the "legal limit" in regards to marijuana intoxication while driving. Of course, that is a matter to be determined by law enforcement and medical researchers, the same way we determined the legal limit for alcohol. We wouldn't want the lawyers who wrote this measure deciding for us what constitutes "too stoned to drive".

The opponents' dire claims against Prop 19 are not unfounded, in a legal sense, but it is unlikely that the federal government would revoke contracts with companies like Lockheed because of this measure. Plus, they paint a picture in which the legalization of pot means that every driver, every coworker, and every teacher will be stoned. Really? Is pot that hard to get now?

Personally, I don't like pot. I'm more excited by the panacea that is hemp. But the War on Drugs is a failure. Everyone knows it, and CA is the logical place to take the first step towards a new drug policy. The US government will never deal with this problem on its own.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Prop 20 -
Passed
Every ten years, after the national census, voting districts in California are redrawn (aka redistricted) according to changes in population. In November 2008, Prop 11 changed the authority for establishing these districts from elected representatives to a 14 member Citizens Redistricting Commission drawn from a pool of CA voters.
Currently, the Commission has the authority to determine the district boundaries for the State Assembly, State Senate, and the Board of Equalization. Prop 20 would extend that authority to cover redistricting for the US House of Representatives.

Your Political Friend was opposed to Prop 11 because there was no way to know who would end up on this "Commission". Their simply being "voters" does not mean that they will conduct their negotiations with any more impartiality than politicians. At least the legislators are elected. Furthermore, it would be far easier for some nefarious outside interest to influence a commission of 14 people than it is to influence the entire state assembly. I'm not saying that will happen, but it is a valid concern.

Should we really be giving these unelected people even more power? Why don't we see how well they do with redistricting the state offices before we let them go all federal on our asses?

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Prop 21 - Failed

Prop 21 would establish an $18 surcharge on vehicle license fees. This money would be deposited into a trust fund that could only be used for state park and wildlife conservation purposes. In exchange all CA vehicles subject to the surcharge would receive year-round free admission to the state parks (the current fee is $5-15 per day).


The measure would raise about $500 million annually. However, as much as $200 million of this could be used to take the place of existing monies currently coming from the General Fund. Another $50 million would cover the estimated loss in day use fees, as CA vehicles would be admitted for free. This means the net increase in funding for state parks would be about $250 million.

The state parks system, like many public programs, is desperately underfunded. There is a long list of backlogged maintenance projects. And Prop 21 actually derives its funding from an appropriate source of environmental degradation - cars. Call it a "sin tax", if you will.

This measure would be a great idea if not for one thing: the money raised by the measure would be locked in permanently for the state parks. It is an unfortunate example of "ballot box budgeting", and would further limit the flexibility of our legislature.

I love our state parks and am extremely concerned about their condition. I really want to vote Yes on this one. If only the measure had some time limit, it would make more sense. Short of that, I cannot support it.

Your Political Friend is reluctantly voting NO, with regrets.

Prop 22 - Passed

In 2004 and 2006 two budget propositions were approved by voters. These props restricted the state's ability to borrow fuel sales tax revenues and redistribute local property taxes to schools. If Prop 22 passes, these practices would be eliminated, as would the state's ability to redirect local redevelopment revenues.


Every year, the state collects about $5.9 billion in fuel tax revenue. According to the Attorney General, Prop 22 would prohibit the state from delaying the distribution of these revenues "even during a period of severe fiscal hardship." It would also prohibit the state from using those revenues to pay down voter approved transportation bonds (really, is there a more appropriate source of funding for those bonds?).

Prop 22 would, by Constitutional Amendment, set aside billions of dollars for a few sacred cows (in this case, highways and local developers). If it passes, about $1 billion additional more would have to be paid from the General Fund, reducing what can be spent on non-transportation purposes. This is yet another example of "ballot box budgeting", further calcifying our already inflexible budget.

Your Political Friend is voting a big, fat NO.

Prop 23 - Failed
California is the second largest emitter of Greenhouse Gas in the nation, and one of the largest emitters in the world. In 2006, the legislature enacted AB 32 to reduce the state's Greenhouse Gas emissions to its 1990 level by 2020. This would be accomplished through a combination of regulation and market incentives.


Prop 23 would immediately suspend AB32 by prohibiting the enforcement or adoption of any regulation until the state's unemployment rate is 5.5 percent or less for a full year. This has happened only three times since 1970, and shows no signs of happening again for many years.

Over 91% of Prop 23's funding comes from oil companies, most of whom are out of state. By linking greenhouse gas legislation to unemployment, these businesses can appear to care about jobs while protecting their current practices for possibly decades. Of course, their claims about jobs lost as a result of AB32 ignore the increase in jobs due to clean energy investment.

California has over 500,000 people employed in clean energy occupations. With over $9 billion in venture capital funds, California's clean energy firms have received 60% of the venture capital in North America. The rate of growth in clean energy is 10 times more than the state's average job growth rate (source). The Legislative Analyst has stated that suspending AB 32 would "dampen additional investments in clean energy technologies or so-called 'green jobs' by private firms, thereby resulting in less economic activity than would otherwise be the case."

This does not even address the economic losses that come from poor air quality such as increased health care costs and lower worker productivity. Such losses would likely dampen any potential benefits from the lower energy costs touted by the measure's supporters.

With Prop 23, oil refiners are trying to avoid costly reductions to how much they pollute, while also shutting down the clean energy competition. And they're spending millions to trick us into helping them do it.

Your Political Friend is voting NO, NO, NO.

Prop 24 - Failed

Under state tax laws, a business that has more deductible expenses than income has what's known as a Net Operating Loss. Generally, a business can "carryforward" these losses to deduct from its taxes in later years. In 2008 the state legislature enacted a law to allow a business to "carry back" it's losses as much as two years. This means that a business can file for a tax refund from the last two years, based on its losses from the current year. In addition, the amount of time that a business can "carryforward" its losses was extended from 10 to 20 years.

Prop 24 would rescind these changes, bringing tax laws back to their pre-2008 levels. In addition, the measure would repeal 2009 legislation allowing multi-state businesses to choose the formula by which their income is taxed. Currently, the state considers a company's property value, payroll, and sales compared to its value in other states. The 2009 law, set to take effect in 2011, would allow multi-state business to be taxed only on the portion of their national sales that are in California. Finally, Prop 24 would rescind 2008 legislation that allows businesses with available tax credit to transfer those credits to a parent or affiliated company.

The measure is mainly supported by the CA Teachers Association, as well as a mysterious "Super-PAC" called America's Families First. It is opposed, of course, by a broad coalition of large corporations (including Walt Disney!).

Prop 24 is aimed at large, out-of-state corporations. It rolls back as much as $1.3 billion in tax breaks that were negotiated in 2008 without hearings or public debate. Back then, when the deals were made, California's budget was months late and deep in the hole (like every year!). In exchange for some quick cash, legislators offered big businesses these tax breaks. The trouble is that, while the cash infusion was one time only, the tax breaks are permanent.

Only the top 2% of businesses in CA would see any impact from Pro 24. These are the companies that do not need more tax breaks, and are far less likely to keep their money within the state. If Prop 24 fails, we'll see yet more of the tax burden carried by us individual tax payers.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Prop 25 - Passed
The state constitution requires the legislature to pass a budget each year by June 15th. In the last thirty years, the legislature has met that deadline only five times. This is because California's constitution requires a two-thirds majority in both houses in order to pass a budget. California is one of only three states in the nation to have this requirement.

When the budget is not passed on time, the state is forced to send out IOUs, which costs us millions a day in interest and lowers the state's credit rating. In addition schools and local agencies must operate without knowing how much money they have, setting them up for possibly painful corrections when the budget is finally approved.

Prop 25 would lower the requirement for passing a budget to a simple majority. However, a two-thirds majority would still be required to override any veto by the Governor. In addition, for any days that legislators are late in sending the budget to the Governor, they will not be allowed a salary or reimbursements for expenses.

Despite what the opposition warns, this is not about Democrats wanting a free hand to raise taxes. The measure clearly states that the legislature would still need a two-thirds majority in order to increase state tax revenues. Prop 25 is about removing Republicans' ability to block the budget and hold the state hostage for political mischief.

And if you're a loyal Republican, don't be so quick to vote no. The upcoming redistricting could soon change the balance of power in one or both houses.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Prop 26 - Passed

In addition to regular taxes, state and local governments may assess fees and charges that pay for particular programs that benefit individuals or businesses. These fees can include:
  • User Fees - such as a state park entrance fee, or a fee for garbage service
  • Regulatory Fees - such as fees on restaurants to pay for health inspections
  • Property Charges - imposed on developers to pay for public infrastructure that benefits the property owner
The state constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to increase or create any new state taxes. However, it only requires a simple majority to increase or create any new fees.

You can already see where this is going.

Prop 26 would expand the definition of a tax so that many fees would require a two-thirds majority to be passed. Specifically, the fees that would be effected are those that the government imposes to address health, environmental, and other societal concerns. These include the oil recycling fee, the hazardous materials fee, and the fees on alcohol retailers that are used for law enforcement. Certain other fees could be considered taxes under the measure, such as business assessments used to improve shopping districts (to providing parking, street lighting, increased security and marketing) because they do not provide a direct and distinct service to the business owner.

Prop 26 is supported by the cigarette, alcohol, and oil companies- the very businesses that have been the targets of fees used to offset the damage they cause. If passed it will cost the state billions in lost revenue every year.

Your Political Friend is Just Saying NO.

Prop 27 - Failed
Every ten years, after the national census, voting districts in California are redrawn (aka redistricted) according to changes in population. Until recently, redistricting plans were passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. Any disputes between the Governor and Legislature were decided by the state Supreme Court. To see a map of our current voting districts click HERE.

In November 2008 voters approved Prop 11, which changed the authority for establishing these districts from elected representatives to a 14 member Commission drawn from a pool of CA voters (five Democrats, five Republicans, and four others). Once appointed, the Commission would be required to hold public hearings, and would be bound by all federal laws regarding redistricting, including some additional guidelines meant to prevent political tinkering.

For those not familiar with the politics behind redistricting, be aware that political parties can gain or lose power depending upon how the voting districts are drawn. For example, a large urban population of Democrats can lose representation if their voting district is cut up and incorporated into the surrounding, mostly Republican, suburbs. This process of manipulation is known as gerrymandering.

Prop 27 would eliminate the Commission, created by Prop 11, and give the power of redistricting back to the State Legislature. In addition it would delete any requirements that districts be geographically compact, or that they not favor or discriminate against incumbents. The measure would also require that districts for each office have a difference in population of no greater than one person, and grants the public greater access to redistricting data.

I was ambivalent about Prop 11. Leaving legislators in charge of redistricting is a clear conflict of interest. Our system had a kind of "honor among thieves" feeling to it, as voting blocks were carved up to suit incumbents. But the system under Prop 11 will not be free from manipulation either. Who knows what kind of people will be put in charge of drawing our districts? Applicants to the Commission will be screened and appointed by three state auditors, but who screens the auditors for conflicts of interest? At least the legislators are elected representatives.

Still, as I said in Prop 20, I'm willing to give the Commission a chance. If we don't see any improvement after the 2010 redistricting, we can hand the power back to the legislators before the next census. And, if Prop 27 fails, we can be pretty sure that the legislators will reintroduce this measure again come 2020.

The supporters make a big deal of the fact that this measure will save money. In fact it will save less than $3 million. A drop in the bucket. This measure is not about saving money, but about controlling the redistricting process.

Your Political Friend's pen is hovering over this one for a while, but finally voting NO.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

June 2010 - How We Did

Prop 13 - Passed
Current law holds that, when a property owner seismically retrofits his building, that improvement triggers a reassessment of the building's property taxes after 15 years. This prop would change the state constitution so that earthquake safety improvements made to any building would not result in a reassessment of its property taxes until the building is sold.

Prop 13 is an amendment to the original Prop 13 of 1978. It is meant to fix a loophole caused by a previous amendment. However, it is the original Prop 13 that is the real problem- an undeniably regressive measure that has crippled our state's budget while disproportionally favoring the wealthy. Minor tweaks to our property tax system, such as this, are like putting a fresh coat of paint on a house with no foundation.

Nevertheless, earthquakes are a major concern, and I'd rather not lodge a protest vote against something with life and death consequences. Your Political Friend is voting YES.

PROP 14 -
Passed
Prop 14 would create an open primary system for all congressional, statewide, and legislative races. This means that voters would be able to vote on any candidate in a primary election, regardless of the voter's party affiliation. The two candidates receiving the most votes would then go on to the general election.

In 2000, the Supreme Court decided that the open primary system, as approved by voters in 1996, violated a political party's First Amendment right of association. As Justice Scalia wrote for the majority, the open primary "forces political parties to associate with—to have their nominees, and hence their positions, determined by—those who, at best, have refused to affiliate with the party, and, at worst, have expressly affiliated with a rival."

Prop 14, however, would likely be deemed constitutional because it allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. This means that voters in the general election could feasibly be asked to decide between two candidates from the same party or, in a far less likely scenario, two third party candidates.

The measure is backed by Governor Schwarzenegger and big business interests. They say it will increase voter turnout as independent voters will be allowed to vote for party candidates. This is not necessarily so, as both the Democratic and Republican parties already allow "Decline to state", or unaffiliated, voters to participate in their primaries.

A telling part of this measure is that it would not require candidates to state their party affiliation on the ballot, allowing candidates to run as unknowns while secretly remaining loyal to their party. Furthermore, the measure states that "selection of a party preference by a candidate...shall not constitute or imply endorsement of the candidate by the party designated." Does this mean that a Libertarian can run as a Democratic candidate and the Democratic party can't do anything about it? Evidently so, if the candidate switches parties on the day he files to run. This would effectively do what Prop 198 could not- remove a party's ability to elect its own representatives.

The measure would also prohibit write-in candidates for the general election. So, if anything happens to one of the top two candidates after the primaries, the remaining candidate will run unopposed.

Would this measure create a post-partisan environment in which candidates will be judged on the issues instead of their party's platform? Will it allow independent voices a greater voice? I'm skeptical. But an essential part of good governance is transparency, and Prop 14 offers less, not more. Your Political Friend is voting NO.

PROP 15 - Failed
Under the Political Reform Act of 1974 a public officer is prohibited from expending or accepting any public money for the purpose of seeking elective office. Prop 15 would repeal this ban on public financing of campaigns. In addition it would create a trial program to publicly finance candidates for Secretary of State in the 2014 and 2018 elections.

In order to qualify for public financing, candidates would have to demonstrate a high level of public support by gathering signatures and $5 contributions from at least 7,500 individuals. Once a candidate accepts public financing, he or she would be prohibited from raising or spending money beyond the grant of $1 million for their primary campaign, and an additional $1.3 million for the general election (third party candidates would receive less). In addition they could not use their personal funds to pay for campaign costs.

The program would be funded by voluntary taxpayer contributions and by an annual fee of $350 on lobbyists, lobbying firms and lobbyist employers (they currently pay $12). This would raise over $6 Million, which gives you an idea of how many lobbyists there are in Sacramento. However, if there are insufficient funds to provide for the program, candidates would be allowed to raise private capital up to what they would have received otherwise.

Additionally, if a non-participating candidate outspends a participating candidate, the state will kick in additional money (up to $4 million for the primary and $5.2 for the General) to allow the participating candidate to remain competitive.

Opponents of Prop 15 point out that the measure would allow candidates to maintain "other accounts" into which they may receive private funds. These accounts pertain to inaugural expenses, legal defense costs, and costs of holding office. Each account would be strictly limited in how it may be used, as would the amount any individual may contribute.

Often referred to as "Clean Money", this program is identical to those already in place in 7 states including Arizona, North Carolina, and Maine, where it has enjoyed overwhelming success. Elections in those states have seen their slates become more diverse, and less "corporate". In addition legislators spend less time fundraising and more time actually doing the work for which they were elected. You can watch a piece Bill Moyers made on Clean Elections here.

Our state is not suffering from of a lack of money, but from a misappropriation of its funds towards special interests. Prop 15 is an experiment to see if we can lessen the influence of lobbyists and wealthy donors. It's a negligible risk that could pay huge dividends.

Your Political Friend is voting YES. Full disclosure: I am a supporter, though not active member, of CA Clean Money Coalition, a sponsor of this initiative.

PROP 16 - Failed

Most Californians get their electricity from either of two kinds of providers- private companies (aka Investor Owned Utilities) and publicly owned companies.

City governments currently have the ability to switch from private to public power. Prop 16 would prohibit that, unless the voters of that city agree to do so by a two-thirds majority.

In San Francisco, the private company PG&E holds a monopoly on power distribution- in direct violation of the Raker Act (but that is another matter). As a result SF residents pay much higher rates than residents of Los Angeles and Sacramento, who have public utilities.

Over the past few decades San Francisco has seen several attempts by officials and activists to switch to a municipal utility, but PG&E has been able to thwart each of these so far. Now they want to make it practically impossible by requiring a super majority of voters to approve the change. Such a majority will never happen, given the campaign PG&E would mount to stop it.

Prop 16 was written by PG&E for PG&E. They are the campaign's sole source of funding. It is a perfect example of what is wrong with voter referendums- a large corporation is able to co-opt the system for private aims, then spend millions to mislead us into voting against our own interests. Your Political Friend is voting NO NO NO.

PROP 17 - Failed
Prop 17 is a lot like Prop 16, except it's about car insurance and, instead of PG&E, its sole source of funding is Mercury Insurance.

As it is, insurance companies can base their premiums on three main factors: (1) the insured's driving safety record, (2) the number of miles they drive each year, and (3) the number of years they have been driving. In addition insurance companies may provide discounts to individuals for being long-term customers of theirs. They are prohibited, however, from offering this discount to new customers who switch to them from other insurers.

According to the official summary, Prop 17 will "permit insurance companies to offer a discount to drivers who have continuously maintained their auto insurance coverage, even if they change their insurance company".

So, did Mercury Insurance write Prop 17 so they could lure the more desirable customers away from other companies? Probably.

Well, that, and raise fees on "drivers who do not have a history of continuous insurance coverage". This means that any driver who has had a break in coverage for more than 90 days in the last 5 years will pay a higher premium. It does not matter why you had a break in coverage - you sold your car, you got sent to Iraq, you were in the hospital - you will pay more to restart your policy.

Opponents call it a surcharge. Mercury Insurance calls it a discount. One thing is certain, it will result in more uninsured drivers on the road. This will cause premiums for all drivers to go up. And so, the cycle of profit continues.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

November 2008 Ballot - How We Did:

Prop 1A - Passed

Prop 1A would provide $9 billion for building a high speed railroad between San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as $950 million for building and improving connections from existing rail service. The money would come from the sale of general obligation bonds, meaning the state costs over thirty years would be about $19.4 billion. However, bond proceeds may be used to provide only up to one-half of the cost of construction. The measure would require private and public funds to cover the remaining costs. Once running, the rail system will probably cost about $1 billion a year to operate and maintain. This would be partially offset by revenue from fares paid by passengers.

The planning for this rail system has already been done. Since 1996, the California High Speed Rail Authority has spent $60 million on pre-construction activities, as well as a business plan to link all the state's major metropolitan areas.

Europe and Asia have had high speed rail for decades। These generally travel over 200 mph. Our current option, Amtrak, can only reach 90 mph. Plus, there is no direct route between LA and SF, so a trip today would take you 9-10 hours, and much of that would require travel by bus. Driving alone takes about 6 hours. High speed rail is estimated to make that trip in under 3 hours.

Prop 1A would limit the percentage of bond proceeds that can be used for administrative expenses and for environmental studies and planning. It would also require completion of specified funding plans and financial analyses before bond funds are requested and committed. Finally, it establishes an independent peer-review group to review the Authority’s plans, and requires the State Auditor to conduct periodic audits of the Authority use of bond funds.

There is clearly a demand for high speed rail, and that demand would only grow as our population grows. Furthermore, a viable rail system would encourage smart growth of our cities around these train stations, as well as the public transportation systems that connect to it.

There is no doubt that the project will cost far more than projected, as nearly every infrastructure improvement in the state has. But is that enough reason to reject the bill? I have grave misgivings about putting the state in further debt, but I believe that efficient, long distance public transportation is critical to our state's future viability.

Your Political friend is voting YES.

To hear an interesting discussion of this prop, listen to this recent program on KQED radio.

Prop 02 - Passed
If passed, Prop 2 would change certain regulations regarding the confinement of egg-laying hens, pregnant pigs, and calves raised for veal. The measure would require that these animals be kept in a manner that allows them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.

Prop 2 would make exceptions for transportation, rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs, lawful slaughter, and research and veterinary purposes. Its requirements would not take effect until 2015. However, since there is only a small amount of pig and veal production in CA, it's greatest effect would be felt by the egg industry, where some of the worst abuses exist. A typical cage is only about two feet square, and holds 8 chickens, each one of which spends its two year life on a space no bigger than a letter sized sheet of paper. The miserable conditions in these "factory farms" have been well documented.

It would seem a small mercy to allow an animal to turn around, but the opposition would have you believe that such a change would bring about the collapse of the industry, as well as expose Californians to Avian Influenza and Salmonella. Oh, and it will cause global warming.

Sadly, they are correct in their claim that the industry may suffer. If Prop 2 passes, there is a chance that out of state producers, who don't follow our humane laws, will be able to sell their product for less than the CA companies. If this happens, some CA producers may go out of business.

It simply points out the need for consumers to look at more than just the price when buying our food, and why we must demand that it be raised in an ethical fashion. Fortunately, that is happening- one need only look at the rise in organics, free range, and fair trade products. As consumers become more aware, the industry will change. Prop 2 is simply a way to speed up that process.

Your Political Friend suggests you vote YES, and demand that the rest of the country follow our lead.

Prop 03 - Passed
Prop 3 authorizes $980 million in bonds to fund the construction, expansion, remodeling, renovation, furnishing, and equipping of children's hospitals. It specifies that 80 percent of the funds would be available, through grants of not more than $98 million each, to nonprofit children’s hospitals that meet specified requirements, including providing at least 160 licensed beds for infants and children, as well as focusing on children with illnesses such as leukemia, cancer, heart defects, diabetes, sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. Those hospitals would be required to serve a high volume of children eligible for government programs, or who are indigent, underserved, or uninsured. The other 20 percent of the money would go to University of CA general acute care hospitals.

In November 2004, voters approved Prop 61, which authorized $750 million for children's hospitals. To date only about $400 million has spent. The eligibility criteria for hospitals to receive funds under Prop 61 is exactly the same as Prop 3. So why are we approving more money when we have yet to spend the money from the last one?

Another problem is that 80 percent of this money would go to private, not public, institutions, who may use this money for a variety of purposes. These private institutions would be able to make significant capital improvements (improvements that won't necessarily result in more children being served), but the state will get nothing from our investment. Should we really be borrowing money to pay for this?

The proponents, who stand to make a lot of money, are counting on the fact that voters will be swayed by the word "children" in the title. And we probably will be yet again. Don't get me wrong, we need children's hospitals and should fund them, but not with bonds, and not without a return on our investment.

Your Political Friend will be voting NO.

Prop 04 - Failed
This prop amends the state constitution to bar abortions for minors until 48 hours after parental notification. It makes exemptions for medical emergency, or judicial waiver.

Unlike the US Constitution, California’s charter explicitly guarantees an individual’s right to privacy. As a result abortion opponents have been unable to pass a parental notification law that passes constitutional muster. In 1996 a law of this sort was struck down by the state Supreme Court. In its decision the Chief Justice acknowledged that parents have the right to make most medical decisions for their children. However, he said, “because the decision whether to continue or terminate her pregnancy has such a substantial effect on a pregnant minor’s control over her personal bodily integrity, has such serious long-term consequences in determining her life choices, is so central to the preservation of her ability to define and adhere to her ultimate values regarding the meaning of human existence and life..., we conclude that a minor who is pregnant has a protected privacy interest under the California Constitution...”

So the people behind Prop 85 decided to change the constitution. Led by a Catholic newspaper publisher in San Diego, they crafted an amendment that would remove this right to privacy for minors. The prop would not require parental consent, only notification.

I’ll admit that the prop may sound reasonable, especially when I ask myself how I would feel if my own daughter were seeking an abortion. I would want to know. However, I believe that we cannot legislate family harmony, and we cannot assume to know the conditions under which a young woman must make her choices.

This is the third time that this prop has been put on the ballot. The only difference this time is they've added a provision that the doctor may notify a family member other than a parent if the minor submits a written statement that she fears abuse from her parents, and that her fear is based on a pattern of abuse by her parents. The doctor would then be required to report the abuse to the police. So, if a girl doesn't want to tell her parents, she must have them arrested, in which case they'll definitely find out.

Prop 4 is an obvious attempt to eliminate a woman's access to safe and legal abortions. Vote NO.

Prop 05 - Failed
Currently, the state has several programs that may permit someone who has committed a drug-related offense, or someone who has a substance abuse problem, to be diverted from prison to a drug treatment program. Prop 5 would allocate $460 million per year to expand and largely replace these drug treatment diversion programs. If passed, the measure would instruct the state to create a "three track" system that would determine an offender's eligibility for certain programs in lieu of prison. Each track has its own requirements, in terms of eligibility and punishment. Generally, the more serious the offense, the more serious the sanctions. Those convicted of violent offenses of any kind would not be eligible for the program (to see a list of eligibility requirements, scroll to figure 1 here).

The measure would reduce parole terms for non-violent drug offenders who do not have a serious, gang related, or sex crime on their record. These people could not be sent back to prison for technical parole violations or misdemeanors, unless they are repeat violators, or are classified high risk. Instead, they would face such punishments as increased drug testing or community work assignments.

In addition, the state would be required to provide inmates with a rehabilitation program at least 90 days before their release. The measure would direct the Dept of Corrections and Rehabilitation to assess the inmate and determine which program would most likely result in his or her successful return to the community.

A new 21-member Parole Reform Oversight and Accountability Board would be created to direct the rehabilitation program and set parole policies. The existing Board of Parole Hearings, which is heavily backlogged, would increase from 17 to 29 members.

Finally, this measure would also make the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana an infraction, instead of a misdemeanor. Persons under 18 would no longer be subject to a fine for a first offense, but would be required to take a drug education program. As of yet, no such programs exist for persons under 18.

It currently costs about $46,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year. In fact, we spend more money on prisons than we do on public universities, yet our prisons are severely overcrowded.
The Legislative Analyst estimates that Prop 5 will cost the state about $1 billion annually. However, there is a potential savings to the state of about $1 billion, due to reduced prison and parole costs. In addition, the state would save an additional $2.5 billion by not building new prisons.

Prop 5 is sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance Network. It is opposed by a coalition of police organizations, Attorneys General, and MADD. But, for reasons I have yet to figure out, a majority of its funding comes from Indian Tribes.

This prop is an attempt to bring our criminal justice system back to the idea of rehabilitation. The Prison/Military approach to the drug war was a failure. Prop 5 acknowledges that by addressing the causes of non-violent drug crimes. As my high school history teacher once told me, “Want to reduce drug abuse in America? Try improving reality.”

Vote YES.

Prop 06 - Failed
Prop 6 would require a minimum of $965 million for a variety of criminal justice programs beginning in 2009-10. This reflects an increase in funding of $365 million compared to 2008-09. Most of the money would be for local law enforcement, including police, sheriffs, district attorneys, jails, and probation offices. The remainder would go towards local juvenile programs, rehabilitation, victim assistance, and other criminal justice programs.


The measure would also increase penalties for certain crimes such as gang participation, witness intimidation, and methamphetamine possession. Other changes include:

- Public housing residents would be required to undergo annual criminal background checks and lose housing if convicted of a crime
- Court evidence rules would be changed to allow use of some hearsay statements as evidence
- Requires the state to develop two databases related to gang information for the use of law enforcement agencies
- Any youth 14 or older convicted of a gang related crime would be tried in court as an adult
- Persons convicted of a violent or gang related felony cannot be released on bail if he or she is an undocumented alien.

In addition to the $365 million increase in funding to criminal justice programs, the state would incur additional costs to operate the prison and parole systems, as more offenders are kept in jail longer. The state would also likely incur more than $500 million in new prison construction costs.

Here are the problems I have with this proposal. First, it lowers the bar prohibiting hearsay evidence in court. While this may result in more convictions of actual offenders, it can just as easily be abused. Second, the measure would lock us into this spending, regardless of the level of crime in the communities. Our state budget is already so burdened by spending obligations that our legislators have discretionary power over less than one third of it. That makes them, our elected representatives, little more than glorified bureaucrats. This situation gives us very little flexibility and weakens our ability to confront any changes in our state's condition.

Prop 6 will only make that worse. It obligates more of our budget without paying for itself. That means that everything else will suffer to support it.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Prop 07 - Failed
Prop 7 would greatly accelerate the amount of renewable energy production in CA. If passed, it would require all utilities, including government-owned utilities, to generage half of their power from renewable energy sources by 2025. Existing law requires private utilities such as Southern California Edison to increase their renewable electricity by at least 1% a year until they reach 20% in 2010. All are falling behind.

Proposition 7 would change the law to require an annual increase of 2% a year. It would set targets of 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2025. The measure would extend the requirements to publicly owned utilities, such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Currently, publicly owned utilities are not required to meet the same renewable energy standards as other electricity providers. Instead, public utilities are allowed to enforce their own standards, even define for themselves what qualifies as "renewable".

The measure would "fast track" the approval process for new renewable energy plants, and raise electricity rates by no more than 3%, although there is no language to enforce this price cap.

This all sounds pretty good, but the measure loses its luster upon reading of the actual text. For one thing, only power plants that produce at least 30 megawatts will count towards the required amount of renewable energy. This will not only shut out the small producers, it will create a disincentive against placing solar panels on our rooftops. Our energy security, and our national security, will be enhanced by a non-centralized grid of small renewable energy producers, but this measure would keep the focus on large, centralized power plants. That is unacceptable.

It also gives new regulatory powers over the placement of energy transmission lines to the California Energy Commission, without taking those same powers away from the Public Utilities Commission. One can only imagine the bureaucratic nightmare that will result from this oversight.

Finally, none of these provisions can be changed without a two-thirds vote of the legislature, or another ballot, making this measure inflexible should problems arise.

Prop 7 is an example of why voters are so frustrated by the propositions. It sounds great, but it is full of hidden flaws. What makes it so impressive, however, is the diversity of its opponents. Everyone from environmental and consumer groups, to energy producers and the Chamber of Commerce is against it. The main supporter, Arizona billionaire Peter Sperling, probably has the best intentions, but he did not adequately think this one through.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Prop 08 - Passed

In March 2000, California voters passed Prop 22 to specify in law that only marriage between a man and a woman would be recognized in the state. In May, 2008, the CA Supreme Court ruled that the statute violated the equal protection clause of the CA Constitution.

So the backers of Prop 8 are seeking to amend the Constitution. If prop 8 passes, the Supreme Court ruling would be nullified, and individuals of the same sex would not have the right to marry in CA.

I believe that Prop 8 represents the worst of what makes us human. It is a small-minded, fearful attempt to punish others for our own insecurities. There is no justification for it.

Vote NO.

Prop 09 - Passed
In 1982 CA voters approved Prop 8, known as the "Victims' Bill of Rights". It amended the Constitution and various laws to allow greater recognition of crime victims in the justice system. These amendments included the right of the victim to obtain restitution from the person who committed the crime, as well as the right of victims to testify at sentencing and parole hearings.

Prop 9 would greatly expand those rights, removing all exceptions to an offender's obligation to pay restitution, and requiring courts to allow the victim to play a larger role in trials. In addition victims would have a right to withold information requested by the defense. Victims could also refuse to be interviewed or provide pre-trial testimony.

The measure would also restrict the ability of the state to grant early release to inmates, something the state has proposed as a way to relieve overcrowded prisons. Inmates on life terms would also see fewer parole hearings, and parolees would not be granted free legal counsel at parole revocation hearings unless they were indigent.

The costs of this proposal are difficult to estimate. It could cost hundreds of millions in the future, if the state wanted to release prisoners early and wasn't able to do so. There is a potential savings of tens of millions in reduced parole hearing costs, although this provision of the measure is likely to conflict with federal law and be overturned.

The 1982 "Victims Bill of Rights" is a successful piece of legislation. There are some very good parts of Prop 9 as well. But why must they be part of our Constitution? Why can't these proposals simply be laws? Changing our Constitution is not something that should be done with the shifting of political winds, and this Prop has that feeling.

Furthermore, there is a strong odor of revenge in the language of the bill. Emotions, however justified, should not be the driving force behind any legislation. Our laws are meant to protect the innocent as well as the guilty from the people who may wish them harm.

Prop 9 and Prop 6 were paid for by Orange County billionaire Henry Nicholas, who's sister was murdered in 1983. It is opposed by the CA Teachers Assoc., et al.

You Political Friend suggests you vote NO.

Prop 10 - Failed

Prop 10 would allow the sale of $5 billion in General Obligation bonds, most of which would go towards providing incentives to consumers and businesses to purchase certain fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles. 20% of the money would go towards research, development and production of renewable energy technologies. The rest would provide grants to cities for renewable energy projects and to colleges for training in renewable and energy efficient technologies.

All these things are good and necessary, but there are several problems with this measure. The first, and most obvious, is the cost. Five Billion Dollars. And it's a bond. With certain exceptions, bonds should be only used for infrastructure improvements that will provide long term benefit to the state. This is not one of those exceptions. It is a handout to private companies, via consumers, that will cost the state $10 billion by the time it's paid.

The renewable energy market is huge, partly thanks to the recent oil crisis, and demand for energy efficient technology is extremely high. Venture capital is pouring into the alternative energy market. Hybrid cars are selling at a premium today because everybody wants them. Incentives would be great, but many would clearly be going to people who were going to buy hybrids anyway.

Furthermore, the Union of Concerned Scientists recently wrote: "Prop 10’s definition of “clean alternative fuel” is overly broad, and allows any fuel that reduces carbon intensity by 10 percent to qualify. Since a 10 percent reduction in carbon intensity will soon be mandated state policy under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, it is not clear whether the bond will provide any emissions reductions in excess of state requirements."

Finally, there is no requirement that vehicles bought with the rebates should stay in CA. Residents and businesses could easily purchase the vehicles, then sell them out of state and pocket the rebate. The state would see no clean air benefit.

The measure was put on the ballot by the Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which, as a major provider of natural gas, stands to make a fortune if the prop passes. It is opposed by the CA Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club, and The Utility Reform Network (TURN). Full disclosure: I am a supporter, but not active member, of TURN.

This is the wrong way to do a good thing. Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Prop 11 - Passed
Every ten years, after the national census, voting districts in California are redrawn (aka redistricted) according to changes in population. Currently, redistricting plans are passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. Any disputes between the Governor and Legislature are decided by the state Supreme Court.

Prop 11 would change the authority for establishing these districts from elected representatives to a 14 member Commission drawn from a pool of CA voters. Applicants to the Commission would be screened for conflicts of interest and appointed by a panel of three state auditors. The Commission would have five members registered with each of the two largest political parties and four members registered with other parties or as independent. Once appointed, the Commission would be required to hold public hearings, and would be bound by all federal laws regarding redistricting, including some additional guidelines meant to prevent political tinkering.

For those not familiar with the politics behind redistricting, be aware that political parties can gain or lose power depending upon how the voting districts are drawn. For example, a large urban population of Democrats can lose representation if their voting district is cut up and incorporated into the surrounding, mostly Republican, suburbs. This process of manipulation is known as gerrymandering.

The prop is supported by a coalition including the Governor, CA Common Cause, and the CA Chamber of Commerce. It is opposed by the CA Democratic Party, which claims that the measure is actually a conspiracy by the Governor and oil companies to grab yet more power. They even provide a flow chart!

I must admit that I'm ambivalent about this one. Leaving legislators in charge of redistricting is a clear conflict of interest. Our current system has a kind of "honor among thieves" feeling to it, as voting blocks are carved up to suit incumbents. But I'm not entirely convinced that the system proposed in Prop 11 will be free from manipulation either. At least the current system is manipulated by elected representatives. If Prop 11 passes, who knows what kind of people will be put in charge of drawing our representative districts?

Your Political Friend was voting yes, but I've decided to change my vote to NO. I'm just not convinced that it's the right solution.

Prop 12 - Passed
This measure would provide for a bond issue of $900 million to Cal-Vet, a program that provides low-interest home and farm loans to CA veterans. The loans are paid back by the veterans at an interest rate that covers all program costs, including costs resulting from the sale of the bonds.
Despite the efficiency of the program, the state has occasionally needed to sell more bonds to fund it.

The program, which was started in 1921, is, by any measure, a success for our veterans and our state. Vote YES.