Monday, October 08, 2018

November 2018 Election

It almost seems silly to be contemplating the California propositions while our nation is in an existential crisis. Why should anyone care about Daylight Savings or Gas Taxes when our country is tearing itself apart? What can we do?

Vote! Vote for accountability. And, while you're at it, check the boxes on these state propositions:

Sunday, October 07, 2018

PROP 1

Proposition 1 would authorize the state to sell $4 Billion in general obligation bonds to fund existing housing programs, including $1.5 Billion in multifamily housing for low-income residents, $1 Billion for loans to veterans, and the remainder for farmworker housing, mobile homes, and transit-oriented housing.

Housing in California is expensive, and this is a pretty straightforward attempt to create more affordable homes throughout the state. The effort is largely funded by the CA Assoc. of Realtors, construction and housing organization, and even Mark Zuckerberg's charitable group.

Refreshingly, this one doesn't have any sinister agenda hiding in its clauses. It intends to spend money to support and expand housing programs that already exist. Will it alleviate homelessness in our state? Probably to some degree.

Yes, this prop is a General Obligation Fund bond measure, which sucks because they always cost more in the long run ($3 Billion of this will cost $6 Billion over 35 years). However, some of the funds would be repaid by those receiving the housing loans, as well as some federal funding that would be unavailable without the measure.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

PROP 2

California can trace its homeless problem back to the 1970's, when Ronald Reagan, as Governor, dismantled the state's mental health system. Interestingly, one of the provisions he eliminated, conservatorship, was recently reinstated in CA. This is the policy allowing the state to detain people with serious, chronic mental health problems.

In 2004, voters passed Prop 63, an initiative that added a 1% tax to incomes over $1 Million, to establish the Mental Health Services Act. This program has since raised an enormous amount of money, much of which is unspent, partly because funds are not allowed to be used for construction of mental health housing, only services.

In 2016, the legislature passed the No Place Like Home Program to build housing for those with mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. However, the state is required to seek court approval before it can sell bonds to pay the $2 Billion price tag. Prop 2 would, instead, ratify the program and allow up to $140 Million annually to be transferred from the Mental Health Services Act to pay for the bonds.

In other words, these funds, which are sitting unspent, will be put to use building housing for those who are homeless due to chronic mental illness. And it will not add to our taxes or deficit.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Friday, October 05, 2018

PROP 3

Prop 3 authorizes nearly $9 Billion in General Obligation Bonds to fund water and environmental projects. The largest share of it would go towards improving watersheds (the areas where rivers begin). The remainder would fund water conservation, storage, and habitat preservation. Possibly the most important aspect of this proposal is $1.1 Billion to restore and clean up sources of groundwater that were nearly depleted during the last drought.

All of this sounds good. Expensive, but good.

Unfortunately, there's evidence to suggest this is a self-serving proposal by big agriculture. Nearly all the backing for the prop comes from central valley farms and organizations that have caused many of the water problems we've got now, including the near collapse of groundwater systems in parts of the state. Repair costs are normally paid by those who did the damage, but this prop would shift the burden to taxpayers. The Mercury News writes, "Opponents are especially bothered by a $750-million expenditure to repair the federally owned Friant-Kern and Madera canals between Fresno and Bakersfield. Two problems, critics say: First, the canals aren't working right because the've sunk. and the land has sunk because farmers have over-pumped groundwater, causing major subsidence. Growers caused their own problem. Now they want the state to pony up to solve it."

In addition, the state still has nearly $10 Billion in unspent funds dedicated to water and environmental projects. $4 Billion of that was just passed in June of this year. Why not use that before borrowing even more? Here's why: the legislature did not put this initiative on the ballot. The people who would receive much of the money did.

Water security is among our most dire problems in California, and we should spare nothing to ensure safe and reliable sources well into our future. But we should also make sure that those funds are spent wisely. Prop 3 sounds good, but smells kind of funky.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

In the meantime, there's one step that every Californian can take to reduce their water consumption - Eat Less Meat. Yes, that pound of beef on your plate required nearly 2000 gallons of water to produce.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

PROP 4

Prop 4 would authorize $1.5 Billion in General Obligation Bonds, most of which would fund capital improvement projects at 13 Children's hospitals in the state.

This campaign is extremely well-funded by the very Children's Hospitals that stand to gain from it (each giving the same $681,500 to the campaign - is that at all suspicious?). As a result, there are good reasons to oppose this measure. It will spend public money to add equity to private businesses. As the former president of the League of Women Voters wrote: "This measure is intended to primarily benefit the same hospitals that are funding the “yes” campaign. It bypasses the legislative process, which is a better way of determining how taxpayer dollars should be spent. Proposition 4 is the third bond measure sponsored by the California Children’s Hospital Association, which represents the eight private hospitals that will receive 72 percent of the money. If the association could have persuaded the Legislature to put this measure on the ballot, it would undoubtedly have done so."

Nevertheless, some make the argument that the hospitals to receive the public money provide a public service beyond that of most private hospitals. These Children's Hospitals see more than one million kids a year, the majority of which are on Medi-Cal. As the LA Times opines, "It's lamentable that children's hospitals have to keep coming back to voters for help with their capital expenses, but it's a direct consequence of the state's low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates." The op-ed continues, "At the same time, the state has imposed more stringent seismic retrofitting standards that the hospitals must meet by 2030, and to do that, almost 30% of their inpatient capacity needs to be upgraded."

Our population in CA is growing, and our ability to serve that population is critically important. If this measure will add capacity in a way that is, at least, transparent, it's probably worth supporting. And, yes, there were two other Children's Hospitals propositions passed in 2004 and 2008, but all of those funds have been committed as of this year. It appears that the money went where it was supposed to go, so we have reason to hope that this measure will do the same.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

PROP 5

Your property taxes are based on the price at which you purchased your home, and that tax rate can only be raised by up to 2% per year. With the massive home price inflation we've seen over the past twenty years, many people who sell their home experience a sharp increase in their property taxes when they purchase their next home. The state gives exceptions to people over 55 and disabled people, allowing them to retain the taxable value of their former home, so long as they buy another home of equal or lesser value. The homeowner may use this exception only once in their lifetime.

Prop 5 would expand the program to allow the exception when homeowners buy a more expensive home, and it would reduce the property taxes when they buy a less expensive home. It would also remove the limit on the number of times a homeowner can transfer their taxable value.

One cannot discuss property taxes in California without going back to 1978's Prop 13, an initiative that severely limited the state's property tax revenues. Among the many consequences of the measure is a strong disincentive homeowners have to sell their property due to this increase in taxes upon moving.

So who has a strong interest in getting people to sell their homes? Maybe the CA Association of Realtors, who dumped more than $10 Million into this initiative?

Besides them, who is this bill really helping? Most seniors who sell their homes are downsizing, not trading up. After taking advantage of their appreciated home value, if they want to get an even more expensive home, they're probably doing so because they can afford it. Should taxpayers be subsidizing their lifestyle? And how many times does a senior need to move while retaining the exemption? Twice might be more fair, but this law would make it unlimited.

Our property tax system in California has some serious problems, but this "fix" will favor the wealthy while driving county revenues, and public services, further downward.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

PROP 6

In 2017 the state senate increased funding for transportation projects through various fuel and vehicle taxes. Specifically, the base gasoline tax was raised from 18 cents per gallon to 30 cents. In addition a new "Transportation Improvement Fee" of $25 to $175 was imposed. Altogether, the legislation will raise between $4 and 5 Billion per year, all of which must be spent on transportation projects.

This set the hair on fire at Harold Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc., who wrote Prop 6 to immediately cancel the new transportation funding. But Prop 6 goes further. If passed, it will amend the State Constitution to require the Legislature to get voter approval for any new gas and vehicle taxes.

Should cars be a protected class in our constitution? Prop 6 supporters apparently think so. Who, then, should pay for our aging roads?

Try to think of the Gasoline and Vehicle taxes as User Fees. They are paid by the people who use our highways and roads, so that we may improve our highways and roads. Yes, some of the money goes towards transit, but that's something every driver should support. As the Onion headline once read, "98 Percent of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others".

Your Political Friend is voting NO, NO, NO.

Monday, October 01, 2018

PROP 7

According to its title, Prop 7 "Conforms California Daylight Savings Time To Federal Law." This implies that, since 1949, when voters approved the initiative establishing Daylight Saving Time (DST) in California, something about it was not in keeping with federal regulations. If that's the case, then Prop 7 is a welcome fix.

This measure would also allow the legislature, with a two-thirds vote, to adopt year-round DST, if federal law is changed to allow it. Will federal law be changed to allow it? In 2016, the CA State Legislature asked the President and Congress to pass an act allowing California to do just that. Not sure where that stands, but we might as well be ready for it.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

PROP 8

There are nearly 600 Chronic Dialysis Clinics (CDCs) in California. These facilities make roughly $3 Billion annually from patients on Medicare, Medi-Cal, and private insurance. The rates charged to private insurers is typically multiple times what government programs pay for dialysis.

Prop 8 would set a revenue cap for CDCs, above which the clinics would be required to give the money, with interest, back to private payers. That cap would be set at 115% of "direct patient care services costs". CDC owners would have to submit annual reports to the state, outlining their costs and whether their revenue exceeds those costs.

And this is where the measure kind of breaks down. The Legislative Analyst, in the summary, admits, "CDC owner/operators would likely respond to the measure by adjusting their operations in ways that limit... the effect of the rebate requirement". The easiest way they could do this is by increasing wages for non-managerial staff. You see, the more money they spend on employees providing direct care, the more revenue the clinic makes under that 115% cap.

Maybe this is why Prop 8 was put on the ballot by Healthcare Workers Unions? It's opposed, not surprisingly by CDCs.

This prop starts out reading like a blow against greedy, Big Medicine. But scratch the surface and it's clear there's nothing in it intended to help patients. In fact, it could end up limiting access, as some clinics might scale back or close if they can't get the profits they want.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

PROP 10

Of the nearly 500 cities and towns in California, only 15 have rent control ordinances. In those counties, state law prohibits rent control from applying to single family houses or any housing built after 1995. It also prohibits restrictions on how much a landlord can increase the rent when a new tenant moves in.

Prop 10 would repeal these restrictions. However, it reaffirms the court ruling that rent control must allow landlords to receive a "fair rate of return", meaning they must be allowed to increase rents to receive some profit each year.

In 2018, it seems fair to take another look at that 1995 cutoff. The date was originally imposed so as to not discourage new construction. It allowed developers safety from rent control so that they could count on high rents to cover their investment. If Prop 10 passes, we might see some cities reassess that date, but probably not by much.

Furthermore, it has always seemed arbitrary to exclude single family houses from rent control protection, especially in areas where that is the majority of rental stock.

There are valid arguments to be made on both sides of the rent control debate. But it's important to note that this measure does not impose rent control anywhere. Those local governments that still don't want it won't have it. And those cities that do have rent control - cities that haven't failed to prosper in spite of it (I'm looking at you, San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills) - will be able to expand the law as judiciously as they see fit.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

Friday, September 28, 2018

PROP 11

State labor law requires employers to provide workers an unpaid 30-minute meal break during each work shift and a paid 10-minute rest break every four hours. However, this has not been the case for EMTs and Paramedics, whose breaks may be interrupted by 911 calls. These workers are, essentially, "on call" throughout their entire shift.

In 2016, the CA Supreme Court ruled that on-call breaks violate state labor law, and employers must provide breaks that are not interruptible, even if an emergency occurs.

This change will significantly raise the costs for private ambulance companies, who provide 75 percent of all ambulance rides. This will, in turn, raise insurance costs.

Prop 11 would exempt EMTs and paramedics from the labor law by requiring that they remain on-call during breaks. In exchange, the ambulance companies would ensure that meal breaks (1) not be during the first or last hour of a shift, and (2) be spaced at least two hours apart. In addition, the companies would be required to provide long-term mental health counseling and services for their employees.

This all sounds reasonable, no? However, the measure contains a provision that would absolve the ambulance companies of any liability they might have incurred since the 2016 ruling, when they knew they were breaking the law and kept doing it anyway. Attempts to settle the dispute in the legislature were nearly successful, but they hung up on this issue of full immunity.

This measure was almost entirely funded by the ambulance company American Medical Response (AMR). They should be back in the legislature, negotiating in good faith, not scaring the voters with public safety claims.

Your Political Friend is voting NO.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

PROP 12

Prop 12 would create new minimum space requirements for the confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens. It would also ban the sale of products that do not meet the measure's requirements. The ban would apply to products from animals raised in California and out-of-state.

In 2008 California voters passed Prop 2, which also expanded the minimum space allowed for confinement of veal, pigs, and hens. But it didn't seem to work, and chickens remain in crowded and caged conditions. Prop 12 is an attempt to fix that by mandating, for example, a minimum square foot of floor space for each chicken, and cage-free housing by 2022.

It may be confusing to see groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) side with the National Pork Producers Council in opposing this measure. However, they're doing so because they believe the prop does not go far enough to help animals. As a spokesman for PETA said, "There's no such thing as humane meat. It's all a marketing strategy to offset the growing guilt."

I agree with him. But I also believe that any step in the right direction is worth supporting.

Your Political Friend is voting YES.

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. Ask the circulator if they are being paid for your signature (they're legally required to tell you), and, if so, who is paying them. The more you know, the better.