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.

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