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 -
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.

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