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Primary Election, Tuesday, 6 June 2006

Each election I research and analyze the propositions on the California ballot to create this voting guide, and they represent nothing other than my own personal view of these measures. I do this analysis on a non-partisan basis, but that doesn't mean I have no opinion. I do, but I believe it's transparent.

I generally have no connection with any group supporting or opposing any of these propositions, though I have been active for years in volunteer Literacy, the purported (but tangential) subject of Proposition 81.

My main intent is to get to the bottom of these issues, knowing that the "real" purpose is not always evident. Once uncovered, I apply a mainly libertarian eye to them.

I'm more interested in examining the issues thoughtfully than I am in getting you to vote the way I do, so I hope these pages help you understand the issues in front of us.

Educated votes are better votes.

Fortunately, this election cycle has only two statewide ballot measures, and they do pretty much what they appear to do on the surface: Agendas are not really hidden, so it doesn't require much digging to get to the bottom of them: this makes analysis much easier.

Other resources:

Summary of positions

Click each link for the rationale for each position. Results taken from the Secretary of State's website, and entries in gray didn't go my way.

Proposition Result My Position Description / Title
California icon Prop 81 No Library Construction Bonds
California icon Prop 82 No Preschool Education Tax
Orange County icon Measure A (Orange County) Yes Eminent Domain Limitations

California icon Prop 81: Literacy Improvement / Public Library Improvement Bonds

icon of books

This measure would provide for $600 million in bonds to be used for construction and renovation of public libraries. First priority is given to projects unfunded by the $350M allocated in 2000 by Proposition 14, with the rest used for new projects.

I oppose this measure: the State is deep in debt but has the largest budget in history. It's hard to believe that out of a $100B budget, they can't find a bit less than 1% of fat to cut. Of course, the proponents sing the familiar "Not a tax increase" song, which is completely disingenuous.

At least they had the decency not to WRITE IT IN ALL CAPS.

It's also a little disingenuous to lead with "Literacy": this is strictly a capital-improvement campaign:`

The legislative analyst, and the ballot language:
Grant funds could not be used for:
  1. books or other library materials
  2. certain administrative costs of the the project
  3. interest costs or other charges for financing the project
  4. ongoing operating costs of the new or renovated facility

But let it not be said that I am unsympathetic with the goals of this measure. I have a special interest in this area, having been involved in volunteer literacy for almost 15 years; as an ESL tutor, a center director, a trainer, a member of the statewide program committee, and various leadership posts in the local volunteer literacy council.

I know firsthand the benefits of literacy, and in the joy of giving that gift to others. I remember with pride hearing my student say "Hello, teacher", and in seeing them graduate from my program to the local community college where they would take classes in English.

But if you don't have the money, it doesn't matter how nice of a project it is. This measure purports to help the children, yet it's saddling them with yet more debt - it will take 30 years to pay these bonds off (see sidebar). Anybody want to bet that they'll back long before then asking for more?

Supporters of bond measures believe that money grows on grandchildren.

To be fair, the bond measure looks reasonably drafted to those for whom the debt concerns do not dominate. I read the full text of the ballot language, and don't see any of the pork-barrel earmarks which are so common with this kind of measure: it appears to do just what it claims to do. This, at least, is refreshing (though I welcome counter points).

I have to note that the opponents haven't resisted a cheap shot:

Argument against Proposition 81
We spent $9B on illegal alien welfare last year, yet the state can't find one dime in money for libraries, and has to borrow money again?

It may be timely, but it's really appealing to a poor rationale.

My vote: No

More info:
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Note - I speak for myself only: I certainly am not speaking for any of the groups or volunteers with which I am affiliated.

California icon Prop 82: Preschool Education Tax

This measure would provide for universal (though voluntary) preschool education for all California children, and would pay for it with an extra 1.7% tax on incomes over $400k ($800k for couples).

Unlike Prop 81, I don't have any mixed feelings about this one - I oppose it completely. It's another make-the-rich-pay scheme which won't educate that many more children, but will cost much more than the existing circumstances, all the while establishing a union-entrenched preschool bureaucracy.

This measure stinks in every way.

Union Label

Reading the ballot language, the first thing that jumps out at me is what a goldmine this will be for the teachers' union. The current preschool environment which operates mostly in a free market with minimal State regulation — you decide for yourself whether you want a preschool, daycare, or some mix of the two — but this proposed program will be a bonanza for union membership. It's no wonder the unions are so squarely behind this.

By requiring preschool teachers to have essentially the same qualifications as their K-12 brethren — a college degree and a credential — it also requires them to be paid equivalently. This will skyrocket the costs to provide preschool education, and it's not entirely clear to that the quality of the education will rise commensurately.

One does not suspend cost/benefit tradeoffs just because it involves your kids.

That this measure would extend collective bargaining even to private preschools is alone enough to vote against it: You can't give away a right (to the union) without taking one away from someone else.

It's been reported that the RAND Corporation says that this measure will increase the percentage of students in preschool from 65% to 70% — a scant increase. It will impact a much larger number, because parents will be able to divert the money previously spent to other things.

If the RAND Report is to believed, this is really more about a transfer of wealth and union empowerment than it is about education. Certainly the proponents are trying to keep attention on the latter:

Argument in Favor of Proposition 82
Studies show that children who go to preschool are more likely to be able to read by the third grade, and therefore more likely to succeed in school.

This certainly sounds plausible, but it's confusing correlation with causation. Reading early is obviously a good thing, but can't one make a compelling case that it's less about preschool improving the reading rate than it is about parents who care about education?

Sure, it may help some kids get the education they otherwise would not receive, but that's at an enormous cost. Further entrenching the teachers' union (who care only about union dues, not teachers or children) while increasing the County Boards of Education (who will run the program) looks like a net loss to me.

Looking closely at the arguments supporting Prop 82:

About Prop 82:
Studies show that children who attend quality preschool read earlier and learn faster. But only 20% of our children actually go to quality preschools.emphasis mine

This statistic doesn't square with any of the other data I've seen, so my best guess is that they're using the term "quality" as a proxy for "credentialed teacher". I wonder if it's just code for "union member"?

Supporters of Prop 82:
Prop 82 has no cost for 99.4% of California taxpayers. Prop 82 does require an additional investment of 1.7% of family income over $800,000 per year or individual income over $400,000.

Referring to a tax as an "investment" is a lovely verbal slight of hand, but the real magic here is understanding the amount of the increase. When the personal income tax rate goes from 9.3% to 11%, that's an 18% increase in actual tax dollars paid by the affected individuals. I'm not sure anybody can claim that this is an insignificant amount.

I wonder if there's any income tax rate that Rob Reiner (or the teachers' union) would find excessive?

My vote: No

More info:
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Thumbs Down Orange County Register - a great writeup in opposition.

Orange County icon Measure A: Limitation of Eminent Domain (Orange County only)

Orange County

This measure is limited to Orange County, and would prevent the County from exercising eminent-domain taking of private property when the purpose would be to convey it to another private party.

The proponents are the Orange County Supervisors themselves, reacting to the Kelo v. City of New London case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed the city to seize property under eminent domain and turn it over to a private resort developer.

This case has generated outrage from all quarters.

The forcible taking of private property from an unwilling owner offends many, but it's a necessary evil for some kinds of projects, such as building a highway or damming a river. It's even been done to condemn whole sections of a city to demolish and rebuild a "blighted" area.

But under the guise of an "economic purpose", cities are starting to seize private property and turning it over to other private parties. The City of Cypress tried to do this for Coscto on land across the street from one of my customers.

A church spent a year and $18M — entirely by private negotiations — in order to secure 18 acres for its new center, and just as they were ready to move forward, the city put a halt to the permits and sought to condemn the land for Costco's benefit. It was a stunningly brazen abuse of power.

Ultimately it was rejected by the courts, but it left a horrible taste in my mouth at the shamelessness of governments who want to condemn land for the sales-tax money train.

And if Costco wants the land, they should pony up like everybody else. Shame on them for going along with this (as they apparently do all the time).

It's unusual when a government wishes to limit its own power by procedural means, but it's a good thing for freedom when it does. This measure won't affect the right of cities to do this — only the County of Orange — so it's largely a symbolic gesture. But a welcome one.

A close friend works in a local government department which uses eminent domain properly (rarely, very reluctantly, and for slam-dunk, genuine public-works projects), and objects to this measure because of the emptiness, expense, and political grandstanding of the symbolism.

Said by close friend:
[O.C. Supervisor Chris] Norby has been fussing about this issue up at the Capital and this limited and symbolic initiative is all that he could get the votes for — and only in OC. You can't find opposition because it's a political hot potato. This gives the politicians an easy out to say they fixed the problem. Voters will be less than pleased when the next Costco thing occurs (take for example the city of Laguna Hills that doesn't own its city hall and is trying to use eminent domain to take over the building). I think it's electioneering at its worst.

I find this argument quite thoughtful: political cover without teeth can make it harder to get real things done in the future, though on the other hand I think it could create a groundswell of support for that real reform.

So I'm still voting for it, but I appreciate being aware of the backstory on this.

My vote: Yes

Those discovering bad/missing links, typos, or even errors in judgment are encouraged to report them to me:

Last updated: Fri May 26 05:24:31 PDT 2006