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General Election, Tuesday, 6 November 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.

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.

This election cycle has 13 statewide ballot measures, and though some of the titles are a little misleading, they are all mostly about what they claim they are about. But it's still a lot of work to get a sufficient understanding of them in order to reach a reasonable conclusion.

This Ballot's
Bond Scorecard
Total †
Bond Cost: $A $C
≈ $B ≈ $D
† Running Total = list of props included

For the Bond Measures, I'm including a "Bond Scorecard" with each one, including four amounts for each:

This does not include any bonds not on this ballot, and if all bonds are approved, it's going to be about $42B in new debt, costing about $83B to repay over 30 years.

I hope my thoughts are helpful.

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 1A Passed 77.0% Yes Transportation Funding Protection
California icon Prop 1B Passed 61.4% No Highway Safety/Traffic, Air Quality, Port Security Bonds
California icon Prop 1C Passed 57.8% No Housing & Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act
California icon Prop 1D Passed 56.9% No Education Bonds
California icon Prop 1E Passed 64.2% No Disaster Preparation; Flood Prevention Bonds
California icon Prop 83 Passed 70.5% No Sex Offender Registration & Monitoring
California icon Prop 84 Passed 53.8% No Water Quality Bonds
California icon Prop 85 Failed 45.8% Yes Limitations on Abortion
California icon Prop 86 Failed 48.3% No Tax on Cigarettes
California icon Prop 87 Failed 45.4% No Tax on Oil Producers; Alternative Energy Incentives
California icon Prop 88 Failed 23.3% No Education Funding; Parcel Property Tax
California icon Prop 89 Failed 25.7% No Electoral Reform & Corporate Tax Increase
California icon Prop 90 Failed 47.6% Yes Limitations on Eminent Domain
Orange County icon Measure M Passed 69.7% No Extension of Transportation Tax

California icon Prop 1A: Transportation Funding Protection

In March 2002, California passed Prop 42, which purported to dedicate gasoline taxes to be used strictly for transportation purposes. I supported Prop 42 because it properly treated gas taxes not as a tax, but as a user fee.

Though voters occasionally approve earmarked tax increases (say, a sales-tax increase to pay for schools or police/fire), but they usually involve a very limited connection between the funding source and the thing funded. In this respect, it's really nothing more than a general tax increase.

Not so here: since use of gasoline is a fair proxy for use of roads, this effectively gets the people who use the roads, pay for the roads. This seems entirely fair to me.

Apparently, the state has managed to "borrow" against the fund anyway, to the tune of $2.5B, and this measure would put an end to that. It's claimed that the money will be paid back "with interest", but the only way that this happens is to borrow it from somebody else, or to raise taxes. This is like "borrowing" from the Social Security fund.

The opponents are apoplectic about how this prioritization of funds will cut resources for education or their other favorite projects, but I'm always happy when money is kept out of the Legislature's slush General fund.

This is a user fee, not a tax, and I want to keep it that way. The voters decided thought so too, and I think they should get their way.

My vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs Up — Let's Rebuild California
Thumbs Down (no links provided)

California icon Prop 1B: Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, Port Security Bonds

This Ballot's
Bond Scorecard
Total †
Bond Cost: $19.925B $19.925B
≈ $38.9B ≈ $38.9B
† Running Total = Prop 1B only

The first thing you might notice is that "Port security" in the title is really just there to capture the current security sentiments: only $100M out of the $19B is available for "grants to improve security and disaster planning in publicly owned ports, harbors, and ferry facilities".

This is just dishonest: something that's one half of one percent of a measure does not warrant inclusion in the title unless the intention is to mislead. And of course we see "NO NEW TAXES", which is also dishonest.

This is not how one should fund highway improvements. Bonds should be used only for projects that are inherently long term, and whose value would be limited unless completed. This includes things like dams or large statewide rail projects. Once the decision been made to support the project ("do we need it?", "is it a wise purchase?"), then bonds are the only way to get an assured committment of funds that won't be subject to the whims of the legislature.

But these projects are not like that. They are shorter term, and should be paid for out of current operating funds (funded by current taxes), rather than incurring more debt.

Supporters of bond measures believe that money grows on grandchildren.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Let's Rebuild California
Thumbs Down — California Taxpayer Protection Committee

California icon Prop 1C: Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund

This Ballot's
Bond Scorecard
Total †
Bond Cost: $2.85B $22.775B
≈ $6.12B ≈ $45.02B
† Running Total = Prop 1B+1C

Like many bond measures, this one has a misleading title. Even if one supports the goal of "housing and emergency shelter", this measure is mostly not about that. Reading the legislative analyst's breakdown of how the money will be used, only $100M out of the $2.850B have any connection to "emergency shelters" (that's 3.5%). This is just to garner sympathy with the more egalitarian sentiments among us all.

So what's it really for?

The first item that catches my eye:

The legislative analyst, and the ballot language:
$300M — Grants and loans to local governments and developers to encourage more dense development near public transportation.

There are no doubt benefits to living near public transportation, but the public already takes this into account when choosing where to live. The market has already considered this factor, and I really don't know what "encourage" means other than likely "subsidize" or "bribe".

It's hard to make the case that we should be borrowing money for the next 30 years to "encourage" people to do something for their own good that they are not already doing.

There is money for parks, transportation, water/sewer projects, environmental cleanup, and a host of other things with only an indirect connection to housing, and no connection to the kind of long-term investment for which bonds are appropriate.

A small portion of this goes to low-interest loans and grants for housing of farm workers, and some of the opponents are playing the "illegal alien" card. I certainly am sympathetic with those who wish to not spend tax money on those here illegally, but this is a very minor part of the measure, so it really amounts to a cheap shot.

"Affordable housing" sounds really nice to everybody, and I don't doubt that those who have received it are grateful, but this looks like a very, very expensive way to benefit a relatively small number of people on the backs of our grandchildren.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Let's Rebuild California
Thumbs Down — Assemblyman Chuck DeVore

California icon Prop 1D: Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bonds

This Ballot's
Bond Scorecard
Total †
Bond Cost: $10.416B $33.191B
≈ $20.30B ≈ $65.32B
† Running Total = Prop 1B+1C+1D

Of all the bond measures, this one troubles me the least:

These projects will be mostly completed in the next few years, and I have to wonder whether any of these schools that are "modernized" in 2007 will be coming back to the well for the same purpose again in the next 30 years? If we really believe that the modernization will be good until 2037, then this is a proper use of bonds to pay for something over time.

But, as we all suspect, they will be back with hat in hand long before that, still paying off the previous work, and asking for more. And certainly wanting to borrow money for it.

No, these are not what bonds should be used for: we should be paying for this out of ongoing tax revenues rather than incurring more and more debt. A child entering kindergarten will still be paying for his school when he's in his mid thirties.

This is just the wrong way to fund this. Sorry kids.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up Let's Rebuild California (
Thumbs Down — California Taxpayer Protection Committee

California icon Prop 1E: Disaster Preparedness & Flood Prevention

This measure would authorize about $4B in bonds to pay for a host of flood-control projects, mainly in the Central Valley.

This Ballot's
Bond Scorecard
Total †
Bond Cost: $4.09B $37.281B
≈ $8B ≈ $73.32B
† Running Total = Prop 1B+1C+1D+1E

In the past 10 years, the voters have approved around $400M in bonds for various flood-control purposes, but after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, it looks like an easy sell to try 10 times more than that now.

The stated purposes seem reasonable, the measure appears to address just the stated purpose, and reading the text doesn't reveal any obvious surprises or shenanigans. So it looks like it really does on point to address flood-control issues.

So we're down to the fiscal question, and once again I'm going to object to this. These will be paying for repairs that will be needed again long before 30 years are up, and that's simply a bad use of bonds attempting to play on memories of Katrina.

I don't doubt that these issues have to be addressed, but the Legislature has ignored them for years: rather than borrow yet more money, they should allocate money every year from the general fund to take care of it. Giving more money to Sacramento, even for reasonable purposes, is like giving crack to an addict.

No on more borrowing.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Let's Rebuild California
Thumbs Down — California Taxpayer Protection Committee

California icon Prop 83: Sex Offender Punishment

This measure would increase the penalties for those convicted of sex crimes, and I'm reluctantly voting no. I don't think any of us has sympathy for the dirtball who truly hurts others: the sexually violent predator who molests children or rapes without remorse. They can die in jail for all I care.

If it had limited itself to serious/violent offenders, I'd probably be OK with it, but this is going to rope in a lot of people who are no real danger to anybody. This looks like a "Let's get tough on crime!" measure that will have negative unintended consequences (and costs) without making us any safer.

The first thing that went through my mind is that it would increase the abuse of the label "sex offender" by prosecutors. Obviously this applies legitimately to rapists and child molesters, but it's not above the DA to threaten to apply that to a crime with only a tangential relationship to a real sexual danger to others.

The residency limitations seem to be counterproductive: it sure sounds nice that the sexual bad guys should not live near the schools, but I don't know how many kids are really getting lured into the random bad guy's house while on the way home. Isn't it more likely that the kids are being abused by those already known to the family? This sounds like a feel-good provision that's not going to do anything but disrupt a lot of families.

The GPS monitoring provision sounds like security theater: a high tech solution that will stop all crime! The proponents claim in their ballot arguments "GPS MONITORING COULD HAVE SAVED JESSICA'S LIFE!", but I fail to see that this is true.

I don't know how this works in detail, but I'd be really surprised if these were actual transmitter beacons that showed up on a monitoring screen somewhere with somebody watching. But even if this were true, it only shows the location, not what they are doing or who they are with, and I find it exceptionally hard to believe that the police would spring up to go get some guy who went where he wasn't supposed to be.

More likely it's just recording this information, so they can prove after the fact that the guy was near the scene of a crime and/or was not where he belonged, making the legal case easier. But it's not preventative.

The opposition to this seems to be lead by California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and the trial lawyers are not typically in support of anything but the trial lawyers (but do a good job of pretending to care for consumers, crime victims, etc.). But they have made a good case, including passing on the information from the state of Iowa.

Apparently, Iowa implemented some residency restrictions, and though the district attorneys were originally for it, they now believe it was a bad idea. It's good reading here (PDF).

All in all, this just seems like a mindless attempt to make us safer, and it ignores a whole host of side effects. So I can't support it.

My Vote: A reluctant no

More info:
Thumbs Up — Campaign for Child Safety
Thumbs Down — California Attorneys for Criminal Justice

California icon Prop 84: Water Quality Bonds

This Ballot's
Bond Scorecard
Total †
Bond Cost: $5.388B $42.669B
≈ $10.5B ≈ $83.82B
† Running Total = Props 1B+1C+1D+1E+84

This measure would authorize the sale of around $5B of bonds to pay for various water projects, but from top to bottom it smells like dirty pork, not clean water. They start off on the wrong foot with the "WILL NOT RAISE TAXES" disclaimer that offends many of us.

Superficially, the list of projects it would fund seem reasonable: clean water, improvement of parks, flood control, and the like. But the wide diversity of projects suggests this is a pork-barrel fiesta, helping people who should be paying for what they get (e.g., charge the going rate for water rather than subsidize it, especially for farmers).

The opponents claim that this is backed by the private groups who will receive the benefit, and one clue is in the ballot pamphlet itself. Page 9 lists the contact information for this measure's supporter:

Fiono Hutton
Californians for Clean
  Water, Parks and Coastal
  Protection/Yes on Prop. 84

We all know that big-money campaigns have professional PR firms assisting them, but could they at least figure out how to use an email address that was part of the campaign, such as, and not from the PR firm itself. This is just dumb.

Tidbit: one section of this measure seems to explicitly forbid the use of eminent domain, which I appreciated:

The ballot language:
75070.4 - Acquisition of real property pursuant to Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 shall be from willing sellers. (emphasis mine)

I don't like some of the arguments against this even though I won't be voting for it: "we can't afford it" is plenty good without having to resort to bad arguments.

Claim: "Prop 84 gives state bureaucrats the power to spend your money without effective oversight"
This reveals is a clash of two honorable goals: on one hand, we certainly would rather some kind of minding of the public's money, and this requires audits, competitive bids, avoidance of cozy deals, and the like. On the other hand, during an emergency, the need for drinking water cannot wait for 30 (or more) days involved in the standard procurement process.
We saw this effect during the Katrina disaster: money was available right away, but later on the abuse came to light. This is no way to simultaneously provide emergency relief but forstall the abuse - that's just the way it goes. Objecting to "ineffective oversight" is really objecting to "emergency relief".
My reading of the measure says that only $10M is allocated for this purpose, with no more than $250,000 per individual project. $10M is pocket change for this kind of measure, and even if 100% is wasted, that's nothing to rail against.
Claim: "This water bond does not contain ANY funds for new reservoirs, aqueducts, or water storage!"
So what? A "water bond" does not have to serve every possible water need. This is a silly argument.

Even though I'm voting against this, I resent bad arguments.

This measure doesn't offend my sensibilities, the projects seem reasonable, but we just can't afford it: cut spending elsewhere first.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Californians for Clean Water, Parks, & Coastal Protection
Thumbs Down — California Taxpayer Protection Committee

California icon Prop 85: Limitations on Abortion

This measure would generally require parental notification (but not consent) before a minor could receive an abortion, and it appears similar to Prop 73, which narrowly went down to defeat in last fall's special election.

I've always been pro-life, but this is not about abortion: it's about whether parents are responsible for the care of their children or not. This is not an aspirin or getting ears pierced: it's a serious surgical procedure, and it's beyond me how anybody can think (in general) that parents should be out of this loop.

The opponents are making a big deal over the spectre of some horrible family abusing/killing a young girl who reports that she is pregnant, but it's far more likely that a non-family member will be responsible for the pregnancy and force the girl into terminating it. This is exactly the kind of circumstance where you most want parental involvement.

It's positively true that the law cannot force families to communicate (as the opponents argue), but I don't think that most of us would consider the pregnant minor herself to be the best judge of how to deal with this situation. Who is most likely to give the best advice?

Sure, facing your parents after you've done something you shouldn't have is an ugly proposition, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect to have no repurcussions with the family. Could it be that whatever restrictions the parents have in mind could actually help the girl stay out of trouble the next time?

I really think this should be the call of the parents, but for the rare cases where the parents truly cannot be involved, there is a judicial bypass option. The girl won't pay any fees, and will have a guardian ad litem appointed to act in the interests of the child.

And won't the abortion providers themselves offer guidance to the girls? They will know about the process and the paperwork, and the law explicitly allows the girls to have their own counselors. It's not like the girls have to just wander around the courthouse asking where to get a permission slip for an abortion.

I do think that the USMail notification provision is silly, because that girl is going to be uber careful to get the mail that day, so it really takes away some of the effect. I don't know why there is no telephone provision, but at least they're trying to get the parents involved.

My Vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs Up — Parents' Right to Know & Child Protection
Thumbs Down — Parents For Real Teen Safety

California icon Prop 86: Tax on Cigarettes

This measure proposes a 13 cent tax on each cigarette ($2.60 per pack), and the revenues will be use to fund a host of health-related programs. The main beneficiary appears to be hospitals who run emergency rooms, who right now face staggering non-payment for services, and no small number of them have closed.

In 2004, Prop 67 was to enact a tax on cellphone use to pay for unreimbursed emergency services, but it was soundly defeated. I supported the cellphone tax, but I oppose this one.

Rather than being narrowly tailored to solving just one issue - funding emergency rooms - this is a health-care buffet where everybody gets to play. Anti-tobacco media ads, colorectal cancer research, dealing with asthma at school: it's a long list. This just smells like a bad use of earmarked funds to cover such a wide range of things.

I don't really have any sympathy for smokers, who all would volunteer for this tax, but I am somewhat concerned about the side-effects of a huge increase in the cost of smoking. New York implemented a similar increase in the cigarette tax, and found that sales were cut in half. I don't think anybody really believes that smoking was cut in half - it just created a black market for tobacco. That leads to less revenue and more crime, but I don't have any real sense for how big an effect this would really be.

The opponents are railing against the "big hospital corporations", who would probably get most of the money, but if I'm ever in an accident, I really would like to have some high-powered talent to reattach my finger or set a bone. This is a serious problem right now — see sidebar — and I don't mind if the hospitals make money when they save my life.

The text for this measure is very long - 260 column inches in dense type - and was pretty slow slogging. But I did go through it, though, because the opponents of this have talked about an "anti-trust exemption for the big hospitals" and I wanted to find what this was about.

This is the only thing I could find receiving this exemption:

The ballot language:
Each hospital receiving funds under this Chapter may work cooperatively with one or more other hospitals to develop a plan for providing maximum coverage of specialty services. Any such plan may include such items as coordinated coverage of particular medical specialty services; ... and joint programs for the payment of coverage fees to physician specialists for providing on-call coverage of emergency services. Any such plan shall be submitted to and approved by the county or other emergency services authority for approval and continuing oversight of implementation.

To me, this is nothing: E.R. doctors are only trained to stabilize a patient and to fix the really big stuff, but lots of people need highly specialized care at (say) 2 in the morning: Limb reattachment, delicate eye surgery, cardiac surgery, and the like.

Hospitals don't normally keep these doctors on staff all the time - they'd mostly be sitting around - but instead use them on call: they pay a doc to carry a pager during certain shifts and to come in during an emergency. This provision appears to allow multiple hospitals to share the costs of these on-call services.

Considering that these plans have to be approved by the county or other agency, I cannot see even a remote downside to this. What I do see is an unprincipled argument against this measure, and (as usual), this offends me.

I am only slightly against this, and it would not hurt my feelings too badly if this passed anyway.

My Vote: A soft No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Coalition for a Healthy California
Thumbs Down — Stop the $2B Tax Hike

California icon Pro 87: Tax on Oil Producers; Alternative Energy Incentives

Unlike Prop86, where I had to think about it a bit, this one is an easy no. This is simply playing on the public's dislike for "big oil" and "big profits", and are making some really silly arguments for it.

Gasoline Pump

First, the provision making it illegal to pass on the cost of the tax to consumers is simply operating in fantasy land - as if an initiative can suspend the law of supply and demand. It's essentially impossible to know exactly what factors go into setting a price, so I suspect that this means they can't add a line item "California oil tax surcharge" to their invoices.

In practice, there will be economic limits to just how much of this can be passed on to the consumer, because the market for oil is a global one. Though refined petroleum products are often regionally formulated (which limits their exposure to larger markets), raw crude is pretty much the same anywhere.

It seems like this was a poorly-drafted measure: according to the legislative analyst, there are two ways that the tax rate could be calculated per barrel, with widely different fiscal effects.

If the conservation folks were serious about reducing the use of petroleum, they would advocate higher gas prices. We have now squeezed about all the carpooling and public transit we are likely to get from the populace by cajoling, persuasion, and "education": only an economic incentive is going to get any farther. Good intentions only go so far.

As the price of gas rises, it provides an incentive to use less, and makes alternatives more viable. Something that makes no sense compared to gas at $1.50/gal suddenly looks really interesting at $5/gal. What better way to get somebody to use an alternative than by it being cheaper to use?

Furthermore, the price of driving does not reflect the damage to the environment. When I drive, I am forcing you to take my bad air in exchange for your good air, and this is a property rights issue. The costs of driving are being incurred, just not paid.

Sadly, there is no way to collect some kind of environmental surcharge and have it go where it should. Instead, it goes to the government which treats it as fun-money for the general fund.

The proponents claim: "NO NEW BUREAUCRACY", but this is totally disingenuous. Technically, this is not creating a new agency, but repurposing an existing one, but it stretches credulity to believe that any government entity can suddenly get an influx of billions of dollars in spending authority and not have it attract and mold men of a certain disposition.

Even though the law sets out superficially reasonable requirements for participation in the various capacities, and even though the appointments are spread all over (made by: the governor, the speaker of the assembly, the senate committee on rules, and the attorney general), this kind of of power will be a magnet for cronies.

The ballot language:

Section 26004: The Authority shall consist of nine members, as follows:


(9) A Californian who has expertise, and who has demonstrated leadership, in consumer advocacy, preferably with substantial experience in consumer marketing and business, appointed by the Attorney General. — emphasis mine

Think about the nutbars who style themselves as "consumer advocates" who would qualify for this position and ask yourself if this would contribute to "bureaucracy". Then consider who's running for Attorney General.

I only mean to illustrate the point that this is going to be highly political process no matter what they claim about requiring that it be staffed by experts.

This is just asking for trouble.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Californians for Clean Energy
Thumbs Down — Californians Against Higher Taxes

California icon Prop 88: Education Funding; Parcel Property Tax Tax

This measure would impose a flat, $50 per year tax on each "parcel" (a technical term touched on in a sidebar), with the proceeds to go mainly for education. It purports to raise on the order of $450M per year for this purpose.

This one was hardest to decide of the bunch, perhaps because I am not a property owner, but because it took much more work to really get to the bottom of it and find the deciding factors.

Curiously, the teacher's unions and the anti-tax folks are against this, which is a tremendously confounding factor. I normally vote opposite of the teacher's unions just on general principles, but it turns out that they oppose it because it doesn't go far enough. Ah, that makes more sense.

In several other places I have railed against bond measures because they were misusing long-term financing for shorter-term projects, insisting instead that they use a pay-as-you-go mechanism rather than borrowing.

Well, this proposal appears to support the pay-as-you-go notion, and I am not willing to merely adopt the "taxes are too high already" position as a knee-jerk reaction. So I have to dig a bit more.

The arguments for this measure have been the usual "let's invest in the kids", but I've heard a really lousy argument against it that I knew had to be lousy even before reading the ballot language.

The opponents:
"And 95% of schools would not be eligible to apply for facilities grants"

They want you to believe that "facilities grants" are the main way to get part of the money, and therefor that this is a highly exclusionary measure. It's simply not true.

Facilities grants go to schools that perform above average, and have not gotten money from state construction/modernization bond funds. This means that they didn't get a turn at the bond money trough, so they get something here.

There are plenty of other mechanisms for getting funding from this measure, and the opponents know this, and enticing you to reach an unwarranted conclusion is dishonest.

The opponents also say:

The opponents:
There is not ONE WORD in Proposition 88 about helping teachers who buy materials.

but of course we find that Prop88 hopes to buy those materials so the teachers don't have to. This is just a dumb argument.

Proponents make the reasonable case that bond measures - whether statewide or local - typically do not pay for clearly operational costs such as teacher salaries or school supplies, so they have to turn to other sources for this funding.

Opponents have made the case that this would be a foot in the door for busting Proposition 13 property tax limitations, but I don't see that. As far as I can tell, this measure does not change the law to permit new taxes: it just establishes one. There is a big difference.

It may set a climate where others will try this for other purposes (and therefor start chalking up substantial parcel property taxes every year), but I don't know that this is a reason to oppose it.

But ultimately, I have decided to vote against this measure.

It does address needs which appear to be entirely legitimate - smaller class sizes, buying textbooks, etc. - but it's moved these allocations to the state rather than the local governments.

This measure funds a number of specific initiatives, such as an integrated data collection system to measure the effectiveness of teachers and the progress of students, school security, and a number of other reasonable purposes.

But it makes these allocations for everybody. A local district which already has a good data system and would rather use the money for textbooks would not be allowed to do so.

In this respect it busts the local-government-is-best maxim, and that's why I'm opposing it. From what I can tell, if this collected the money and then simply made available local block grants (where the local school districts decided where the money goes), I would probably support it.

As a side note: I do not own property, so this tax would not affect me directly even if passed.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Taxpayers for Better Schools & Smaller classes
Thumbs Down — Californians Against the Statewide Parcel Property Tax

California icon Prop 89: Electoral Reform; Corporate tax increase

This measure would limit most private contributions to political campaigns and use a small increase in the corporate tax rate to pay for public funding of those campaigns. The tax would be around $200M per year, and introduce what appears to be a highly convoluted system of figuring out who can give and how much a candidate can receive in public funding.

"Electoral reform" comes around often, all attempting to limit the corrosive effect of money on political campaigns. I don't think there is any doubt that this is a serious problem, but I have long believed that every approach completely misses the mark.

Candidates often spend millions of dollars of their own money to get elected to a job that pays, at best, in the low six figures, and I do not believe for one minute that this is due to their grand sense of "public service".

No, this is because being in political office pays far higher than the salary: it pays in power, and power attracts and molds those of a different stamp.

This power — and the huge public purse it controls — is what's at stake here, and it should not surprise anybody that those attempting to suckle off the public teat should get proficient at gaming the system for their own benefit.

The only way to fix this problem is to drastically limit the power of government, which will make it less of a magnet for graft and corruption. Attempts which keep the centralized power but limit influence is like trying to get ants to not like honey.

Now considering this particular bill: let's start with the title as taken from the text on page 171 of the ballot pamphlet:

The ballot language:
California Nurses Clean Money and Fair Elections Act of 2006

The first question everybody should ask is: "Do nurses have any particular competence in elections?", and the clear answer is no.

The thoughtful will ask the next question is: "Does the nurses union have any competence in elections?", and my response is "Ahhh, now I get it".

I have long admired nurses, and my sister is a very good one, but the nurse's union is a different story. The nurse's union doesn't care any more about patients than the teacher's union cares about your children. Both are simply leverage to getting what they want.

What I can't figure out is what their angle is. The measure appears to limit even the power of union involvement in politics (but is not entirely clear, it's a very long, very dense measure), and I find it exceptionally difficult to believe that this really will limit the union's power.

Even if we disregarded the we-need-small-government factor, even if we threw out the First Amendment objections, the Magic Secret Formula for what the nurses union wants to accomplish is enough to vote against this.

It looks like just another special interest.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Californians for Clean Elections
Thumbs Down — Californians to Stop 89

California icon Prop 90: Limitations on Eminent Domain

This measure would place rather dramatic limitations on how government could take property from others, both in terms of an outright eminent domain taking, or devaluing of property via regulation. It's in response to the Kelo v New London CT Supreme Court decision that gave the green light to more takings.

This would put a stop to it, and I support it completely.

The opponents are positively hysterical about it and are making claims galore, but it's all a smokescreen from those who are about to have their power taken away.

The main claim is that the measure goes far beyond stopping the ability to just take my house and hand it to a developer — such as what the City of Cypress tried to do a few years ago for Costco. They saw the sales-tax dollars in their eyes and didn't care for the fact that a church had spent its own actual money to buy the land.

In this spring's primary election, Orange County voters handily passed Measure A, which restricted exactly this: public takings for private purpose. It was largely symbolic, because it applied only to the County and not to any other political subdivisions, but it was a laudable sentiment nonetheless.

At first blush, the above would seem to be plenty, and the very great lengths to which Prop 90 goes to forestall diminution of value would seem excessive, or even extreme. Making the government pay if they reduce the value of your property? Really?

Absolutely. To really understand this requires that one fully appreciate the utter shamelessness of governments in trampling the rights of property owners when they want something. One only need to see the story of the Cottonwood Christian Center versus Cypress to see the duplicity of local officials. It turns my stomach - this is the kind of thing you'd expect at Enron.

Putting a stop to this abuse just means that governments will take a step back and do "virtual condemnations". This means things like rezoning some land to prohibit the best use, essentially destroying the property value. Then the landowner is stuck: he cannot sell his land for what it would have otherwise been useful for, so he takes a loss and unloads to some mystery buyer.

Then: Surprise! Rezoning to allow the new mall, and the mystery buyer is happy to sell to the developer. Poof! No eminent domain required.

Those who believe this is a stretch of the imagination really need to read the papers. New "Redevelopment Agencies" are popping up all over with the more or less explicit intent of bringing in more tax revenues for the area in question. Residential neighborhoods are surely pretty, and contribute to a quality of life, but they don't bring in much money. So condemning whole tracts as "blighted" is getting increasingly common.

Citizens who are losing their homes are fighting back, but it's a long road, and the power is mostly on the side of the governments. Thankfully, the Courts are repelling some of these, but it's not universal. An excellent (but long) report on eminent domain abuse is available from the Castle Coalition. It's just shocking.

This measure explicitly narrows the term "public use" to mean the things we all know it means: roads, schools, hospitals, and the like. It excludes "giving it to a developer so we can get more tax revenue".

It puts a stop to "regulatory taking", which are regulations other than health-and-safety, which destroy property values. A great example is a declaration that an area is a "historic district", with drastic limitations on what can be done with the property. It may well benefit the city to establish a quaint business district (like Tustin's "Old Town"), but if this takes value from the property owner, it's just not fair to lay the cost on them and say "it's for the greater good".

I am a firm believer that property rights are the guarantor of all other rights - even for non-property owners - and it's simply not fair to take from somebody just because they happen to live in a certain area. If the change benefits everybody, everybody should pay.

I believe it's absolutely likely that this will make it much more difficult to take property and to impose regulations, and it will make it more costly for governments to do business as govermnents. This is a bonus, as far as I am concerned, because it will help stem the coercive power of government.

Those who believe that governments are well and truly acting in our best interests, have no private agenda, and that some unfortunate individuals really ought to bear the cost of these public benefits rather than the citizenry at large, ought to oppose this measure.

I'm not in that crowd. I support it.

My Vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs Up — California Protect Our Homes Coalition
Thumbs Down — Californians Against the Taxpayer Trap

Orange County icon Measure M: Extension of Transportation Tax

This measure would extend for 30 years the 1/2% sales tax used to fund transportation projects in Orange County, which would otherwise expire in 2011.

Measure M was to be a "temporary" tax, and like all such taxes, never end up being temporary. There is little doubt that Measure M has funded some helpful projects, and as a highway user in Orange County, I am aware of many of them.

But when a temporary tax lasts 50 years, it's never going to go away, and this gives limited incentive to those spending the money to do so wisely. And since we have several more years before this actually goes away, I'd much rather the OCTA not have a free pass at the money, and have to work at it. If it's a sure thing, why be thrifty?

Next time a "temporary" tax comes around, we should point to Measure M and say "No, this is a permanent tax - evaluate it as if it won't ever go away". Maybe it will pass or maybe it will fail, but the backers should be honest about it.

But one matter has simply outraged me. When I got my official County election mailer, showing what was to appear in the up-coming election, we got the how-to-vote guide, the text of the various measures, as well as the usual 1/4 page arguments for and against by parties that have an interest in this matter. We're all used to this in both the county and state mailers.

But in this pamphlet, we got a 32-page, bound-in advertisement for Measure M. This was clearly a promotional brochure provided in a supposedly-neutral mailer, and I cannot see any way to look at this other than a gross abuse of the electoral process by the OCTA. I have no idea why the elections people allowed this.

That the OCTA used taxpayer resources - the elections mailer - to promote their cause is dirty enough that I am positively voting against it, and inviting them to try again another time.

What's the rush?

My Vote: No

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Last updated: Sun Nov 5 09:20:03 PST 2006   (Blogged)