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Primary Election, Tuesday, 5 February 2008

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 (note that "transparency" means only that I claim no hidden agenda, not that I'm trying to be unbiased).

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.

I hope my thoughts are helpful.

Other resources:

Summary of positions

Click each link for the rationale for each position.

Proposition Result My Position Description / Title
California icon Prop 91 Yes Transportation Funding Protection
California icon Prop 92 No Community Colleges
California icon Prop 93 No Term Limits
California icon Prop 94 No Indian Gaming #1 (Pechanga)
California icon Prop 95 No Indian Gaming #2 (Morongo)
California icon Prop 96 No Indian Gaming #3 (Sycuan)
California icon Prop 97 No Indian Gaming #4 (Agua Caliente)

California icon Prop 91: 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.

The State had undertaken to raid "borrow from" this transportation fund for other purposes, so the group behind what is now known as Prop 91 worked to qualify this measure for the ballot to prevent this raiding.

But in the fall of 2006, the legislature put Prop 1A on the ballot to do more or less the same thing, and it passed with 77% of the vote.

The original supporters of this measure have said that this measure is no longer necessary and we should vote No, and there are no other supporters or proponents.

When I read that the supporters were saying "this is not necessary", my spidey sense was tingling: something smells fishy. But without more information, I figured to take Pete's position and simply abstain: if you don't know anything about a measure, it's bad to vote on it.

But I found the story, and I now strongly support it.

This measure was used as a threat to the legislature: "either you guys take care of robbing the transportation fund, or we put Prop 91 on the ballot" - that's what provoked Prop 1A.

As part of the threat, the backers of Prop 91 submitted a large batch of signatures for verification, but they expected it would not be quite enough to qualify — they kept the rest in reserve in case the politicians didn't act. If they did act, they would just discard the reserve, and Prop 91 would not make it on the ballot.

But the signatures they already submitted (and which could not be withdrawn) had a higher validity rate than they expected, and it was just a fraction above the percentage required to qualify. Surprise! It's on the ballot!

My understanding is that Prop 1A is somewhat watered down compared with Prop 91, and that robbing the transportation fund still happens, but the backers of Prop 91 are sticking with their agreement with the legislature to not publicly support it. Since they are the proponents, they get the slot in the ballot pamphlet.

But I'm not part of any of that agreement, I have no such reluctance to remove any of these loopholes. With the State's budget in such a mess, who really thinks that the legislature could possibly resist robbing from the transportation fund?

So: if you supported Prop 1A, you probably should support Prop 91.

My vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs Up — Southern California Transit Advocates
Thumbs Down (no links provided)

California icon Prop 92: Community College Funding

This measure means to establish the California Community College system in the State's Constitution - it now exists by dint of the legislature - fix fees at $15 per unit (making it difficult to raise), and defines a complicated funding mechanism that relates to population and K-12 funding.

My personal experience with the community colleges has been excellent: I finished up my BS in Math by transferring a few electives taken at Rancho Santiago College back to my home college, and I found the instructors there to be outstanding. They were there for teaching — not for grants or research — and they clearly loved their material.

I have no reason to believe that the community college system is not well run, but I believe we simply cannot afford this measure now with the State's budget in such crisis. This creates a new bureaucracy without any obvious way to pay for it, and I believe that's irresponsible.

And this is not about avoiding helping the poor: right now, about a quarter of Community College students pay no fees at all because they qualify for need-based fee waivers. So the needy are already being served.

A fulltime student at a community college can expect to pay around $600/year in student fees, which is peanuts compared with all the other costs of going to school (have you ever shopped for college textbooks before?), and I'm not sure that a modest fee reduction is really going to make college any more accessible to anybody.

I do appreciate that this would probably help stabilize education funding by taking some of it out of the hands of the legislature, but that's also a downside: formulaic funding begs to be gamed. If nothing else, incentives to be thrifty are reduced because the money's coming whether you do a good job or not. That's not good for anybody.

In practice, reduced fees will simply be a subsidy for children of wealthy parents, and I don't think that's the right way to encourage education.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Yes on Proposition 92
Thumbs Down — Californias for Fair Education Funding

California icon Prop 93: Term Limits

This is a brazen power grab, but it's not obvious because of the way the opposition is campaigning. Let's dig in.

In 1990, the voters passed Proposition 140, which provided for term limits for most state officeholders, and this included the legislature: three 2-year terms in the Assembly and two 4-year terms in the Senate.

The clock started in 1990, so anybody in office at the time would have maxed out in 2004 after 14 years of continuous legislative service. After that, they were left with vying for other statewide offices, or getting a real job.

This measure would change the rules to make the limit 12 years in any combination, and an officeholder could mix and match as he pleased. The stated rationale is that by spending the whole time in just one body (the Assembly or the Senate), s/he could build up "expertise".

At first, this rationale seems reasonable enough — if the goal is to keep people from being in politics for life, then I don't care that much if it's in one branch, the other branch, or both. Twelve years is certainly less than fourteen years in any case, right?

Maybe. At first I thought this was mainly a wash, but as I researched The Loophole (see below), I found that even though one can jump from one body to the other in order to max out their time, most don't. So in practice, the term limit is whatever time they spend in a single body (6 years in the Assembly, 8 years in the Senate).

If this measure passes, it means that politicians will generally do all 12 years in a single stint (maximizing on their own incumbency), and I have to believe will increase average time in office.

Pete notes that with longer service in a single body, politicians may be more interested in long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes, and that's a fair point.

So far I could still almost either way, but then we find The Loophole.

This measure includes a "transitional provision" that any member in office at the time of this measure's passage may serve 12 total years in the body s/he is a member of now even if they termed out in the other body.

It's common to see laws benefit incumbents, but it's rare to see one done so brazenly targeted: this provision benefits only the 120 specific individuals who are in office now. Wow!

Fabian Nunez is now the speaker of the house, and he terms out this year: if this ballot measure passes, he can remain speaker for six more years, but if not, he can run for two years in the Senate, but he'll start as a freshman.

Since the common path is the Assembly to the Senate (and not usually the other way), the Senate has more people at risk of fully terming out both limits. I did some very tedious research on prior Assembly time for each of the current 40 Senators:

Table: Prior assembly terms for Senate members
Number Number of terms
2 no assembly experience
4 1 assembly term
13 2 assembly terms
20 3 assembly terms
1 7 assembly terms
Tom McClintock served four Assembly terms before the 1990 limits

More than 85% of Senators have at least two full terms in the Assembly, and more than half used up their full three-term limit. Only two members of the Senate have no Assembly experience.

The folks behind this initiative, Kaufman Campaign Consultants, style themselves as Democratic consultants, and Gale Kaufman herself consults for Fabian Nunez. This gal is certainly earning her money with him: getting around term limits.

Supporters are, not surprisingly, the politicians and those who depend on them: that mainly means labor unions, though business seems to be involved too.

I'm sure there is also support by those who genuinely believe that a 12 year overall limit is better for good governance than the current split limits. This is a fair position, one that I might be able to share, but the loophole makes it all too cynical for me.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Committee for Term Limits and Legislative Reform
Thumbs Down — California Term Limits Defense Fund

California icon Prop 94: Indian Gaming #1 (Pechanga)
California icon Prop 95: Indian Gaming #2 (Morongo)
California icon Prop 96: Indian Gaming #3 (Sycuan)
California icon Prop 97: Indian Gaming #4 (Agua Caliente)

We don't have a referendum very often, but I'm voting No on all four of these.

My general principle is to oppose all expansions of Indian gaming.

I have no moral objection to gaming; it's a fun time and people ought to have the right to do what they wish with their own property. I have always thought that "real" gaming (such as blackjack) is too much work, so when I go to Las Vegas, it's just to play video poker.

For roughly $20/hour I can have some mindless entertainment with a pretty girl bringing me free drinks. What's not to like?

I also bear no animus toward the Indians: I think most of us share the view that they have gotten the short end of the stick throughout history, and many believe that gaming operations are a way to work themselves out of a bad situation.

I actually believe that it makes them worse off: they become wards of the big casino operators, reinforces the notion that they are some kind of separate and helpless race, and sucks any hope for initiative or industry.

Indian Gaming hurts Indians and destroys a proud tradition of self reliance.

Most of the positions for and against are really based on expanding or protecting a government-granted monopoly, which by definition makes them self-interested, not principled positions, though it rarely stops either side from appealing to principles held by others.

Sure, the four Tribes are supposed to send lots more money to the state (and God knows we need it), but this would just give a benefit to the Tribes with the best lobbyists and best PR.

I hate to reward that kind of activity because it just brings out the worst in everybody.

Pete has much more detailed analysis supporting his No vote; it's worth reading.

So I'm going to say No to special deals.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs Up — Coalition to Protect California's Budget and Economy
Thumbs Down — Californians Against Unfair Deals

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

Last updated: Sun Jan 13 15:33:51 PST 2008