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Primary Election, Tuesday, 19 May 2009

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 1A No State Budget Reform; Rainy-Day Fund
California icon Prop 1B No Education Funding
California icon Prop 1C No Lottery Modernization Act
California icon Prop 1D No Children's Services Funding
California icon Prop 1E No Mental Health Services Funding
California icon Prop 1F No Elected Officials' Salaries

California icon Prop 1A: State Budget Reform; Rainy-Day Fund

Whatever your politics, there can't be any question that the State has had some crazy budgets of late, and we're just in a serious financial pickle; Prop 1A means to address how we got here.

Currently, the State sets aside about 5% of the General Fund into several kinds of rainy-day funds, and there appear to be fairly liberal circumstances by which these funds can be tapped during an "emergency". In addition, once the budget has been passed, there are very limited methods by which spending can be reduced.

This measure increases the rainy-day funds to 12.5%, makes it harder for the State to tap the funds, and makes it easier for the Governor to cut post-budget spending. It also extends the recent tax increase for two more years.

Note that this is not 12.5% set aside every year, but a fund whose balance tops out at that percentage of the yearly budget amount: once it's full, future deposits are not required (but there is a provision for putting aside even more by statute).

Furthermore, tax revenues above the "expected" amounts (based on the prior 10 year average) would be allocated to specific purposes such as catching up on education funding, filling the rainy day fund, and paying down some kinds of debts.

The governor will also have the power to reduce many kinds of spending by up to seven percent, as well as reduce some cost-of-living program increases.

I'm voting no for this.

First, I generally like the formulaic reserves for the rainy day funds, because it forces savings even when this or that special interest group is clammoring for the juicy unexpected tax income during the good times (say, the late nineties). The temptation is enormously strong to assume the goose will keep laying golden eggs and to allocate it to new spending.

Overarching programmatic rules seem to tie the hands of the Legislature, taking away their ability to make judgments on a case-by-case basis but they've clearly not shown the discipline required to behave responsibly when they are spending our money "on the merits".

But for me it's the tax increases that are the killer. If this measure had been enacted without them, I'd might be for it, but the Legislature believes that it can tax its way out of this problem. Maybe they will, but not with my vote.

I believe we're simply spending way, way too much money, and the only solution is to reduce the size and scope of government; I'll vote against anything that gets the Legislature off the hook for dealing with this.

Blame for this mess is spread all the way around: the Legislature for catering into special interests *cough* public employee unions *cough*, and to the voters themselves for approving bond measure after bond measure, year after year.

Even as recently as last fall, with the US financial system on the verge of meltdown, California voters approved $10B in bonds for high-speed rail. I'm sure this will create jobs, improve transportation, blah blah blah, but we don't have the money.

That clucking sound you hear are chickens looking for a place to stay.

The ballot pamphlet arguments against this measure seemed really weak to me, and it made it a bit more difficult to really find out what was going on — that's the first place to look for the "Aha!" reasons against something — but then I found out that the Legislature (who is for 1A) apparently chose who got to write the opposition arguments.

Aha! No wonder it's not railing against tax increases. They probably just want the money divided up in a different way. Though their points are valid, choosing your opponent is a convenient way to exclude vigorous and zealous arguments.

Other opposing voices are more strident, pointing out that its focus is a balanced budget, which is always misguided. Remember that one can balance a budget by raising taxes, and hardly anybody can agree that it's equivalent to cutting spending.

It's clear that this budget mess is so bad that one can no longer really fix it by trimming around the edges — no solution exists without serious cuts. But the only way to reduce the size and scope of government is to spend less money taken from the taxpayer.

Taking more money just means extending the pain farther into the future.

So I'm voting no.

My vote: No

More info:
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California icon Prop 1B: Education Funding

I think the best way to characterize this is a payoff to the teachers' unions for their support of the rest of these measures, and by the looks of the money spent on campaign ads by the CTA (and others), it worked.

Prop 98 (passed in 1998) set up some rules for funding of education, and it appears that there is some question about whether it's been fully funded according to those formulas. I believe this measure means to head off a court fight by establishing a fund of around $9B, payable starting in a year or two, in order to pay off the purported deficit in education funding.

Everybody agrees that education is important, but I positively do not believe that throwing more money at it makes education better. Real, per-pupil spending is up 23% over the last 10 years and up 49% over the last 20 years (source: Heritage Foundation Report).

Does anybody really believe that educational progress has improved that much? I sure don't.

Since 9/11, the universal justifier has been "terrorism", but prior to that it was "for the children", and claiming that something is for the children doesn't actually make it for the children. Remember that the teachers' union cares about the teachers and the union, not your children, but there is enough accidental alignment of interests to give them a killer good PR message.

But the easiest way to tell that the fix is in:

It's not common to find such a brazen payoff in the ballot pamphlet, and this is as good a reason as any to vote no (though 1B won't take effect unless 1A passes too).

My vote: No

More info:
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California icon Prop 1C: Lottery Modernation Act

Anytime you see the words "reform" or "modernization" in a ballot measure, watch out: these are feel-good words that hide the dirty laundry. Here it's no different.

I'm generally not very happy with lotteries, because they are a regressive (but voluntary) tax on the stupid, and as my dad always says: you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you buy a ticket or not. It just feels like a dirty way for the state to raise money, but the existence of the lottery is not at issue here.

Some parts of "modernization" seem plausible if you support the lottery. Currently lottery payouts are capped at 50% of intake, about 13% for expenses, and the rest go to schools. This measure would allow lottery officials to increase the payout percentage if it would increase overall revenues.

The ballot pamphlet had an astonishing graphic:

Lottery spending per resident by state

California residents buy an average of $83 in lottery tickets every year, but in that same year the average Massachusetts resident will spend more than $700 — this is just shocking to me. If it's due to better marketing and optimized payout management, then it seems like they do indeed have a better handle on how to run a lottery.

Curious supporters of this measure are lottery contractor GTECH ($1.25M) and the Service Employees International Union ($1.4M). I'm not really sure what to make of this.

But the gotcha here is that the state will be borrowing against future lottery proceeds in order to deal with the current budget crisis, and this shows that that they just don't get it.

Runaway borrowing and rosy projections of revenue helped get us into this mess in the first place, yet they adopt this as a solution? What are these guys smoking?

If this were just about "modernization", I suppose I could live with it, but more borrowing just pushes off the day of reckoning yet again. No way.

My vote: No

More info:
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California icon Prop 1D: Children's Services Funding

Another rule of thumb with ballot propositions (or political arguments in general): saying that it's about a thing doesn't mean it's actually about that thing. This kind of dissimulation is almost universal, so you can't take a title seriously at all.

This measure means to cleverly "protect children's funding" by taking away children's funding. See? I can play too!

California voters enacted Prop 10 in 1998 to fund services for children, in part due to a tobacco tax of 50 cents per pack. There is a long list of things that it funds, both at the State and County level, all of which seem reasonable on their surface. These funds were to be in addition to, not instead of, funding from the General Fund. This is a protected revenue stream that the Legislature can't fool around with.


There appears to be about $2.5B in unspent funds for these programs, which in its own right is surprising: who in government has money left over?

This measure will shift away some of these taxes to the general fund, where some of these programs will have some level of guaranteed funding. It appears to favor services to children under five, reducing services to kids older than that (the winners and losers are pretty obvious just by looking at the howls of protest in the ballot arguments).

But one doesn't have to really get into the argument over which age range you favor to oppose this measure.

I don't really like protected revenue streams, but it seems better than putting it in the slush fund general fund. As I've said before, anything that makes it easier for the Legislature to avoid dealing with the hard issues (which I think is going against the powerful unions) is just avoiding the real end of times.

But a deeper point emerges: if this or any other government program has all this money left over, then it seems pretty clear that that they don't need it all. Why don't they give the money back rather than just treat it as some entitlement?

As a final point, it may well be that the folks who manage the programs funded by Prop 10 were intentionally keeping this as a rainy-day fund — which would certainly be admirable — though they probably were planning only for rain in their own neighborhood.

It just seems unfair to punish the folks who managed their money well and support those who were improvident.

My vote: No

More info:
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California icon Prop 1E: Mental Health Services Funding

This is mostly similar to Prop 1D above. In November 2004, California voters passed Prop 63, which funded mental health services with a 1% surcharge on incomes over a million dollars. I opposed this majoritarian mugging of a few tens of thousands of Californians for their money, but that's not on the table just now.

This measure would divert funds from the Prop 63 stream to the general fund to address the budget crisis, with no particular promise of replenishment. I oppose this not so much to save mental health funding (though that's certainly not a bad thing), but because the legislature — again! — is trying to avoid actually making real cuts that affect powerful constituents.

And as before, if the legislature believes — as it appears — that we can do without those services, they should give the money back.

My vote: No

More info:
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California icon Prop 1F: Elected Officials' Salaries

This measure would attempt to limit pay raises to elected officials in years that there is a budget deficit, and as of this writing, it's the only one of the six measures that's passing.

This has been criticized as a petty, vindictive bash at the legislature, and my feeling was "Yah, so what? Why not kick them?" but have since decided to change my tune. I'm voting no.

Reading the actual text of the law suggests that the Prop 1F limits on pay raises are weaker than they appear: they depend on estimates from the Director of Finance. This smells like it's a certification subject to gaming, but that's not really a reason to oppose it.

But there are at least two good reasons to oppose it.

First, and most important, the focus on a balanced budget is often a red herring: though this is important, everybody forgets that this could be achieved not just by cutting spending but by raising taxes. These are not equivalent, and I don't think that giving a legislator a specific, personal incentive to raise taxes in order to get a pay raise lies beyond the pale.

But the other reason is that this is just unabashed political horse-trading.

During the State's budget negotiations, the majority Democrats needed just three Republican votes, and this standoff lasted for months. After two of them caved, State Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) was able to exchange his swing vote for a number of things, including Prop 1F:

From: Santa Barbara Independent, March 26 2009


After two other senate Republicans signed onto the budget, Maldonado played hardball with the governor and the Democrats who needed his vote. He got what he wanted: removal of a 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase from the plan, plus necessary approvals to put two pet political reforms on the ballot.


The second initiative Maldonado successfully pushed in the budget showdown is Proposition 1F on the May 19 special election ballot. It would forbid the Citizens Compensation Commission, which sets salaries for legislators and statewide officeholders, from awarding pay raises in years when the state is in deficit. Maldonado is now actively campaigning for the measure.


It's been said that Maldonado wants to run for statewide office someday (though it's hard to imagine him ever getting Republican support), and this kind of thing will help his populist chops.

I don't believe that special election measures should be chits for political favors to one particular person, so that alone is enough reason to vote against this.

My vote: No

More info:
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Last updated: Sun May 17 18:08:01 PDT 2009   (Blogged)