Does this site look plain?

This site uses advanced css techniques

General Election, Tuesday, 2 November 2010

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 19 Fail 46.2% Yes Legalizes marijuana for personal use
California icon Prop 20 Pass 61.2% Yes Congressional Redistricting by Commission
California icon Prop 21 Fail 38.8% No Parks funding via Vehicle License Fee
California icon Prop 22 Pass 60.9% Yes Protects local tax revenues
California icon Prop 23 Fail 38.7% Yes Suspends AB32 until economy improves
California icon Prop 24 Fail 41.5% No Repeal tax breaks
California icon Prop 25 Pass 54.9% No 50% majority to pass the budget
California icon Prop 26 Pass 52.7% Yes Require that Fees receive 2/3 vote
California icon Prop 27 Fail 40.5% No Eliminates redistricting commission

California icon Prop 19: Legalizes Marijuana for personal use

cannabis leaf
Copyright ©

This measure would essentially decriminalize marijuana for personal use in California under a regime of taxation and regulation, which expands upon Proposition 215's allowing marijuana for medical use only.

Individuals could grow small amounts for personal use, they would be prohibited from consuming marijuana in public or in the presence of minors, and actual sales could only be conducted by those authorized, licensed, and presumably taxed by local authorities. Local authorities could not prohibit or criminalize the private use of marijuana, though it can forbid sales.

I very much support this measure, though there are some difficulties with it.

The main complication is the conflict with Federal law, which still recognizes marijuana as an illegal drug, and this measure would have no impact on that status. The Feds can come in any time they like and bust anybody for violation of Federal drug laws.

The Obama administration has said that it won't go after marijuana patients and providers who behave consistent with current state medical-marijuana laws, but (a) we don't know how long that will last in general, and (b) it seems unlikely that the Administration will treat broad decriminalization the same as a medical-use exemption.

The opposition is taking a public-safety approach, worrying that people will light up and get behind the wheel or drive a school bus, and that this measure will make it harder to maintain a drug-free workplace. This seems like histrionics to me.

Nothing in this measure changes existing California law that says one may not drive a car impaired, period. This includes impairments due to alcohol, prescription drugs used as prescribed, prescription drugs used recreationally, or marijuana (medical or otherwise). It's explicitly not legal to drive while smoking a joint, though it appears that passengers may be allowed to light up.

An accident of body chemistry means that enforcement and testing for a drug-free workplace will be much more difficult. The primary active ingredient in marijuana, THC, is fat-soluble, so it sticks around in the system long after the psychoactive effects have passed.

Unlike alcohol, where blood concentration correlates with impairment, no such correlation exists with marijuana: though the high may last just a few hours, THC can be detected weeks after use.

This means that the factory worker who unwinds with a joint on Friday night will nevertheless have a positive urine test at work on Monday morning even though he's no more impaired than his co-worker who got drunk on Friday night but was lucky enough to leave no metabolic audit trail.

How does busting the first guy but not the second make the workplace any safer?

So in practice, workplace drug testing for marijuana is not so much about making the workplace actually safer as it is about CYA for employers. It's not really that different from a witch hunt.

And it's hard to reconcile the hysterical opposition to marijuana with the clear and obvious contrast with alcohol. Let's look at some of the notes in the ballot arguments:

Said by the opponents:
Proposition 19 gives drivers the "right" to use marijuana right up to the point when they climb behind the wheel.

So what?

It's legal to consume alcohol right up to the point when you climb behind the wheel, because not every amount of consumption produces dangerous impairment. The blood alcohol content charts suggest that I can drink three or four beers before I'm over the legal limit in California, and everybody other than the tiniest woman can have one beer without worry.

Why would we not assume the same kind of dose-based impairment for marijuana users, rather than assume that everybody turns into a dangerous driver upon the very first puff?

The opponents do note that this measure provides no standard for police to use when measuring impairment, and that I am sympathetic to: as far as I know, there is not the same kind of measurement-based standard like we do for alcohol (.08% BAC), but I don't doubt that they'll work something out. People who are impaired usually act that way.

Said by the opponents:
Under Proposition 19, a driver may legally drive even if a blood test shows they have marijuana in their system.

Well duh. This is the same as:

Said by the opponents, in effect:
Under Proposition 19, a driver may legally drive even if they have smoked pot in the last few weeks.

This kind of hyperbole does nothing to make anybody safer, but it certainly does undermine the opponents when they resort to nonsense like this. I hate disingenuous arguments.

The other main argument is that legalization will increase use, and though I think this may well be true, it's paternalistic for the government to prevent me from engaging in private, non-coercive activities. Why do you care if I smoke pot? (This is rhetorical: I don't).

Though it's true that many people will destroy their lives with drugs and/or alcohol, and this is unquestionably bad, it's also bad that people are being locked up for nonviolent drug offenses. It's also bad when the illegal trade of a substance creates innocent victims in (say) drive-by shootings in a turf war.

Those destroy lives too.

It's also probably true that this will run afoul of Federal contracts for some businesses that require a "drug-free workplace", but this just means that workers in some industries will be unable to share in all the blessings of living in California. That's not a good enough reason to deny this to everybody.

I'm a big believer in freedom, and allowing people to consume marijuana in private will do wonders for undercutting the dangerous drug trade (which does hurt people), will reduce court costs that are now wasted prosecuting minor drug offenses, and will generally lead to a more peaceful society.

My vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs down

California icon Prop 20: Establishes Congressional Redistricting by Commission

puzzle logo
Clip art © Bobbie Peachey

This measure would expand the role of the Citizen's Redistricting Commission to additionally define the boundaries for Congressional districts, in addition to their existing role of defining districts for State offices.

The US Constitution requires a census every 10 years, and with the updated population counts, each state divides itself up into similarly-sized districts based on the number of seats in the House of Representatives. California currently has 53 seats (unlikely to be changed after the 2010 Census results come in during December), but the districts are always redrawn to reflect population shifts.

Redistricting has traditionally been done by the state legislature, and as far back as the early 1800s, districts were drawn not to reflect unified population groups, but to favor incumbents in a process derisively dubbed "Gerrymandering".

To illustrate by example, let's say that one wants to minimize the influence of Latino voters in and around Los Angeles. Once the Latino neighborhoods have been identified on the population map, one can do at least one of two things:

Divide the Latino concentrations across multiple districts, so that their effect is spread out and diluted, and they are unable to reach influential levels in any one district.
Create a single malshaped district that meanders through all the Latino areas such that it's almost entirely a Latino district. This "forfeit" district is given away in return for having no real Latino influence in any of the other nearby districts.
The benefit of Packing is that the sacrificial district can be held up as an example of empowering the very group whose voice has been reduced.

The Wikipedia article on Gerrymandering covers this in great detail, and it's hard to look at the map for the Illinois district #4 and not suspect that shenanigans were at play:

seriously Gerrymandered district

It will come as a surprise to nobody reading this page that the first concern for most politicians is staying in office (or at least promoting their party).

Citizens Redistricting Commission Logo

With this in mind, we revisit the Citizens Redistricting Commission approved by the voters in November 2008. This group is charged with determining the boundaries for State offices (Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization districts) in a way that doesn't involve the politicians.

The rules for participating in the Commission go a long way to excluding those who make their living in politics:

The clear intent: members of the Commission can't be professional politicians.

The Commission's mandate is to redraw the California district maps without respect to political party, candidate, or incumbent, but to draw geographically compact districts that preserve historic neighborhoods and communities of interest. Each district should have roughly the same population.

If this measure passes, the Commission would be responsible not just for the State offices (which is the case now), but for Congressional districts as well. It's no surprise that the professional politicians, and those who depend on their largess, are up in arms about this (as they were in November 2008 when Prop 11 passed).

I enthusiastically support this measure: the politicians have such an enormous and inherent conflict of interest that they cannot be trusted to do this honorably. Ten years is a long time to live with the results of their chicanery.

The lead arguments against this measure in the ballot pamphlet are downright silly: they focus on the cost of the Commission, a few million dollars a year.

Said by the opponents:

Yes, the Commission will certainly incur costs, but this is offset by the reduction in corresponding costs that the Legislature won't be incurring for redistricting. No matter who does the work, they'll need to hire staff and attorneys and buy software and all that, so it doesn't make that much difference which entity spends the money.

Now that I think about it, the Commission already has staff and attorneys and software and all that, so doing one more map has to cost less than the Legislature replicating all of this.

Said by Legislative Analyst:
Any net change in future redistricting costs under this measure probably would not be significant.

Characterizing the Commission as a "sprawling bureaucracy", as the opponents do, is just hyperbole, and it doesn't bode well for the cogency of their argument to waste their leadoff pitch with such stupid reasoning.

They also hyperventilate about the sole backer of this initiative, Charlie Munger, who is quasi-partner of legendary investor Warren Buffet. I don't know the backstory of why Charlie got involved in this, but to me it doesn't matter. The voters approved the substance of this measure in 2008, and this measure merely extends it to cover Congressional reapportionment. In this light, making it about one guy further demonstrates a poverty of argument.

But they do have a decent (in the sense that it's not silly) argument that the Commission is unaccountable: it's been structured to be as free from political influence as is possible (if it's possible at all), and that means very little accountability to the voters or to the Legislature.

But this arrangement is common where one wants to remove political influence, such as the Federal judiciary, so it's not like this has been invented out of whole cloth.

We want the Commission to be free from outside influences, guided only by the purpose of the law, and though we cannot be sure that the Commission will conduct their duties with honor and integrity, we're 100% certain that the Legislature is institutionally incapable of acting with honor and integrity when it runs directly counter to their immediate interests.

How much worse could it really be?

However, they're not free from oversight.

In the event of a substantial neglect of duty or gross misconduct in office, a Commission member can be removed with a 2/3 vote of the Legislature and the signature of the Governor. In addition, a finding of this kind of bad behavior can be referred to the Attorney General for investigation and possible prosecution.

This measure is competing with Prop 27, whose purpose is to throw away the entire Commission and give the job back in the Legislature, where (unsurprisingly) their leadoff argument is saving money. I'll talk more on this in Prop 27's section.

The clear sense one gets after reading both the original Prop 11 along with this measure is that it's really really seriously trying to get politics out of the process and provide a fair redistricting for the citizens of California.

My vote: An enthusiastic Yes

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs Down

California icon Prop 21: Fund State Parks & Wildlife programs with Vehicle License Fee surcharge

State Parks logo

This measure would attach an annual $18 surcharge to your car's Vehicle License Fee to fund state parks and wildlife programs, and the projected ~$500M/year would be far more than parks are being funded now. There is zero debate that the parks really need the money.

Anybody who'd paid the surcharge would receive free day-use to all state parks, though it would not cover things like campsite rentals, tours, and other activities, which would continue to be subject to additional fees.

My general feeling is that those who use the parks should be the ones to pay for the parks, though I don't wish to be hardcore about it. A year ago I started riding my bicycle around in Chino Hills State Park near where I live, and I really do appreciate having this available to me at no cost.

So I do support some level of general funding for resources we all benefit from.

But this is not the way to fund individual programs like this, by ballot measure, especially when the fee has such a tenuous relationship with the thing being funded.

No, this is the job of the Legislature to make the hard calls.

What's galling is that if this measure passes, the current funding of the parks would be withdrawn and put back into the Slush General Fund, and that some lawmakers seriously considered purposely defunding the parks just to make it more likely that the taxpayers would vote themselves a new car tax.

Sorry, but this is not the right way to do it.

My vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up

California icon Prop 22: Prohibits State from borrowing/taking funds from local agencies

State robbing from local agencies

This measure means to stop the State from raiding the piggy banks of local agencies and accounts, even during "emergencies", and it's best expressed by the language of the measure itself:

Said by Section 2.5 of the proposed law:
The purpose of this measure is to conclusively and completely prohibit state politicians in Sacramento from seizing, diverting, shifting, borrowing, transferring, suspending, or otherwise taking or interfering with revenues that are dedicated to funding services provided by local government or funds dedicated to transportation improvement projects and services.

I'll note that they left out "absconding" and "stealing".

Currently, the State can redirect fuel-tax revenues meant for one place and use it for another (though they may call it "borrowing"), and do the same with property tax revenues as well. Though the money has to be repaid within three years or so, this still deprives the local agency of the funds.

There have been various measures attempting to limit these raids in the past, but it should come as no surprise that the Legislature has found ways to game the system and do it anyway. This measure means to put a stop to it.

Though surely one can decry "But this is a crisis! The State needs the money!" but what about the local agency that suddenly finds its account drained by Sacramento? This is just passing the buck, and is redolent of getting mugged by a bully (or an older brother) to me.

I'd far prefer to have funds under local control rather than under State control, because I have a fighting chance at influencing the former, while none in the latter. If I object to something that the Yorba Linda City Council has done, it's not out of the question that I could do something about it. Launch a campaign, make persuasive arguments, engage like minds. This happens all the time in local politics (city council, mayor, school board, etc.), but it almost never happens in Sacramento.

Keeping the money under local control means we have a better chance to keep an eye on it.

Reading this measure shows what looks like a masterful piece of lawmaking, in the sense that it anticipates all kinds of potential shenanigans and cuts them off at the pass. An example that caught my eye:

Said proposed law (emphasis mine):
"Local agency" has the same meaning as specified in Section 95 of the Revenue and Taxation Code as that section read on November 3, 2004.

Without this proviso, the Legislature could change the definition of Section 95 of the Revenue and Taxation code to be anything they like, and then *poof* they are now allowed to do something they otherwise could not.

The opponents are the usual big-government crowd, mainly including the unions and others who benefit from the pork feeding trough that is Sacramento, who are the very folks who don't want local control and oversight.

Said by the opponents:
The California Professional Firefighters opposes Proposition 22 because it will leave us all in greater danger from fires, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters.

I call BS on this.

In my work I interact with a lot of firefighters, each of whom really does care about public safety, putting out fires, and helping citizens. This is their job, and I admire them tremendously for their hard work and bravery.

But the firefighter's union does not care about these things — they care about their members, and mainly that revolves around money, and even that seems to mainly revolve around pensions. I believe that pensions are handled at the State level, so it's no surprise that the union would hijack an issue like this. Ditto from the teachers and nurses unions.

Said by the opponents:
Your tax dollars should go first to public schools, public safety and healthcare. And go LAST to local bureaucrats, developers, and redevelopment agencies that support Proposition 22.

Sure, there are plenty of local bureaucrats, but they are girls softball compared to the Major League bureaucrats in Sacramento.

But: this argument against does raise an issue that makes me uncomfortable, that of the redevelopment agencies, something I admit to more ignorance about than I should have under the circumstances.

These are typically local agencies intended to "revitalize" neighborhoods: cleaning up a part of town, bringing in businesses (which is usually about generating sales tax revenue), and all that.

Redevelopment agencies take some portion of local property tax revenues for their work, and this measure would essentially make funds earmarked for them unavailable for "borrowing" even by local cities/counties. The beneficiaries are supposed to be the local areas as a whole (if I clean up my yard, my neighbor benefits too), but it's pretty clear to me that developers are a big part of this.

My spidey sense tells me that it's the developers and redevelopment agencies, not the local special districts, that were really behind this measure, and that concerns me a bit. Redevelopment agencies often have the power of eminent domain — they can take your house — and it's one of these that was behind the notorious Kelo Supreme Court case that upheld broad abuse of eminent domain.

Said by the opponents:
They skim off billions in local property taxes, with much of that money ending up in the hands of local developers. And they do so with no direct voter oversight.

And putting aside overt graft, isn't "ending up in the hands of local developers" the same as "creating local construction jobs"?

And regarding oversight: though there may well be no direct voter oversight of the redevelopment agency itself, they voters elect the city council and/or county commissioners who oversee these projects, and at the local level, this is the close enough to be enough.

I believe there should be no circumstance when the State should ever take/borrow/abscond with local development agency funds, but I'm not sure they should be protected from local reassignment. So in this sense, I'm not entirely happy with this measure.

The opponents of this measure have been making noise about the scandal in the City of Bell, where local officials were brazen and shameless in using the city coffers as their own personal slush fund: the City Manager made more than $1M/year in salary and benefits, including 20 weeks off a year. Wow! How do I get that job?

It's inevitable that this kind of over-the-top graft will happen with decentralized power, so this is all about a tradeoff rather than a solution. All in all, I'd rather run the risk of another Bell-type scandal (though this will be more difficult with the movement to transparency that's blossomed in this scandal's wake) than to leave it under control of Sacramento, where we have no real power to do anything about it.

So even with my reservations about the redevelopment agencies, I'm so much in favor of local control that I'm supporting this measure.

My vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs down

California icon Prop 23: Suspends AB32 (Global Warming Initiative) during high unemployment


In 2006, the Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 32 (AB32) that means to reduce the level of greenhouse gasses over the next 20 years, which are purported to contribute to global warming.

This would be largely implemented by the California Air Resources Board by rules and regulations, plus a cap-and-trade system that sets limits on overall emissions, but allows for "trading" one's permits to emit. AB32 has numerous encouragements to alternative energies.

This measure would suspend AB32 until California's unemployment rate drops to below 5.5% for four straight quarters. As something that's happened only three times since 1970, this measure clearly intends for this "temporary" suspension to be essentially permanent.

The supporters of this measure are making it all about jobs, jobs, and jobs: they claim that the regulations and restrictions will cause industries to flee California, taking jobs with them, and raising prices for everybody else.

Proponents argue that (a) we have to combat global warming, and (b) these "green" industries promoted by AB32 will create jobs all by themselves.

I support this measure, though not because of the jobs angle, but because I simply don't buy into this whole global warming nonsense, believing it to be yet another way to increase the size and scope of government.

Because the subject of climate change is so large — and people have mostly made up their minds — I'll mainly stick with the arguments for and against Prop 23 rather than dig into the deeper issue of climate change.

The first thing I'll note: the opponents are largely hijacking the term "air pollution" to mean something other than the common-man definition. Most of us think it refers to smog, haze, stuff your car spews, and things that make you cough, but greenhouse gasses are generally not any of these things.

The main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, which most of us exhale, but few of us would consider air pollution.

To be clear, I'm very much against pollution and am in favor of meaningful restrictions on it. Though many on the right are against environmental laws due to economic considerations, I'm for them as a matter of rights.

A polluter who forces me to accept his bad air/water in exchange for my good is violating my property rights, and the government has every business preventing this kind of coercion.

I think that it should cost more to pollute, and I've always thought that higher gas prices are the best thing that's ever happened to the environment. When you drive, the price to you does not fully reflect the costs you're imposing on everybody else due to the crap your car is spewing into the air. I'd be in favor of much higher gas taxes if I thought the government would responsibly use it to actually clean the air (but they wouldn't, so I'm OK to stick with Smog Checks).

If I believed in global warming, and therefore considered carbon dioxide to be real "pollution", I would support AB32 and oppose this measure. Anything that helps lay costs of pollution on the polluters themselves should not matter that it's expensive to pollute. Too bad.

But as I believe that global warming is largely mythical, AB32 is nothing but a power grab, and I'm happy to see it stopped in this way.

My vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs down

California icon Prop 24: Repeals corporate tax breaks

Rich Uncle Pennybags

This measure would repeal three provisions of California tax code that were adopted recently during budget negotiations, and though those for and against have been very vocal about them, nobody's talked about what these "tax breaks" are in particular. They are not hard to understand, and I think it matters.

1. Net Loss Carryback
No, do not let your eyes glaze over: you can follow this :-)
Everybody knows that when a company makes more money than it spends, they have a profit, and this is what their tax is based on. But if a company's expenses are greater than their revenues, they have a Net Operating Loss, and though no tax is due on a loss, the loss doesn't just go away.
Instead, a company can "carry forward" the loss to a following year and offset profits, essentially putting the loss in the bank for the future.
Example: If my business loses $10,000 this year, I can reduce next year's profit by the banked $10k and pay tax only on the remainder. This has been part of the tax code forever.
But Federal law recognizes a Net Loss Carryback: rather than require a company to carry a loss forward and wait to offset future profits, they can instead carry the loss backward by filing an amended return for a prior year, and essentially get a refund on prior taxes paid.
California law was recently changed to provide the same Net Operating Loss Carryback that the Feds have, but this measure would repeal it.
2. Sharing tax credits
Business and consumers have opportunities to take tax credits (which are direct reductions of tax, as opposed to deductions, which merely reduce taxable income) for engaging in activities the government deems useful.
My neighbor, for instance, got a wad of credits when he put solar electricity panels on his roof, and corporations often take credits for research and development activities.
These credits often have annual limits, and California law was recently changed to allow a business to share its unused credits with related business entities. The example in the ballot pamphlet is that one subsidiary of a company may develop a product, while another might sell it. Since credits are issued to a single entity only, the new law allows the one entity to share with another. These entities have to be related to each other in narrowly-defined ways defining a "unitary group".
Prop 24 would repeal the ability of members of unitary group from sharing tax credits.
3. Method of determining income for multistate businesses
When a business operates in multiple states, it's not always so easy to determine exactly how much of their corporate income is subject to California tax (as opposed to being taxed in other states).
California law has a formula that includes these three factors:
  • Property - The value of CA property compared to elsewhere
  • Payroll - The value of CA employee payroll compared to elsewhere
  • Sales - The value of CA sales compared to elsewhere
Until recently, businesses didn't get any say in the manner, they had to use the formula above, but a recent law allows them to choose the above formula or a new "single sales" formula, which only considers relative sales amounts. A business would get to choose the method, and obviously would pick one that minimized taxes due.
Prop 24 would repeal this method of determining income.

Of these, only item #3 will clearly reduce actual taxes paid, and the legislative analyst suggests it's around $650M the first year, and somewhat less thereafter. This seems like a lot to me, and it involves a real-deal tax cut for the businesses involved.

I don't have a good sense for the value or impact of the tax-credit-sharing scheme, and though my gut feel says it's modest, it still involves credits for activities the State wants to promote. Isn't it counterproductive to disincent these very activities? I don't get it.

But the first one, the net operating loss carryback, can apply to any business, including the one-man shop, and it's for the small business that timing matters, especially in a poor economy. Pardon me while I get riled up over this.

Let's make this real, and I mean with individuals:


It's February of 2011 and you're doing your taxes for 2010. Turns out that you overpaid via withholding to the tune of $2000, so you file for a refund, right?

No: the State says you have to carry forward your overpayment, applying it to the next year where you can offset whatever tax you owe then. "It's just timing".

Oh, but the IRS will give you a refund for Federal taxes overpaid.

None of this changes actual taxes owed in the long run, but would this "timing matter" matter to you? (Yes, I know it's not entirely analogous, but it's a faithful representation of the cash-flow/timing issues involved).

When most people think "tax breaks", they think "Chevron" or "Bank of America", but I think about my favorite local restaurants, the great auto shop that fixes my car, and the fantastic bike shop that keeps my bicycle rolling.

If somebody tells me that the net loss carryback doesn't apply to small business, they damn well better have some solid evidence, because as a self-employed consultant (aka "small business owner") for 25 years I don't believe it.

In the end, I come from the small-government school, and I'd really rather that us citizens — corporate or human — keep more of the product of our labor, and the Legislature should just learn to live within its means.

California has a terrible tax climate for business, and anything we can do to encourage these engines of commerce to keep benefiting their employees, customers, and the rest of us, I'm OK with that.

Even if it's Chevron or Bank of America.

My vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs down

California icon Prop 25: Requires only 50% majority to pass budget

Two thirds supermajority reduced to 50%

In the California legislature, it only takes 50% plus one vote to pass most laws, but there are at least two exceptions:

These exceptions require a 2/3 vote, and since the State budget does both of those things (spends money, at least, and can't wait until next year), it clearly requires this supermajority.

And it's this supermajority requirement that's at the heart of the recurring budget troubles we've had over the past few decades: the State almost never meets the Constitutionally-provided deadline of June 15, and though running a few days late doesn't really matter, when things stretch into August, September, or even October (as we have this year) it pretty much cripples the state. Furloughs, closing state offices on Friday, and some people and businesses don't get paid.

I fully confess that none of the late-budget problems impact me in any way, so in this respect I'm nothing more than an outside observer. I do understand that many parties who are not involved in the political process are impacted very badly when things drag out.

The 2/3 vote requirement cannot be met by the majority party acting alone, so they must get supporters in the other party, and this has proven to be quite a challenge.

There's simply no way to pass a budget without very extensive compromise, and I suspect that some of the horse-trading that goes on to get to the magic 2/3 is not in the taxpayer's interest.

Current law does not pay salaries to the Governor or the Legislature if the budget is not passed by July 1, but they are accrued as back pay, which they receive when the budget becomes law.

Prop 25 would reduce the requirement to a simple majority to pass a budget, as well as impose "real" financial penalties on the legislature for being late. They would forfeit their salaries and per-diem expenses until the budget was passed, and they would not be eligible for reimbursement.

I oppose this measure because I can already see where it's going.

Withholding of pay

The big PR carrot in this measure is "holding legislators accountable" by forfeiting their pay, but in practice this is moot. Since the majority party can simply do whatever it wants, it will pass the budget on time with or without bipartisan support. Why negotiate when you can steamroll?

But just for the sake of argument, even if this did come to pass, the lower threshold for spending money means they can just vote to increase their expense accounts in general, without specifically paying themselves retroactively. Does anybody really believe that politicians won't find a way to make themselves whole?

Finally, I don't see how this withholding of pay can even be legal due to the Federal minimum wage. It would not surprise me if down the road this provision of Prop 25 were thrown out on this grounds, which would give the legislature pretty much everything it wanted with no penalty.

Making it easier to raise taxes

The proponents claim that Prop 25 does not change the threshold for raising taxes, and that the measure explicitly states this, but I don't believe it for one minute.

Said by proposed law: (pg 113)
Sec 3. Purpose and Intent ...

2. This measure will not change Proposition 13's property tax limitations in any way. This measure will not change the two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes.

That seems pretty clear, right? It's not: this text is part of the preamble, with the Findings and Declarations in Section 2 does not modify the Constitution.

Only when you get to section 4 do we see the magic words:

Said by proposed law (pg 113)
Section 12 of Article IV of the California Constitution is amended to read:...

Anything not actually amending the Constitution is little more than marketing fluff. The actual changes to the Constitution do not say anything about the 2/3 requirement to raise taxes one way or another.

But the budget bill is not the only thing that has to be passed: there are also "trailer bills" that are related to, but separate from, the budget that also will have only a 50% majority requirement. This will be a gold mine for legislative shenanigans.

These trailer bills are supposed to be limited to those matters that are "related to the budget", but guess who gets to determine what's related and what's not? The answer: the Legislature. They can deem anything to be related to anything else if they want.

The trailer bills will also be where increased taxes will be smuggled in: the Legislature is very good at calling a tax something else (a "fee", mainly), and these will all be passed with a 50% majority.

Proposition 26 specifically addresses taxes-as-fees, so I won't say much more about them here. But I think it's naive to believe that the Legislature won't find a way to increase revenue with this lowered requirement, as well as use it to give themselves pay raises and the like. "It's all related to the budget".

Reducing our power of referendum

This measure would also effectively remove the right of Californians to take action against bad laws by the use of referendum, and it's done in such a clever and subtle way that I could have read this proposition 1000 times and still not noticed it.

Though Californians can petition for repeal of a bad law by referendum, the Constition has four exceptions that are immune from it:

Currently, the first three of these require a 2/3 supermajority, so it doesn't seem so bad to give laws with this much support a higher sense of finality. But if Prop 25 passes, tax-and-spend legislation will require only a 50% majority but will still be urgency statutes. This means they can't be touched by referendum. Wow.

A far better writeup is here, and I don't doubt for one minute that this was purposely smuggled into this measure.


When it comes down to it, passage of this measure means it will surely be easier to spend money, probably easier to raise taxes, and certainly easier to abuse the budget process to pass legislation that's insulated from the voters.

All plenty good reasons for me to vote no.

My vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs down

California icon Prop 26: Requires certain fees be approved by 2/3 vote

This measure would make it more difficult for state and local government to assess fees of various kinds, some of which are really taxes in disguise, by requiring a 2/3 supermajority for passage at both the State and Local level.

There is a wide range of ways that government gets money from our pocket into theirs. At one end are things like taxes (payroll, corporate, sales), which are assessed on everybody to fund broad functions of government. You pay these fees whether you receive particular services or not.

On the other end are user fees, which are charged only to those who use specific government services, and which represent the cost to the government to provide that service. Examples include the fee to enter a state park, to get a copy of your birth certificate, or to get a vanity license plate. Users who don't use the service(s) don't pay the fees.

And in the middle are things like regulatory fees, which are charged to all participants in an industry for use in regulating that industry, and which have some aspects of taxes: they aren't payments for specific services rendered, they're not voluntary, and they serve broader public policy goals.

The example cited in the ballot narrative is a regulatory fee on businesses that make products containing lead (or have made those products in the past). This fee funds programs to protect children from the effects of lead, as well as for cleanups of lead contamination.

The disagreement is that since this fee is used for a broad public purpose (which makes it smell like a tax), and since the enterprise being charged the fee is not receiving a particular benefit (which makes it NOT smell like a user fee), that it's really a tax after all.

Other examples are health-department fees that cover inspections of restaurants (a passing grade which allows them to operate), or fees that fund broad-based environmental response teams.

The regulatory fees noted above are all legitimate in the sense that they have stated public-policy goals, and they use the fees to serve those purposes, but not all fees are like this. There have been cases of outrageous increases in taxes, but they simply call them "fees" to avoid triggering the 2/3 vote requirement.

Said by CalTax:
For example, earlier this year a state lawmaker proposed a massive tax hike on alcohol (a 1060 percent increase on beer, 2560 percent increase on wine, and 516 percent increase on hard liquor), and called it a "mitigation fee" in an attempt to pass it on a bare majority vote rather than a two-thirds vote. There have also been numerous attempts to increase local taxes on vehicles by disguising them as "fees".

This measure would classify many of these fees as taxes unless they were solely and clearly in the user-fee category. A true user fee would:

Everything else would be deemed a "tax", and subject to a 2/3 majority for passage.

I support this measure, but it's been the most difficult to get my arms around, and has by far the most principled opposition.

The opponents are making big noise about the environmental abuse that will go on if this passes, calling it the "Pollution Protection Act", claiming that polluters won't be responsible for the environmental damage they cause.

Said by opponents:
Here are some of the other fees they don't want to pay—listed in their own documents:

Here they use clever words to spin this a bit: there are no "fees on polluters", nor should there be. Instead, we should have:

Nothing in this measure has any impact on actual fines or penalties, and the language is very specific:

Said by the proposed law, pg 115:

As used in this section, "tax" means any levy, charge or exaction of any kind imposed by the State, except the following:

... A fine, penalty, or other monetary charge imposed by the judicial branch of government or the State, as a result of a violation of law.

These regulatory fees are more like the hazwaste fee you pay to your auto mechanic to provide for safe disposal of the various oils and fluids used in fixing your car: everybody pays, and this funds the infrastructure that takes care of it.

We also pay a recycling fee when we buy electronic equipment, and this funds the e-waste recycling programs that hopefully encourage you to dispose of that old TV properly rather than dump it in the trash.

The impression I get reading the pro- and con- of this argument is that though polluters can be levied fines, there isn't a program of simply making them pay for the full costs of cleanup (in addition to the fines).

I do understand that the State may have to clean stuff up if the real culprit cannot be located (which is probably common), and this is a fair use of regulatory fees/taxes.

But it's unfair to all the good people to let the bad guys off paying anything less than the full cost of cleanups, and you don't have to have a debate of tax versus fee to do so.

It's really easy to focus on the environmental stuff, because this is politically popular and a legitimate use of government regulation. There are abuses, but because they don't hit the ordinary consumer much, we're mostly unaware of them.

But no matter what the goals of any regulatory fee are, the sounds-like-a-duck test say they are actually taxes. They're imposed for broad public-policy purposes and they are not for specific services or benefits rendered to the payor.

Prop 26 doesn't rescind existing fees passed prior to 2010, so this won't gut existing regimes of regulation (even if they're the abusive kind), it just means that new ones will be subject to a 2/3 majority.

This is a certainly higher bar to meet, but it should not be easy to tax. Policies that are truly for the public good will garner the necessary support.

But it is clear to me that Prop 26 is hardcore, and I'm not entirely comfortable with it's breathtaking comprehensiveness even though I completely support the idea in principle.

In addition, since this reclassifies fees as taxes, lawmakers who have taken a "new new taxes" pledge will find themselves in a serious bind: it's one thing to refuse to raise sales or income taxes, but another to essentialy refuse to regulate any new industries. I'm not sure how they'll deal with this.

This measure was the hardest one for me to analyze because there was so much to consider - and so many good points by the opposition - but in the end I decided that I'd cast my vote in favor of treating taxes like taxes.

My vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs down

California icon Prop 27: Eliminates redistricting commission

This measure would eliminate the Citizens Redistricting Commission for all duties, bringing the job back into the Legislature, and is running directly against Prop 20. And when the Legislature performs this every-10-years redistricting, they'll be required to make every district the exact same size, plus or minus one voter.

This is the most shameless, embarrassing initiative I've ever seen in 20 years of analyzing ballot propositions: I don't know how the proponents do it with a straight face. It's such a bad job that even the unions didn't put their names on the ballot arguments, though they do on the pro-27 website.

Their main argument is again about money, but they really put their shoulder into it this time, making a huge fuss, thinking nobody will notice that the amounts are entirely inconsequential.

They even quote the legislative analyst in saying that "LIKELY DECREASE IN STATE REDISTRICTING COSTS TOTALING SEVERAL MILLION DOLLARS EVERY TEN YEARS". I'm not saying that it's bad to save money, but redistricting is a HUGE big hairy deal, and by contrast the dollar amounts here are just totally irrelevant.

Remember: you have to assume that people lead with their best arguments, and when those crumple like wet cardboard, it gives a pretty good preview of coming attractions with the junior varsity arguments that follow. What fools to think anybody will actually believe this.

The notion of taking this out of the hands of unelected commissioners is at least superficially reasonable, though it conveniently neglects to note that the Legislature has an inherent conflict of interest on this matter.

But one doesn't get to the really good stuff until one reads the actual text of the law, found in the back of the ballot pamphlet. The preamble is written like a bad high-school civics paper (and their website doesn't exactly exude "professional media presence" either).

One of their arguments has been the inequality of districts, where some can have more people than others, reducing the impact individual voters in those larger districts. The current law says that districts shall be "reasonably equal", and this is a fair goal.

Districts with smaller populations have more impact per person than districts with more, but their solution is eye-poppingly stupid:

Said by the text of the law:
The population of all districts shall be precisely equal with other districts for the same office. If precise population equality is mathematically impossible, a population variation of no more than plus or minus one person shall be allowed.

I had to read this a few times to make sure I had it right: the notion of getting districts the exact same size is impossible to achieve for more than about five minutes because people move around, and it means you have to pick and choose based on individual households. This is just nuts.

The preamble further rails against Sacramento politicians being shoo-ins due to millions of lobbying dollars at stake—really!— and the creation of "Jim Crow" districts.

Returning to the website, we find this gem on the No20/Yes27 site:

Said by their website on the Endorsements page:
The California Nurses Association

Proposition 20 is a billionaire's cynical attempt to remove the staunchest supporters of nurses and quality health care in Congress. Proposition 27 will save taxpayer dollars better spent on essential services. No on 20 & Yes on 27."

Aha, there it is: it's really about who actually gets elected, and oh by the way it will save some money. Good to have the nurses looking out for us taxpayers!

Their arguments are all over the map, disjoint, disingenuous and cynical, and I can't believe I spent as much time writing about this nonsense as I have.

My vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs down

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

Last updated: Fri Oct 29 08:14:40 PDT 2010