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Primary Election, Tuesday, 3 June 2014

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 41 Pass 65.4% No Veterans Housing Bonds
California icon Prop 42 Pass 61.5% Yes Public Records/Open Meetings

California icon Prop 41: Veterans Housing Bonds

This measure would authorize selling $600M of general-obligation bonds to fund affordable housing for veterans, with special emphasis on those in danger of becoming homeless. It appears to redirect funds authorized by other measures (Prop 12, Farm & Home Loan Program from 2008, and Prop 32, Veteran's Bond Act of 2000) for this purpose.

The Veteran's Bond Act of 2000, which is mainly a Revenue Bond, loans money to Vets and uses the loan payments to retire the bonds. Revenue bonds are also used for things like toll roads, where the ongoing tolls pay back the bonds.

The taxpayer may ultimately be on the hook for revenue bonds, but so far these been entirely self-sustaining by repayments from borrowers without recourse to the taxpayer (presumely in part due to good management by the State).

This measure would essentially replace revenue bonds with General Obligation Bonds, which are 100% backed by the taxpayer and with no revenue component. This is not investing in a project where the users of the project pay for the project (as in revenue bonds), but is outright borrowing money.

I have always opposed new bond measures: with California having around $75B in outstanding bond debt, should we really be borrowing more money? I think not, and make this argument every time.

But this measure has a few fiscal subtlties in additional to the usual ones in favor, and I'll mention them here:

"Does not raise taxes"
This argument is made supporting every bond measure, usually in BIG BOLD LETTERS, though in this measure it's only in italics.
It's true in a narrow technical sense, but it takes a special kind of disingenuity to suggest that borrowing money doesn't cost you money.
"Does not increase bond debt"
This is blatantely false: If approved, the state will sell new bonds, and this is borrowing money aka increasing bond debt. There cannot be any disagreeing with this.
Instead, this measure doesn't increase the authorized bond debt (how much the State is allowed to sell), because the authorization for the Veterans Bonds have been reduced by an equivalent amount.
Putting this in more familiar terms: this is increasing the limit on one credit card by reducing the limit on another card - keeping the overall borrowing limit the same - but if you spend $1000 on either card, you're still borrowing money.
I'm not sure there's any way to describe this claim other than "shameless".
"The voters already approved this"
No: the voters approved Revenue bonds for a specific project with the promise that it would be self-sustaining (and it appears they have been). This is a bait-and-switch that turns them into taxpayer-funded general obligation bonds.
I'd surely love to turn the revenue bonds that funded the toll roads near my house - which I take all the time - into general obligations bonds. This would reduce my tolls and make everybody else in California pay for my special lanes: woot! Sorry Fresno and San Jose.

These have been fiscal objections, which don't touch on the merits of the beneficiary of the projects: veterans.

Sometimes it's easy to dismiss the merits of the project, but it's much harder to this time. One can make the case that care for veterans is the responsibility of the Federal government, that these funds would be better served providing mental health counselling to vets in crisis, or even that we shouldn't be sticking our nose all over the globe, which puts the vets in crisis in the first place.

I believe all those things, but they seem unlikely to persuade, and turning a California ballot analysis into a screed about foreign policy sounds like a really poor idea.

That there's no organized opposition to this means it's almost certain to pass, probably by a wide margin.

My vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up
Thumbs down (none found)

California icon Prop 42: Public records / Open meetings

This measure insists that local governments and agencies are honor their requirements official meetings and records open, but the State is no longer required to reimburse these entities for related costs.

In this analysis, I use "local agency" to mean mean either a local government (city, county) or a actual agency (a water district, school district, etc.).

California has laws providing for transparency of government:

Generally, the State reimburses these local agencies for costs of complying, but these reimbursements can be suspended in a fiscal emergency. This suspension has happened in the past, and some local agencies have used the non-reimbursement to suspend their own compliance.

It's not clear to me if this non-compliance is merely financial on the part of the local agencies, or an outright attempt to push government decision-making into a smoke-filled back room, but I could believe either one.

This measure would remove that loophole by simultaneously ending reimbursement but maintaining the compliance rules: local agencies would have to comply, and they'll have to pay for it.

This is a clear unfunded mandate, but I'm entirely OK with it. Transparency of government is so important that there can't be any loopholes, and by pushing it unilaterally onto the local agencies, there's simply no way around it.

In the short term this is certainly going to be painful for local agencies, who now have to foot the bill for access, but this is (ahem) a cost of doing business, and it will drive several innovations.

My work as a computer consultant engages me with a number of "local agencies", and I've observed quite a difference in spending behavior when it's the agency's own money versus money from a grant; this cannot be a surprise to anybody.

Now that these local agencies are spending their own money, I expect to see a new thriftiness and innovations to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Posting more things online, contracting with service providers who specialize in this, etc. will all drive access up and costs down.

But it may also reduce the scope of government: if an agency wants to do a thing, but has to consider its own costs of open-government compliance, they may scale back some programs. I might be dreaming here.

In practice it probably just means more fees, but since these are imposed on a local area, there's a lot more room for pushback from the taxpayers (I have a lot more voice with my local school board or city council than I do with Sacramento). Local government is better government.

My reading of the history of this is that last summer, there was an attempt in Sacramento to make compliance optional because of the costs to the State (some local governments were apparently "gouging" the State for costs), but after an uproar this measure emerged instead.

I don't find any organized opposition, but a valid objection has been that since the State's not paying for any of this, they can noodle around with the Brown Act and CPRB after the fact. This does concern me some.

But in my book, this is a clear win.

My vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs up CA Newspaper Publishers Assn
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Last updated: Wed May 28 10:52:12 PDT 2014