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General Election, Tuesday, 6 November 2018

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:

Important Note: if you are tempted to say "The hell with it" and just vote "no" on all of them, please do not. An uninformed vote, even a no, may have an unintended consequence that you don't want.

Either educate yourself on the measure, or leave that spot blank. Really. This matters.

Summary of positions

Click each link for the rationale for each position.

Proposition Source My Position Description / Title
California icon Prop 1 Legislature No Bonds ($4B) for Affordable / Veterans housing
California icon Prop 2 Legislature Yes Funding for Mental Health Housing
California icon Prop 3 Initiative No Bonds ($9B) for Water Projects
California icon Prop 4 Initiative No Bonds ($1.5B) for Children's Hospitals
California icon Prop 5 Initiative No Changes to tax treatment for property transfers
California icon Prop 6 Initiative Yes Repeals the Gas Tax Increase
California icon Prop 7 Legislature No Daylight Savings Time
California icon Prop 8 Initiative No Regulates Outpatient Dialysis Centers
California icon Prop 10 Initiative No Rent Control
California icon Prop 11 Initiative Yes On-call pay for EMTs
California icon Prop 12 Initiative No Standards for farm-animal confinement

California icon Prop 1: Bonds for Affordable / Veterans housing

This measure authorizes $4B in general obligation bonds to be repaid over the next 35 years to support low-income housing, plus re-authorize the CalVet program for $1B.

CalVet is a program providing low-interest loans to veterans, and it's been self-funding for decades: it just has to be reauthorized every once in a while. I believe it's entirely uncontroversial.

The rest of the projects seem reasonable enough on their face: they are the long-term benefit types, appear to be what it claims to be, and I don't see too much hidden agenda. Major backers are construction/contractor groups who will benefit from new construction, which is common in these measures.

I saw no meaningful opposition, so I expect this measure to pass.

Still, I'm voting no just because this is yet more bond debt, adding to the existing $83B that's outstanding now.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up VetsAndAffordableHousingAct.org
Thumbs down (no website provided)

California icon Prop 2: Bonds (sort of) for Mental Health Housing

This measure is a little complicated, and I hope I understand it properly: Prop 2 takes proceeds of the 1% tax on incomes over a million dollars passed by the voters in 2004 by Prop 63, which is used to pay for ongoing county mental health services, and turns part of them into bonds for long-term housing for mentally ill people at risk of homelessness. Whew.

The proceeds of the 1% tax is highly subject to the whims of the economy: boom one year, bust the next, and this makes it hard for counties to plan for how to deliver services.

By taking the proceeds from the tax that's already in play and using parts to fund bonds, it can help smooth out the revenue stream and allow for long-term project planning.

Apparently, there's enough of a boom that some counties have not been able to spend all the money (which is something I've never even heard of), and since Prop 63 had a use-it-or-lose-it provision, this measure allows them to use it.

A claim by the opposition: this turns money for treatment for the mentally ill into money for housing for the mentally ill. I'm not sure that I can point to one as being obviously more important than the other, so this opposition may reflect the interests of a particular group.

We all bear the cost of those who are not blessed with the same clear minds we have, whether it's in homelessness, or due to the crazy mass shootings by people who were obviously unwell. We cannot make this problem go away by wishing it away.

My Vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs up CAyesonprop2.org
Thumbs down NAMI Contra Costa

California icon Prop 3: Bonds ($9B) for Water Projects

This measure would authorize just shy of $9B for various statewide water projects, and it's quite a variety.

Some projects appear as they are squarely serving long-term water interests, such as repairing infrastructure (including the Oroville dam that nearly catastrophically failed during recent rains), increasing recharge facilities that allow groundwater to soak down into aquifers, repair of canals, and things of that nature.

Others are a bit less on point: initiatives subsidizing the cost of low-flow toilets and replace lawn grass with other things, as well as fish/wildlife habitat improvements. These don't sound like long-term investments to me.

And then there are provisions that require funding for "disadvantaged communities", with little specifics, and this has "slush fund" written all over it. At this point one has to be very suspicious.

The more issues a measure covers, the less it's likely to be about what it claims to be about, and Pete covers this really well. This thing is a pork-fest, and I don't mean in the bacon way.

California has very little rainfall, yet bazillions of gallons of water flow from the mountains to the sea every year because we haven't figured out how to capture it. Building some dams (and improving the ones we have) seem like far better long-term project than protecting the habitat of some little fish.

We've had quite a few water bonds in the last two decades, I think something like $38B, yet so many appear to be these same pork fests.

Let's have a bond to build a coupla dams: spread them out so all parts of the state bet the benefit, avoid all the side environmental distractions, and I'll be for it.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up Yes on Prop 3
Thumbs down No on Prop 3

California icon Prop 4: Bonds ($1.5B) for Children's Hospitals

This measure would authorize $1.5B in bonds, to be repaid over 35 years, and used to support Children's Hospitals. I'm sure this is going to pass, so won't spend too much time on it.

The money looks like it's going to reasonable purposes, the measure appears to be what it says it's about, and the backers are mainly the hospitals themselves.

What makes me uneasy is that Prop 4 is basically a fundraising exercise for charity: rather than hold a big charity auction, they put a measure on the ballot. Is this how it ought to be done? What happens when the Next Good Cause eyes the ballot box for its next fundraiser.

It was pointed out that these hospitals end up eating a huge amount of money in terms of non-reimbursed care, and I totally get why this is a big thing. But this should be an ongoing expense from the state out of the general fund rather than making a bond issue out of it.

The whole thing just doesn't sit right with me even though it's helping The Children. You can probably happily vote yes on this, but I'm voting no.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up Yes 4 Children's Hospitals
Thumbs down (no website provided)

California icon Prop 5: Changes to tax treatment for property transfers

This measure relaxes the requirements for some kinds of homeowners (55+ or disabled) to essentially take their property tax base with them if they move to a new home.

For the purpose of property taxes, there are two "values" of your home. One is the market value (what you could sell it for), and the assessed value, which is what property tax is based on.

Both are equal when you buy, and though the market value fluctuates with the market (of course), the assessed value goes up a fixed 2% per year. I believe this comes from Proposition 13.

The market value of a house generally rises more than the assessed value, especially over the long term, so you get the benefit of the difference as long as you own the home. But if you buy a new home, the assessed base is what you pay for the new one, and may well be a hefty increase in property tax.

Wanting to hang onto a low assessed value is a reason to stay in your house longer than you otherwise would want, and some might call it being "trapped" in your home.

Example:

Let's say you bought your home 30 years ago for $110,000: the assessed value now is $200k (original price + 2%/year for 30 years), which is what you pay property tax on.

But we all know that any home purchased 30 years ago is going to be worth far more than the $200k assessed value, so the new home you purchase, even if it's smaller, is going to have a far higher purchase price (aka assessed value).

This means that even if you downsize, your property taxes are going way up.

Under current law, folks who are 55+ or disabled can move to a smaller home while taking their assessed based with them. For owners who stayed in the original home for a long time, it may be that the new home's sale price is far higher than the old home's assessed value, and being able to take the old base with them avoids a huge property tax sticker shock.

This measure would remove several restrictions: the new home could be larger, the new home could be anywhere in the state (current law restricts to same county), and the transfer could be used as many times as you like (current law says once only).

Proponents make this all about supporting seniors and disabled, referring to those who are "trapped" in their homes, as well as waving the flag of Proposition 13. Passage would probably lead to more people moving (and buying homes).

Opponents are mainly those railing against the backers of this measure, as well as the reduced property tax revenue that will ensue.

The current law addresses a legitimate circumstance: folks 55 and over who are downsizing because their children have left the home. This is so common as to be (I believe) mostly uncontroversial. You only really need to do this once, and the same-county requirement is a practical consideration to simplify government recordkeeping.

The new law doesn't appear to address any obvious concern other than wanting to pay less taxes, so you gotta ask: who's behind this?

Answer: the California Association of Realtors, who put more than $13M into this measure, and that explains everything. They could not care less about seniors and the disabled, and could not care more than about real estate commissions.

Hey, I'm all for lower taxes, but this is just a cynical gaming of the initiative system for a private commercial interest. Hell no.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up Yes on 5 Committee
Thumbs down No on Prop 5

California icon Prop 6: Repeals the Gas Tax Increase

This measure repeals the recent gas tax increase and requires voter approval for them in the future.

IMPORTANT: this a yes-means-no measure, where a "yes" vote means "no" to the tax.

In 2017, legislature passed SB1, which raised the base excise tax on gasoline from 18 cents a gallon to 30 cents a gallon, added a special fee on electric cars to compensate for not getting any gas-tax revenue (around $100/year per car), and included automatic indexing of tax rates for inflation.

This discussion simplifies things by omitting other gas-related taxes, as well as the the different rates for diesel. And of course Federal gas taxes aren't impacted by State law.

If passed, this measure would no longer collect around $5B per year, funds that had been allocated to transportation. It would be only a modest reduction of the overall transportation budget of $35B per year.

I've long believed that gas taxes are the fairest and most efficient way of getting those who use the roads to pay for the roads. Somebody has to pay, right? This is my starting point.

Proponents of this measure claim that the increase was unnecessary because the State has a large surplus that could have gone to transportation purposes, but the legislature chose to spend it on other things.

There is also widespread concern about the State raiding the transportation fund for non-transportation projects, something that was addressed by Prop 69 that was passed in the June election, but I don't think anything can ever fully stop budget shenanigans like this.

They further make the fair point that gas taxes are regressive, hitting the poor relatively harder than everybody else.

But mainly their arguments are populist, appealing to emotion, with the best embodiment by those loudmouths John and Ken (talkshow hosts on KFI in Los Angeles).

We've had more than our fair share of loudmouthed populist arguments lately, I'll suggest.

Opponents are positively hysterical, calling this an attack on bridge and road safety, as if the proponents hate bridges. Really?

They claim that it will stop projects already underway, which does not have to be true—the legislature can always use parts of the surplus for these purposes.

Opponents are mainly those involved in road construction (contractors, civil engineering firms, etc.), which means they're speaking from their own interest, not out of a concern for principle.

I'm voting yes on this, though I've waffled back and forth several times. Mainly I hate being on the same side as populist loudmouths, but in the end the tipping point for me was thinking about the ridiculous bullet train to nowhere (also nominally about transportation).

This train, which is now projected to cost $73 BILLION DOLLARS, will never, ever do what was claimed when the bonds were authorized, and that $73B could surely go to a lot of road improvements.

My Vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs up Give Voters a Voice-Yes on 6
Thumbs down No on Prop 6

California icon Prop 7: Daylight Savings Time

This measure is confusing: it does not change how California implements Daylight Savings Time, but would allow the legislature to do so by repealing a 1949 law that set up DST in the first place.

I'm not entirely sure what's behind this.

US Federal Law defines all the timezones—we're in the Pacific Time Zone—as well as Daylight Savings Time (which other countries refer to as "summer time") running from March to November. As I write this, we moved our clocks back one hour last night (yay!).

Curiously, Federal law permits a state to opt out of Daylight Savings Time, staying in Standard Time year round (Hawaii and Arizona do this) but does not allow a state opt in permanently to Daylight Savings Time all year.

I don't know why this is even a thing, but apparently, there's some movement for California to adopt permanent Daylight Savings Time, and Prop 7 sets the groundwork for it by allowing the legislature to act. Adopting permanent DST requires approval from Congress, and there's actually movement to do this. I don't get it.

The general idea of Daylight Savings is to harmonize the clock with nature, and there are arguments for and against it, mostly revolving around purported economic benefits that have never materialized (and it hurts my head every time I read about them). They also argue about children walking to school in the dark.

All of this just sounds like shenanigans: in the best case it's well-meaning people imagining economic benefits, and in the worst case there's some hidden agenda I haven't figured out yet.

I'm open to being convinced, but I need a reason better than not having to reset the clock on my microwave twice a year.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up Yes on Proposition 7
Thumbs down (no website provided)

California icon Prop 8: Regulates Outpatient Dialysis Centers

This measure would impose very substantial regulations on Chronic Dialysis Clinics, which provide services for patients with kidney problems. During dialysis, patients are hooked up to a machine that essentially filters their blood (doing the job of the kidneys), and this procedure is typically done several times per week.

There are a few large operators of dialysis clinics in California, with the top two (DaVita and Fresenias) making up 72% of the market, and their dominance limits the ability of payors (Medical, private insurers, etc.) to bargain effectively. There are claims of widespread overcharging, something that cannot be a surprise to anyone.

This measure would essentially impose price controls: there's a lot of language about approved costs and rebates if profits are above a certain amount, along with a whole raft of reporting and auditing requirements. Quality improvements were a big part of this. The details are mind numbing and you can look elsewhere if you care (you won't).

This comes down to how much regulation you're in favor of, and though I'm generally not excited about overarching regulation like this, I wanted to dig in more.

The first thing I looked into: who's behind this?

The opponents, of course, are the dialysis clinics who have spent more than $100M (!!) to oppose it, a record amount. This shows how much money is in it for them. This ought to give anybody pause.

The backers are not those who are paying the bills (such as the insurance carriers), but the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU covers healthcare workers, and there's been some talk of them trying to unionize dialysis clinics.

The SEUI talks quite a bit about quality issues, such as cockroaches and unsanitary conditions, and the first thing I thought when I read this was "why not just increase inspections?" If this were some kind of tax on clinics to pay for more inspections, I'd probably be OK with it.

While researching this, I was surprised to find that even the Los Angeles Times opposes this measure, saying it's about punishing non-unionized clinics. That's a strong condemnation.

Again, as we see too often, just because a proposition says it's about a thing doesn't mean it's really about that thing, and this is one of them.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up Yes On 8
Thumbs down No on Proposition 8

California icon Prop 10: Rent Control

This measure would repeal California's extensive limitations on rent control. Prop 10 does not directly enact rent control itself, but it allows cities and other jurisdictions to do so, something that would happen in short order if this measure is passed.

A number of cities in California have rent control now, but there are limitations: it does not apply to single-family homes or to any housing built after Feb 1 1995, and a rent-control board cannot set the rate for a new renter moving into a place. All of that would be removed.

There's little argument that rents are high in California, especially in the nice areas on the coast, and there are more people who want to live here than there are places to live, so competition drives up the rents. That's how a market works.

A plus for this measure is that it's written very simply: the full text of the law is less than one page, which is remarkably efficient. This means it's straightforward to analyze it for hidden agenda or landmines: Prop 10 means what it says it means.

Supporters of this measure are who you'd expect: folks who are tired of getting squeezed with rents that are high to start with, and going up every year.

Opponents are also no surprise: mainly landlords.

As a libertarian, there's no way I can ever support rent control, preferring to allow the market to work, even though I'm a lifelong renter.

I fully understand that this is a completely un-persuasive argument to all supporters of rent control. They will say the market isn't working, but they're confusing the proper functioning of a market with being able to pay what they want to pay.

In addition to the principled argument against it, the pragmatic argument is that it's going to make much of the housing problem worse. Maintenance gets reduced, landlords will remove units from the rental market by converting to condos, and less housing will be built in rent-controlled areas.

This will probably be a good deal for folks who have their rent capped, but over time it's going to be harder to find a place to rent.

In any case, this measure is one of the rare propositions that means what it says, everybody pretty much knows what it's about, and almost everybody has a strong opinion about it on first reading: not much I'm going to be able to add.

My Vote: No

More info:
Thumbs up Yes on Prop 10
Thumbs down No on Prop 10

California icon Prop 11: On-call pay for EMTs

This measure would make it legal for ambulance crews to be paid for remaining on call during breaks. This works around some points in labor law, and I support this measure.

I found it curious that there's no organized opposition to this and that the pro commercials are all paid for by the ambulance industry. This is suspicious, but it turns out there's a good reason for it.

California labor law requires all employees receive a 30 minute unpaid lunch break, plus a few paid 10-minute rest breaks, all at prescribed times that mostly make logical sense.

Many employers have gotten into trouble for violations of these rules - there seems to be a whole industry around suing employers because employees didn't get their breaks at exactly the right times.

But an additional legal point is that employees must be off duty during these breaks, and for the ambulance industry this is kind of a big deal. To properly honor the law, a crew on a break cannot be dispatched to an emergency even if they are the closest unit, requiring coverage from a unit farther away.

It seems that most ambulance services instead simply paid crews for being on call (including during "unpaid" lunch) even while on break, but several cases working their way through the court system likely mean this practice cannot continue, possibly with substantial financial repurcussions for the employers.

So: this measure is not about paying crews for being on call—they already are—it's removing the customary labor-law requirements for timing of rest and meal breaks.

Crews still have mandated breaks, but they're much more flexible.

To greatly oversimplify, a crew only gets credit for having taken a break if they get the full time period for that break. If they're at lunch but get a call before the break is over, they take the call but that partial break didn't count, so they can try again for a full meal break after the next call is over.

At some point the crew may need to truly put itself out of service if they keep getting interrupted, but this makes it much easier schedule-wise to allow all these crews to work around their breaks.

The measure provides for other things, such as mental health services and additional emergency services training, but these seem here just to make it more appealing to the public.

I did see a good argument against this measure: one provision made the rules retroactive, which I noticed on first reading but didn't get the import of, which would have gotten some of the ambulance companies off the hook for past violations of labor law. This does look cynical and can be seen as an abuse of the initiative process, but in my mind this is a small enough factor that I'm still OK with it.

My Vote: Yes

More info:
Thumbs up Yes on 11
Thumbs down (no opposition position)

California icon Prop 12: Standards for farm-animal confinement

This measure sets—again—minimum space requirements for farm animals (egg-laying chickens, pregnant pigs, and calves raised for veal.) at a certain level, clarifying/expanding on the 2008's Proposition 2. It would essentially require cage-free eggs by 2022, and banning of products—even from other states!—that did not comply with these regulations. It's clearly trying to appear to help the animals.

The first thing that strikes me is this will never pass constitutional muster: I doubt that a state can impose requirements on other states in this manner, and it's likely to kick up all kinds of legal activity along the lines of only Congress is able to regulate commerce among the several states.

It appears that the proposition was mainly written by the Humane Society, incorporating the standards from the United Egg Producers, an industry trade group. This means that this measure is one of two things:

  1. An awesome cooperation between two parties on opposite sides of an issue, coming together to find common ground that everybody can be happy with.
  2. Something cynical and underhanded.

The ballot pamphlet's arguments show what amounts to a pissing contest between animal-protection groups, with the Humane Society and ASPCA on one side, and PETA and other groups on the other. The namecalling gets nasty and far-afield, with accusations (particularly) against the Humane Society.

The opprobrium hurled by the opposition seems over the top enough that I'm not inclined to give them much credibility, but in any case when you find both PETA and the California Pork Producers Association on the same side of an animal-rights issue, it suggests the above multiple-choice question is tended towards door #2.

But getting into the meat (so to speak) of the issue, I think there's a fundamental disconnect between how we think about treating animals as pets, and how we treat them for food. There's a natural human inclination to treat animals well, but I am not sure that these scale to the food industry where it's outside our familiarity. Most of us do not know—or want to know—how our food is made.

The notion of "cage free", for instance, is not the same as "free range", where the animal has a nice backyard to wander around in. In practice it's far less generous, and there are rancorous claims of "misleading" about this very term.

Even the supporters acknowlege that "cage free" doesn't even mean "cruelty free". That seems like quite a concession.

Curiously, the United Egg Producers, whose guidelines formed the base of the law, says they're not giving interviews or taking a position on the measure, and I can't see that they have given any money to support it.

Hmmm. So, what's one to believe?

The Orange County Register says it well in their their editorial:

Proposition 12 is an initiative statute, not a constitutional amendment, which means the state Legislature can change the law in the future without voter approval.

It makes more sense for the Legislature to tackle this issue without the emotion and misinformation that accompanies a political campaign for a ballot measure.

Indeed: other research showed that a similar measure was already headed through the legislature, so I'm inclined to let this process mature that way.

My Vote: A soft No

More info:
Thumbs up Prevent Cruelty California Coalition
Thumbs down No on Prop 12

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

Last updated: Mon Nov 5 04:45:14 UTC 2018