Proposition Inquisition: A Guide to CA’s Ballot Initiatives

California’s political process is a mess, to put it politely. Although we live in a representative Republic, massive corruption in the state has forced the citizens to wrestle more control from their “representatives”. The result is a ballot that regularly contains an overload of new propositions to be voted on by the citizens. This can lead to a lot of confusion and “word-weariness” when trying to sort out all the language contained in the voter guides. In this post I’ve laid out each proposition – including the official title and the official bullet point overviews directly from the voter guide. I’ve also offered my analysis and my opinion. There are 11 propositions on the ballot this cycle. Hopefully this will help some Californians make informed decisions, or at least inspire enough curiosity to motivate people to get informed for themselves.

Prop 30 – Temporary taxes to fund education. Guaranteed local public safety funding. 

  • Increases personal income tax on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years.
  • Increases sales tax and use tax by 1/4 cent for four years.
  • Allocates temporary tax revenues 89% to K-12 schools and 11% to community colleges.
  • Bars use of funds for administrative costs,but provides local school governing boards discretion to decide, in open meetings and subject to annual audit, how funds are to be spent.
  • Guarantees funding for public safety services realigned from state to local government.
  • Failure to pass this measure will result in “trigger cuts” to state education.

My analysis: “Temporary” taxes? In California? I think not. There’s no such thing in a state that is nearly bankrupt because of gross, runaway spending. An increase in the sales tax will give us the highest sales tax in the union, driving out business and exponentially increasing the cost of living on those who can least afford it.  Also, further reading into the bill reveals that the money raised by the tax increase actually is not guaranteed to go to education. From the overview embedded in the Prop: These temporary tax increases provide additional revenues to pay for programs funded in the state budget. The state’s 2012-2013 budget assumes passage of this measure. By threatening to cut funding for education (instead of cutting the massive government waste that has plagued our budget for years) the state is giving us a false choice. Pass new taxes or the children suffer first. With language that clearly indicates this money is not guaranteed for education this is just another ploy to send more of our dollars to an irresponsible legislature. My opinion: Vote NO on Prop 30.

Prop 31- State Budget. State and Local government. 

  • Establishes two-year budget cycle
  • Prohibits Legislature from creating expenditures of more than $25 million unless offsetting revenues or spending cuts are identified.
  • permits Governor to cut budget unilaterally during declared fiscal emergencies if Legislature fails to act.
  • Requires performance reviews of all state programs.
  • Requires performance goals in state and local budgets
  • Requires publication of bills at least three days prior to legislative vote.
  • Allows local governments to alter how laws governing state-funded programs apply to them, unless Legislature or state agency vetoes change within 60 days.

My analysis: This is a behemoth proposition. The language is complicated and there are several loopholes. Supporters say the prop would bring more budget control to local governments and hold the state legislature more accountable for their budgetary decisions – something that is badly needed in California. Those who argue against it say the prop is too complicated and leaves too many loopholes for abuse by local governments. Our budget process has been corrupt for a long time and is in desperate need of reform. However, a Prop that is too complicated for many to understand leaves too much room for deception. My opinion: I applaud the effort, but it’s just too complicated to be effective. Vote NO on Prop 31.

Prop 32- Political contributions by payroll deduction. Contributions by candidates.

  • Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Applies same use prohibition to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors.
  • Permits voluntary employee contributions to employer-sponsored committee or union if authorized yearly in writing.
  • Prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees.
  • Other political expenditures remain unrestricted, including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by payroll deduction prohibition.
  • Prohibits government contractor contributions to elect officers or officer-controlled committees.

My analysis: Television ads against this Prop bill it as a special interest proposition, but the fact is the prop removes power from special interests…unions and corporations. The prop in no way limits personal political contributions. To the contrary, it gives employees more control over their contributions. It prevents unions and employers from using payroll deductions (such as union dues) for political contributions. This protects employees of all political stripes from being attached to political activism and contributions that they may not feel comfortable with. Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike will no longer forced to use their earnings to support candidates or political candidates they disagree with in the name of paying dues. My opinion: All this measure does is make sure employers and/or unions don’t forcibly take the wages of earners for their own political activism. It leaves that option to the individual. Everyone should support this. No Democrat wants to be forced to financially support a Republican cause they disagree with just because their union/employer feels differently,  and vice versa. Vote YES on Prop 32.

Prop 33 – Auto insurance companies. Prices based on driver’s history of insurance coverage.

  • Changes current law to allow insurance companies to set prices based on whether the driver previously carried auto insurance with any insurance company.
  • Allows insurance companies to give proportional discounts to drivers with some history of prior insurance coverage.
  • Will allow insurance companies to increase cost of insurance to drivers who have not maintained continuous coverage.
  • Treats drivers with lapse as continuously covered if lapse is due to military service or loss of employment, or if lapse is less than 90 days.

My analysis: Under current law insurance companies are not allowed to provide discounts to drivers who have maintained continuous coverage when they switch insurance providers. The prop allows companies to reward responsible owners, which increases competitive rates and gives drivers more rate options when shopping for insurance. It also provides specific protections for those who have let their insurance lapse due to valid reasons such as military service, or unemployment; and it also provides a window for up to 90 days, to cover those common lapses due to less serious reasons like forgetting to pay the bill or late payments. My opinion: Vote YES on 33.

Prop 34- Death penalty.

  • Repeals death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replace it with life-imprisonment without possibility of parole.
  • Apples retroactively to persons already sentenced to death.
  • States that persons found guilty of murder must work while in prison as prescribed by the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation, with their wages subject to deductions to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them.
  • Directs $100 million to law enforcement agencies for investigations of homicide and rape cases.

My analysis: This is an issue which is largely subject to your own personal feelings about the death penalty. My only technical issue with the proposition is in the provision of $100 million to law enforcement for investigations. The language in the proposition claims the money will be redirected from the state general fund, but the general fund is busted and is depending on the passage of new taxes to replenish. Also, the proposition states that number of $100 million could go up or down by tens of millions “largely depending on how the measure is implemented and the rate at which offenders would otherwise be sentenced to death and executed in the future”. That’s pretty vague language. Also that $100 million is an ongoing addition to the budget which will be scheduled to be increased to about “$130 million annually“. Considering the budget woes of this state it seems like a poor idea to add more spending at a time when California is on the brink of bankruptcy. For this reason alone my opinion is to vote NO on Prop 34. Outside of the budgetary language of the proposition this is a moral issue that each voter must decide for his or her self.

Prop 35- Human trafficking. Penalties

  • Increases criminal penalties for human trafficking, including prison sentences up to 15-years-to-life and fines up to $1,500,000.
  • Fines collected to be used for victim services and law enforcement.
  • Requires person convicted of trafficking to register as sex offender.
  • Requires sex offenders to provide information regarding Internet access and identifies they use in online activities.
  • Prohibits evidence that victim engaged in sexual conduct from being used against victim in court proceedings.
  • Requires human trafficking training for police officers.

My analysis: It’s hard to be against a measure like this. Indeed, the only organization that even bothered writing a rebuttal in the voter guide is the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project, who claim the language of the bill leaves those who willingly participate in prostitution services open to prosecution and vulnerable to the same stiff penalties that would be applied to actual human traffickers. That being said, human trafficking is modern slavery and the scourge of any civilized society; and trafficking laws are  woefully behind the times. I generally don’t support any measure that adds any spending to our already strained budget, but this measure claims to add a few million and considering the nature of the issue I think it is one of the few spending measures that may be worth the financial effort.  My opinion: Vote YES on Prop 35.

Prop 36- Three Strikes law. Repeat Felony offenders. Penalties.

  • Revises three strikes law to impose life sentence only when new felony conviction is serious or violent.
  • Authorizes re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if third strike conviction was not serious r violent and judge determines sentence does not pose unreasonable risk to public safety.
  • Continues to impose life sentence penalty if third strike conviction was for certain, non serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession.
  • Maintains life sentence penalty for felons with nonserious, non-violent third strike if prior convictions were for rape, murder or child molestation.

My analysis: This proposition complicates the law with new, unnecessary measures. Repeat offenders are responsible for the majority of crime in the state. Three strikes is designed to address the problem of repeat-offender crime. Opponents of the three strikes law say it imposes harsh penalties for third offenses which may not be so serious, such as petty theft. However, prosecutors already have the right of individual discretion when seeking penalties in third strike cases; and the whole reason harsh penalties are imposed on the third strike is because they are repeat offenders, not because of the nature of the offense. My opinion: Vote NO on Prop 36, but much like the death penalty measure this is subject to your own moral stance on issues of crime and punishment.

Prop 37- Genetically engineered foods. Labeling.

  • Requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specific ways.
  • Prohibits labeling or advertising such food, or other processed food as “natural”.
  • Exempts foods that are: certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.

My analysis: This is one of the few props in recent California voting history that has nearly universal opposition. From the L.A.Times to local business owners and politicians the consensus is nearly unanimous. This proposition is vaguely worded, will cause higher food prices, and impose expensive and unnecessary burdens on local food producers. It includes strangely arbitrary exemptions- for example, it requires special labels on soy milk but exempts dairy. Fruit juice requires labels but alcohol is exempted. Add this to the fact that there are currently no reliable scientific tests in existence to test for genetic engineering and it is clear the rules of this proposition are subject to the whim of bureaucrats and politicians. Producers will be forced to “negotiate” with the government for exemptions from this labeling scheme. My opinion: Given that there is almost zero support for this confusing, suspicious, vaguely worded proposition, my opinion is vote NO on Prop 37.

Prop 38- Tax to fund education and early childhood programs.

  • Increases personal income tax rates on annual earnings over $7,316 using sliding scale from .4% for lowest individual earnings to 2.2% for individuals earning over $2.5 million, for twelve years.
  • During first four years, allocates 60% of revenues to K-12 schools, 30% to repaying state debt, and 10% to early childhood programs. Thereafter, allocates 85% of revenues to K-12 schools, 15% to early childhood programs.
  • Provides K-12 funds on school-specific, per-pupil basis, subject to local control, audits and public input.
  • Prohibits state from directing new funds.

My analysis: This is just another scheme from Sacramento to raise taxes. As usual I urge all Californians to read the actual voter guide instead of depending on advertisements for information. Like Prop 30, the advertisements supporting this prop are deceptive and don’t lay out the whole truth described within the measure itself. The ads claim this proposition wrestles control of education money away from Sacramento, but the actual language of the bill ensures that Sacramento will be entitled to “at least 30% of the funds to pay down state debt”. The voter guide claims the fiscal effect will be a General Fund savings of roughly $3 billion annually though 2017. This is nothing but a rope-a-dope. This measure is designed to relieve the General Fund of doing something they are already doing, while sending additional tax dollars to Sacramento. Sacramento does not have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem and they are trying to solve it on the backs of our children and their education. In 2013 the average American will see their federal tax burden increase by up to $3,000. There aren’t many Californians who will be able to afford additional state taxes in light of the approaching federal “Taxmageddon”.  My opinion: Vote NO on Prop 38.

Prop 39-Tax treatment for multistate business. Clean energy and energy efficiency funding.

  • requires multistate businesses to calculate their California income tax liability percentage of their sales in California.
  • Repeals existing law giving multistate businesses an option to choose a tax liability that provides favorable tax treatment for businesses with property and payroll outside California.
  • Dedicates $550 million annually for five years from anticipated increase in revenue for the purpose of funding projects that create energy efficiency and clean energy jobs in California.

My analysis: Advertisments for this measure bill it as a “keep jobs in California” measure while conveniently leaving out the part about funding for green energy. The idea behind this proposition is to prevent companies that have offices in California and outside of the state as well from filing taxes under the alternative state, thus avoiding filing in California. Given that California has the largest business tax burden in the country, it is imaginable that many companies in the state with offices elsewhere will choose to file out of state. Again, this is where it is essential that the voter read the actual voter guide. Two important things are happening here: “multistate” businesses will be forced to file California taxes and $550 million will added to the state budget for green energy funding (a very vague term, by the way). The state’s extra $550 million provision ASSUMES that the state will receive additional revenue from businesses because of the measure passing. What it does not assume (and presumably doesn’t want anyone else to assume either) is that businesses with offices elsewhere will simply move out of California rather than pay the heaviest tax burden in the country. Businesses cannot run or hire without profits. Any smart business will do all they can within the law to protect their profits. California is already experiencing a mass exodus of business and upper income earners because of the enormous tax burden they face. This measure will simply add to the flight, and in the end will cost California a LOSS in revenue (because of the flight of more tax payers), meanwhile saddling us with an extra $550 million in spending now locked into the budget. This is the type of thing that make Props 30 and 38 more dangerous for our families, because they tout education spending as their goal while quietly embedding provisions to divert those very dollars to cover budget items like prop 39. My opinion: Vote NO on Prop 39.

Prop 40- Redistricting. State senate districts. Referendum.

  • A “Yes” vote approves, and a “No” vote rejects, new State Senate districts drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.
  • If the new districts are rejected, the State Senate district boundary lines will be adjusted by officials supervised by the California Supreme Court.
  • State Senate districts are revised every 10 years following the federal census.

My analysis: Californians have already voted and (obviously) approved a measure that wrestles control of redistricting from politicians and puts it in the hands of citizens. Sacramento fought that measure, because there is a lot of money and influence involved in redistricting and it leads to a lot of back-room deals. Already the California Supreme Court has nullified the Citizens Redistricting Committee’s lines. In light of that decision the opposition to this proposition has officially withdrawn. Passing this prop would protect the State Senate map as drawn by the voter-approved Committee. Why are we voting on whether or not to approve the CRC’s map when we already voted to create the CRC in the first place in order to avoid politician’s being in charge of the process? There is no official opposition to this measure. This is an easy one for everyone of all stripes, but the “yes” vs “no” language requires a bit understanding. Vote YES on prop 40 to protect the Citizen’s Redistricting Committee.

Voters need to go to the polls armed with just one thing: information. Obviously, I have included my own opinion of these propositions but I encourage every voter to read their voter guides for themselves and make their own informed decisions. Undertandably, this requires time. The guides are bloated and full of confusing language. My general rule for any proposition (whether the intentions are good or bad) is that if I have to read it more than twice to understand it, then it’s just too complicated. Reject if out of hand. No law should so complicated that the people required to follow said law can’t understand it. If you don’t have time to read up on every measure, don’t vote on it. There is nothing wrong with skipping a proposition if you don’t fully understand it. That’s all part of being an informed voter.

Good luck, voters!

One Comment

  1. Mrsrabk says:

    Kira, I am so sorry for you and your fellow Californians. I was born and raised there but saw the writing on the wall and moved out of CA about 18 years ago. Between your higher state income tax, higher sales tax and the federal income tax going up in 2013, you guys will be forking over more than 50% of your income just on those 3 taxes, not to mention property taxes, fuel taxes and the like.
    California was once a great state, where dreamers and forward looking people moved to succeed. Now it’s just a pool of illegals, and welfare collectors as your innovators leave as quickly as they can.

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