California’s 2012 Propositions: What to do?

This year, ten propositions are on the ballot.  The titles all sound so great, but the actual language can be so confusing.   People have asked me, “how do I vote?.”   Here’s a couple of considerations for the ballot:

Fixing Our Budget – Prop 30 vs. 38.  Governor Brown’s Prop 30 puts in place temporary taxes, mostly on the wealthiest Californians to avoid 8 billion dollars in budget cuts to education, public safety and other programs.   It does not raise income taxes on anyone but the wealthiest Californians and is supported by almost every major group in state including education groups, public safety groups, community groups and the California Democratic Party.   Prop 38, proposed by activist Molly Munger (sister of GOP activist Charles Munger) and supported by the PTA proposes raising income taxes on everyone in a sliding scale, to pay for education funding and just education funding. It does not distribute money evenly, but requires each school to apply for funds.        We all know that education is woefully underfunded in this state, but Prop 38 does not help everyone the same, it does not help higher education (which has seen unprecedented tuition increases) and does not address non-education programs like day care, adult day care, public safety and parks.    Given that, Prop 38 does not really seem to address the big picture.    Personally, I’d rather see us update our budget and tax system to reflect California’s modern economy, but these cuts have run too deep for too long, so I am supporting Prop 30 as the only solution that will really help.

Prop 31, Addressing Some Long Term Solutions?   I’m a big fan of California Forward in that they are the few groups that are really trying to bring people together to look at the big picture.   I endorsed much of their proposed plans, but also had some issues with some outside politics coming into play (their sister organization, Think Long had tax reform proposals that had similar issues).   Prop 31 puts into place many of the ideas like performance based budgeting, two-year-budgets and greater legislative oversight of public programs.    Unfortunately it also has some things that really don’t work or focus too much power, like allowing the governor to declare a financial emergency and giving counties the power to exempt themselves from state regulations unless the legislature or state agency vetoes it.     The fiscal emergency measure was rejected  by voters in 2003 and I have concerns that the ‘self exemption’ proposal will create a need for even more cost and oversight in responding to exemption requests.

Prop 32 Hurts Working Californians.    This is just an attempt to take away the voice of working Californians under the guise of “campaign finance reform” which specifically exempts the authors from having to follow the rules (e.g. large corporations and Super-PACs).    If there’s a “no” vote to be given this election season, this is it.

Prop 33 Mercury Insurance Tries Again.  Two years ago, Mercury Insurance singlehandedly bankrolled an effort to increase rates on new drivers by passing on “discounts” to continuous drivers without taking into account actual risks of the driver’s records.    If it sounds confusing, it is.  It just allows Mercury’s business model to charge more and is a bad idea.  And despite the commercials, no it does not allow you to take your discount with you to a new insurer.

Prop 34, 35, 36 Public Safety Measures on Death Penalty, Human Trafficking and Three Strikes Reform.      I will work in reverse here because they measures have more complexity as they go down.   Prop 36 reforms “Three Strikes” so that minor infractions such as shoplifting a slice of pizza won’t end up resulting in a life sentence, only violent or major crimes count.   The downside of 3 Strikes as it is is that it has overcrowded our prisons.   This is a fix that everyone from Steve Cooley to George Gascon, Bill Bratton and Grover Norquist backs.     Prop 35 increases state penalties for human trafficking and use fines to fund victim services.   Proposition 34 eliminates the death penalty, replacing it with sentences of life without parole.    There is no question that the death penalty is unfairly and unevenly applied, and costs the state millions of dollars in legal fees.   It also is a sentence that is irreversible.   There are arguments on the other sides that it serves some deterrent value and is the ultimate vindication for some crimes.   What is sure is that the current system does not work to the extent that the LA Times has endorsed Prop 34.

Prop 37 Labeling Genetically Modified Foods.   All this prop does is require the labeling of foods that are made from genetically modified organisms.   Many countries already do this, and there is no downside to disclosure and informed consumers.

Prop 39 Closes Out of State Tax Loophole.     Right now companies can choose to pay income taxes based on the number employees they have or the amount of in-state sales (single source sales factor), which is now the majority approach in most states.   By allowing companies to choose, some out of state companies pay less and in some ways  may incentivize companies to not hire in the state.    Prop 39 requires all companies to use the Single Source Sales Factor, and takes the savings and puts it into a Clean Energy Jobs Fund to invest in alternative energy jobs in California.

Prop 40 Overturns 2011 State Senate Redistricting.     The California GOP spent hundreds of thousands trying to overturn districts that would result in the loss of 1-2 seats, possibly giving California Democrats a 2/3 vote in the State Senate.   Now completely broke, they have backed off.

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