Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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How I Voted (on the Initiatives)

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My absentee ballot arrived in the mail last week. As there’s no sense in putting off the inevitable, I marked it up and sent it back to the Election Gods in Santa Clara County.   

fyi: 9 initiatives are up for a vote on Nov. 2: Propositions 19-27. This is a lighter load than in recent years — 12 measures were on the ballot in each of the past two November elections.

If you want to read more about this year’s batch, try the “ballot measures” section of the California Secretary of State’s Web site

On with the countdown:

Proposition 19 (“Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010”)
Overview: Should marijuana be a controlled substance, like alcohol and cigarettes? If approved, Prop 19 would make it legal for Californians 21 & older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, purchase it from locally run stores, or grow a personal stash in a space no larger than 25 sq. ft. Proponents are selling this along the following lines: (1) Marijuana enforcement is this generation’s Prohibition – ineffective, a waste of anti-crime resources; (2) sell it legally and CA gets needed revenue. Opponents counter thus: (1) marijuana’s a “gateway” drug to deeper addiction; (2) added demand will draw more interest from foreign drug cartels.

My vote: No.

Rationale: There’s no earthly way the state can enforce the 25-sq.ft. limit. Moreover, the $$ won’t materialize as promised. For instance: let’s say I have a lot of open space, criminal intent, and proximity to a university campus. I’ll grow a big crop and peddle my brownies and joints, selling below the market price. Because I’m in the underground economy, the state won’t see a dime. If we’re going to legalize things for the sake of revenue, California might as well rename itself “West Nevada” and tap into gaming and prostitution.

Proposition 20 (“Voters First Act for Congress”)

Overview: In November 2008, California voters approved Proposition 11, which placed the redistricting (redrawing the boundary lines) of the state’s 120 legislative zones in the hands of a citizen’s commission. Prop 20 would give the same commission responsibility for redrawing the state’s 53 congressional districts. Proponents say it will take the politics out of redistricting, guaranteeing that districts truly reflect their local populations (a big problem in Los Angeles and San Jose, where Hispanic voters have been squeezed). Opponents say this is a task better left to government pros; besides, why embolden a commission before it’s proven it can work?

My vote: Yes.

Rationale: Redistricting is the devil’s playground – big paydays for consultants, political power plays, an ugly process that undermines the public’s confidence in leaders. If this measure passes, it’s likely the second worst piece of news Nancy Pelosi receives on Election Night.

Proposition 21 (“State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act”)

Overview: California’s state parks are in decline, due in large part to limited budget resources in Sacramento. Prop 21 would add an $18 surcharge to your annual car renewal (that’s for each vehicle), with the proceeds dedicated to parks and wildlife conservation. Proponents argue that parks embody the California Dream – our natural beauty, our love of the great outdoors. And the $18 fee is a bargain, given that it costs $5-$15 to bring a car into a state park. Opponents argue that parks aren’t inconsequential, but there are bigger priorities facing the state: schools and crumbling infrastructure, to name but two.

My vote: No.

Rationale: I have nothing against parks. I’m just leery of yet another initiative that promises money for a cause. Sacramento has a funny way of  not making good on its promise (i.e., increased gasoline taxes going nowhere close to highway repairs). Enacting special-use taxes and fees is not a good habit – where do you draw the line? Added bah humbug point: too many special interests tug heartstrings to pass initiatives. Specifically, I’m thinking James Lee Curtis leading a chorus of kids to peddle children’s hospital bonds. Oy with the pathos!

Proposition 22 (“Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Act of 2010”)

Overview: Times are tough for cash-strapped California cities. They’re made worse by the annual Sacramento “grab” — lawmakers using local funds to balance the state’s budget. Prop 22 would prohibit said state lawmakers from using property-tax and gas-tax money slated for local agencies, saving cities, counties and special districts statewide potentially hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Opponents (that includes education and health-care advocates) contend the state needs the authority to reallocate money to high-priority items, like schools.

My vote: Yes.

Rationale: Prop 22 bars the state from using gas-tax tax money to pay down debt on transportation bonds. Translation:  the money would actually go to local agencies for road maintenance. This is a positive trend for the Golden State. Prop 1A, which passed in 2004, prohibits permanent shifts of city, county and special district money to schools; Prop 1A (2006) limits what the state can do with gas tax revenues. But loopholes in the laws and new borrowing tactics, like tapping redevelopment money, have allowed state lawmakers to continue to leverage local government funds. Let’s keep plugging away.

Proposition 23 (“California Jobs Initiative”)

Schwarzenegger signing AB 32

Overview: This measure would freeze (pun intended) California’s AB 32, the Global Warming Act of 2006 (requires greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020), until unemployment recedes to 5.5% for four consecutive quarters.  Proponents say AB 32, if it goes forward, will be the death knell of manufacturing jobs. Opponents argue that green tech is the wave of the future – therefore, suspending AB 32 and the innovation it will spawn will put CA at a disadvantage in the global marketplace, especially with China’s economy.

My vote: No.

Rationale: I agonized over this one, as AB 32 deeply concerns me (and the bill-signing ceremony, with Tony Blair chiming in by satellite hookup, nauseated me). That said, Prop 23’s condition that statewide unemployment has to be 5.5% or lower for four or more quarters simply isn’t realistic. It’s happened only three times over the past 35 years (1988-89; 1999-2001; 2005-2007). I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for 11 years now, so I admit to a bias: clean-energy jobs have grown 10 times faster than the state average; California-based firms have received about 60% of the nation’s v.c. funding. I’d hate to see that compromised. A more sensible approach: Meg Whitman’s suggested 1-year moratorium.

Proposition 24 (“Repeal Corporate Tax Loopholes Act”)

Overview:  During the budget duels of 2008 and 2009, a series of business tax cuts convinced a handful of Republican legislators to buck the party and vote for a budget with tax increases. They included: (1) allowing businesses that lose money in 2011 and future years to apply that loss to taxes paid in the prior two years; (2) allowing multistate businesses to choose between two formulas to determine the level of income that California can tax; (3) allowing a business unit to transfer unused tax credits to other business units within the same corporation. Prop 24 would kill those tax cuts. Proponents say that deal helped businesses at the expense of public schools. Opponents say California businesses eagerly await the relief – and need it to ride out the recession.

My vote: No.

Rationale: The largest states in America, including California’s closest competitors here in the west, have some if not all of these tax cuts. Second, undoing the agreement sends exactly the wrong to businesses already wary of setting up shop in high-tax/regulation-heavy California: no business incentive is certain; you can’t count on the state to make good on its promises.

Proposition 25 (“On-Time Budget Act of 2010”)

Overview: California is one of only three states that require a legislative supermajority vote to pass a state budget (Arkansas and Rhode Island being the others). Since 1980, the Legislature has met the June 15 constitutional deadline for a budget only five times. Only ten times has it finished up by the July 1 fiscal deadline. Prop 25 would change the budget threshold to a simple majority vote. And it would dock lawmakers’ pay and per diem benefits if the budget goes into overtime. Proponents say Prop 25 will make the budget punctual. Opponents say it’s an end-around run at higher taxes.

My vote: No.

Rationale: Eventually, CA’s economy will bounce back, and so too will revenue begin to flow back into Sacramento’s coffers. With a simple majority, Democrats will spend like there’s no tomorrow – putting us in the same fiscal ditch once the next recession occurs. Speedier budgets are not necessarily better budgets. As in the fine arts of dining, sightseeing and love-making, budgetary haste is not a virtue. I believe in majority rule. I also believe that the current makeup of the Legislature – nearly 2/3 Democratic, and most of them decidedly to the left – is not representative of a majority of Californians.

Proposition 26 (no formal title)

Overview: The counter to Prop 25, this measure would change the requirement for enacting fees from a majority vote to a two-thirds majority. And it would end the current practice that enables the Legislature to increase taxes by a simple majority if that tax increase is offset by the lowering of another tax and no increase in net revenue. Proponents say this will close a loophole: legislators imposing taxes on goods and services in the form of fees. Opponents say it’s polluters and the alcohol industry looking to pay their fair share

My vote: Yes.

Rationale: Hamstrung by the 2/3 tax requirement, the Legislature does its best to find new fees to pay the beast that is rising spending (in this past session, the Legislature debated imposing a new fee on plastic grocery bags and tripling the $10 fee for renting cars at CA airports). Enough already!

Proposition 27 (“Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act”)

Overview: The poison pill for Prop 20, as well as 2008’s Proposition 11. Prop 27 would keep congressional redistricting as it, and end the citizens’ commission in charge of the legislative districts. Same argument as at the top of the ballot, but in reverse: proponents want political professionals to draw the lines; opponents want non-politicians to run the show.

My vote: No.


Rationale: A decade ago, a consultant in charge of drawing up the districts asked each Democratic members of California’s congressional delegation to give him $20,000 – i.e., a shakedown for his services. A decade before that, a Democratic gerrymander turned a CA delegation split 22-21 in favor of the Democrats to a 27-18 divide. It’s a leap of faith, but at a minimum I trust the citizenry to be free of such crass corruption.


Written by Bill Whalen

October 10, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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