My take.

Proposition 30 Yes/Proposition 38 No

Proposition 30 is necessary because thanks to a previous generation of voters we are stuck with a crazy requirement of 2/3 of the legislature to pass any kind of tax increase.  With the Republicans all nailed down tight by the lunatic fringe in a ridiculous pledge imposed by Grover Norquist to not raise taxes ever, increasing taxes even in the fiscal emergency of the past few years outside of the initiative system is impossible.  Governor Brown is staking his (third or fourth) political career on the passage of this initiative, and if it doesn’t pass our kids will endure another wave of cuts to education, ultimately sending them the message that education really isn’t a priority.

Proposition 30 is a merger of two previously competing initiatives designed to offset some of the revenue losses due to the past few years of economic contraction in order to fund education with temporary increases in personal income and sales taxes.  It is being heavily pushed by Governor Brown in order to save the educational system from mandatory budget decreases estimated at $450.00 per student per year.

Proposition 30 would raise the taxes on everyone earning over $250,000 per year, at various rates which increase as the income increases.  These increases would sunset after seven years. The sales tax would be increased by one quarter of one percent and would last four years.  The intention is to raise about 6 billion dollars per year in order to offset anticipated cuts.  The spending would be allocated 89 percent for K-12 and 11 percent for public colleges.

Since 2008 public education funding has been cut by over 20 billion dollars, bringing California to 47th out of the 50 states in terms of per capita spending on education.  It continues a trend now over three decades of cut-backs which have led to dramatically increased classroom sizes, elimination of art and music programs, decreases in school hours, teacher lay-offs, etc.  The anticipated shortfalls for this year may lead to severe reductions of school nurses and counselors, elimination of free school transportation, charging for after school programs, reduced funding for educational materials, and aggravation of all the problems listed above.

The state college system has helped to define the choice.  The CSU Board of Trustees voted in favor of a 5 percent tuition hike effective in the spring if voters don’t pass Proposition 30.  If the measure is passed, the current 9 percent tuition hike would be rescinded, and students would be reimbursed.  The UC Regents are considering similar measures.

Proposition 38 is a competing measure which will raise taxes on everyone earning just over $7000 per year on a sliding scale.  The taxes would sunset after 12 years.  During first four years, 38 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.  38 is obviously much more regressive than 30.  It does guarantee that the money be spent on K-12 education, which is attractive on the face of it, but again really takes from the legislature the flexibility it needs to allocate resources according to the needs of the moment.   It’s basically a measure being pushed by billionairess Molly Munger who has her own agenda which is out of touch with the people and organizations who have been working to mitigate these issues against Republican obstructionism and heavy corporate lobby.

Assuming both measures pass, the one with the most votes will prevail over the other.  It is essential to vote yes on 30 and no on 38.  Do not vote for 38 as a “back up.”

Proposition 31 – No

Prop 31 is probably the most incoherent initiative since the “Big Green” fiasco of the early 1990s.  There’s really no definitive purpose behind the measure, which just seems to be a thrown-together collection of proposals about the budget process – I think – which might merit discussion on an individual basis, but which don’t really amount to a cohesive policy proposal.

Basically it would expand the budget cycle to two years.  (Meh.) It would require that the legislature specify the revenue source of any projects involving more than 25 million dollars.  (It sounds good, but it’s really a bad idea which reduces the legislature’s flexibility in reordering priorities, and would essentially require a 2/3 supermajority for every new project). It would prevent last minute amendments to bills by requiring that the bill be published in complete form three days before the vote.  (Which would prevent some gamesmanship – fine).  It gives the Governor certain powers to override the legislature with unilateral cuts.  (Bad idea – the executive branch already has too much power – I never approved of the line-item veto, and I certainly don’t approve any other power given to the executive branch which allow for unilateral rewrites of one of the principle powers afforded the legislative branch).  It requires performance evaluations for state and local programs. (Fine, whatever).  It allows local governments to rewrite state regulations as it applies to them which can only be set aside if the legislature acts within 60 days.  (Really bad idea!).

There are some other proposed “reforms” in this 8000 word bill, which even the proponents are having a hard time explaining its central purpose.  The slogan?  “Bringing accountability and transparency to California government.”  That’s in their website masthead, right under “Yes on Proposition 31.”

It’s opposed by the League of Women Voters, the California Teacher’s Federation, and the League of Conservation Voters – all of whom are primarily concerned about the weakening of key regulations by relentless gamesmanship from local pols who would like to water down Prop 65 and other landmark state legislation.  The Legislature would have to spend enormous time and resources in keeping track of and reversing badly conceived rewrites of state law, and risk serious lacking of consistency from one county to the next.

31 is a mess of a policy mix which really should be addressed in the context of legislative process – committees, hearings, testimony, reports, etc.  Vote no.

More below the fold.

Proposition 32 – NO!!

The anti-labor forces won’t stop pushing this thing.  32 would prohibit payroll-deduction based political contributions from unions and corporations.  Sounds balanced, right?  It restricts both labor unions and corporations.  So why aren’t corporations railing against the infringement of their rights?  Probably because most corporations don’t use payroll-deduction funds to make political contributions because mandatory payroll deductions are illegal unless they go to benefits.  When corporations donate, it comes from their revenue.  It’s not rocket science.  Will voters really fall for it?

The initiative allows for payroll deduction based political contributions upon written permission from the member, which has to be provided annually.  This adds a cumbersome burden on the union, and puts them at a disadvantage if some members decide that they would rather collect the money than donate it.  It sounds fair on the face of it, but the purpose of unions is to take the money and act in the members’ best interests.  The donations go to candidates and causes which benefit unions, in theory.

There are plenty of unions who make bad decisions.  I was a Teamster in 1984 when a portion of my money was taken and given to Ronald Reagan – the Teamsters being then the only union in the country to endorse him.  But I could vote against the union leadership, and eventually that leadership was booted and the Teamsters became a much more effective union by the early 1990s.  Basically the remedy for union malfeasance is a democratic process and a vigilant membership.

But you don’t strip the union of one of its chief sources of power if you want more effective unions.  Yes, it means there are individuals who have to pay for decisions they don’t like, but that’s the essence of democracy.

Now maybe there might be some fairness if shareholders in corporations had to provide annual written permission to allow money which might have been distributed as dividends be instead donated politically.  I might actually vote for a proposal like that just for the potential entertainment of it.  Yes, the prohibition against contributions from government contractors is nice, but not worth the damage it will cause to unions which are already heavily on the ropes over the past 30 years.

The notion the proponents are trying to sell that there is any kind of balance in this initiative is a farce.  It is an attack on unions, and a power grab in the wake of the Citizens United decision.

Proposition 33 – No

This is another repeat initiative pushed by Mercury Insurance.  It would allow auto insurance companies to charge higher rates for people who let coverage lapse.  The last time around it was defeated because it would have negatively impacted soldiers.  This initiative exempts soldiers.  It’s still a bad idea.

There are many reasons people let coverage lapse.  Some due to economic hardship.  Some because they give up cars and rely on public transportation or other means of travel.  The initiative does nothing to exempt such people, and it would still be a bad idea in any case.  They already have the option of charging more for people who lose insurance due to DUI convictions or similar reasons.

It’s just one more volley in the war against the poor.  Vote no.

Proposition 34 – Yes!

I’ve been waiting to vote for something like this all of my adult life.  It would ban the death penalty in California.  Win or lose, I will enjoy casting that vote.

I could write an encyclopedia on the reasoning for my opposition to the death penalty: questioning its effectiveness as a deterrent; pointing out the disparities in its application to the poor and certain ethnic groups; the errors which have been made evident by DNA testing; etc.  But my reasoning all revolves around the simple point that we as mortal human beings lack the knowledge, wisdom, and moral purity to claim even the collective right to determine whether an individual has the right to live.   In fact, I view the death penalty as an expression of supreme arrogance that we can determine the value of a life.  I don’t believe it’s something ascertainable on the mortal plane.  Add to the mix all of our prejudices, assumptions, and conceits, we have the prescription for disaster every single time.

The irrationality of the death penalty is woven right into our process.  We don’t allow certain evidence to be introduced at the “guilt phase” of the trial because it might evoke too much emotion to render a sober and rational decision.  We keep out photos of the victims.  Testimony about the victim him/herself which might play to emotion.  We want that decision to be rational.  Then when we get to the “penalty phase” we actually introduce all of that evidence previously deemed “prejudicial,” as if we are asking the jurors to suspend rationality altogether.  We want them to render an emotional decision.  What can possibly go wrong with that?

Yes, if one of my children or anybody I know or care about is brutally murdered – it’s possible that I will abandon this position and argue for state-sponsored vengeance.  In fact, I might want the individual’s death to be painful.  I might want him/her to suffer first.  Yes, the system would owe me to a certain extent, but how far should the state go to indulge my pain and anger?  I would not be the same person.  I would be irrational.  The system certainly has the wisdom to keep me off the jury.  Should policy be based on an attempt to mitigate my loss through vengeance?  Will I be a happier person once the individual is killed?  I won’t have my loved one back.  Just more death to show for the process.  I suspect that in the long run, I will be worse off rather than better.   Actually, I have no idea how I’ll feel.  But I will have been injured by the event, and not in a state of mind to render rational opinion about policy, or judge the value of a human life.

The death penalty is one of the holdovers from an ancient concept of justice which possibly made sense when human organizations were much more hard-pressed to maintain cohesive order.  It may have served as deterrence in some form and served a purpose.  We are well beyond that now.  It’s time that policy caught up with the level of enlightenment we profess.  Maybe the argument for enlightenment will be just a little more convincing.

All that being said, I do have a problem with this initiative – it imposes life without parole for all death penalty convicts.      This is obviously offered to make the abolition more palatable for some voters, but it’s premised on a falsehood.  We’ve all heard the stories about people who are given life sentences, get out on parole, and kill again.  It’s in the movies.  It’s in political campaigns.  But contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of life sentences are just that – life sentences.  There is no need to say “never.”  The life sentence convicts who are released tend to be exceptional, and even among this group, the exceptions which have been highlighted are so rare as to be statistically insignificant.  Yes, I understand that it’s not insignificant to the victims, but to mandate against parole in all cases is simply not just either.  People do sometimes change and should have the opportunity for redemption and a second chance – in exceptional circumstances.

There is another provision which mandates that the death-sentence-to-life-imprisonment convicts be forced to work, with deductions made to victims.  Slavery.  Again, I view the justice system’s central purpose as to implement policies which protect us from dangerous people.  I’m for mandating deductions for victims should the convict choose to work, but in no case can I advocate forced labor, aka slavery.  It’s not a question about what convicts “deserve.”  It’s about our values as a professed civilization.

Sadly, these concessions are made in a futile attempt to appease people who are unappeasable.  But I will gladly vote for Proposition 34 anyway.

Proposition 35 – No

Heavier punishment for human trafficking?  Why not?  We’re talking almost the lowest of the low, right?  Why care about whether we’re punishing these people too much?  They deserve what they get.

Sounds almost reasonable.

A few years ago we passed an initiative increasing penalties against child molesters.  It added to what we had already added some years before that?  Because what punishment is too great for child molesters?  Anything we give them, they deserve more, right?  So why even think about it?  No punishment is too great.  Not ever.

These issues are really inappropriate for a ballot initiative, because sometimes, as severe as the crime is, certain punishments are too great.  Or at least ill-conceived.  And sometimes, as in this case, they cast a very wide net.  These issues, again, should be dealt with in process.  Testimony from victims, from social and mental health experts, from law enforcement, even from perpetrators.  Punishment is a very complex issue, and an initiative like this will probably pass on the force of emotion alone, because no punishment is too great for these people.

Even non-sexual offenders will have to register as sex offenders for life.  Yes, these people are callous, often without conscience, and we should be protected from them.  But is this a rational policy?

Even less rational is the provision which would deem anyone of adult age receiving financial support from a sex offender a sex offender him/herself.  So basically, an adult child living in the home of a sex working parent could be deemed a sex offender for life.  Perhaps the Courts would disallow that on the basis of due process, but as written, that is what the law will accomplish.

There are other reasons to vote against 35.  There are some good points to it. I’m all for special police training to deal with human trafficking crime.  I’m for the protection of sexual crime victims to egregious lines of questioning in trial, although I thought those protections were already in place.  And maybe I would be for the increased penalties for trafficking, but I would prefer that sentencing guidelines be based on a lot more information than I have personally.  This is why we have a legislature.  Ballot initiatives should be reserved for much simpler issues.

Proposition 36 – Yes

This is a repeat attempt to reform the Three Strikes law to mandate that the third strike crime be serious or violent as the first two.  I believe we’ve tried to pass it before, once even with the endorsement of Polly Klass’ family, but it’s always failed.  This time the drafters incorporated some changes.  The third strike need not be serious or violent if it involves certain drugs or firearms.  It exempts from the law convictions where either or both of the first two strikes involved rape, murder, or child molestation.

It would be retroactive to the benefit of those previously sentenced with less than serious third strike convictions.

We’ve heard the stories about people sent away for life on a third strike based upon the stealing of videotapes from KMART.

I’m not happy with the concessions, but then again I don’t support the Three Strikes law in any form so I’ll support anything which weakens it even marginally.  In any case, I would hope that most Three Strikes advocates will see the wisdom of these moderate changes.  California is a liberal state in many respects, but for some reason we’ve passed some of the most draconian “law and order” initiatives in the country, so I’m not sanguine about the chances of 36 passing.  But I’ll be voting for it.

Proposition 37 – Yes

While I am voting with fellow progressives on this issue, I am actually agnostic as to whether GMO (genetically modified organisms) technology is inherently evil and whether there can never be any positive benefit from the science.  It’s obviously a very emotional issue, and after my last radio show on the subject I was inundated with a steady stream of recommendations for reading, watching, linking, etc.  Food is a very emotional issue.  It’s what we put into our kids.  It’s what we’re made of.

Generally speaking I support the precautionary principle, which suggests that we learn a whole lot more about something before charging into a practice premised on its safety.  We’re talking about changes on a molecular level in which the science itself tells us that we don’t necessarily understand all of the consequences of our actions.

I honestly haven’t followed the issue closely, so I wasn’t aware of some of the nuances of the debate in a recent radio show. Innocently I raised some of the arguments against GMO’s, one being the potential for genetic strains of organisms loose in the wild with no ecological context. I cited the salmon farming as an example of such a biological contamination – the fact that salmon which have been selected for certain characteristic have gotten loose to contaminate the wild gene pool is a serious concern of some biologists, as explained to me during one of my trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I suggested that the biotechnological genetic modification could potentially be as dangerous as the selective breading genetic manipulation. Bad move on my part. Apparently the anti-gmo narrative is that selective breeding is not “genetic modification,” the main reason being because so many industry hacks have said that it is. That discussion dominated much of the show, as I was accused of “spreading the corporate line.”

In the beginning I asked listeners for information of balanced discussions of the topic, but all I really got were sources to convince me of the anti-gmo line, some of which sounded interesting, but none of which I was really looking for. One book was recommended. Otherwise, it was all films and websites. But that’s fine. A couple of women called me up afterward, laughing at some of the callers, and suggested some leads. Either way, that wasn’t really the point. The point is that many people are emotionally invested in the issue – and the investment not just in the conclusion, but also the narrative.  The callers were willing to forgive my agnosticism on the subject. They were not willing to concede that selective breeding is “genetic manipulation.”

I do see a problem with the use of the technology to generate a strain of corn which is resistant to herbicides such as Roundup, which allows more of the poison to be used which is dangerous to the environment, farm workers, and neighbors.  I have yet to be convinced that any particular GMO on the market is directly detrimental to health, though I’m aware of anecdotal accounts.

In any case, I do not need to reach a conclusion about GMO’s on this initiative.  For me, the issue is consumer rights.  Even if the technology is benign, the fact that it is in question widely enough to generate such a movement renders the technology an issue for consumer decisions.  If the technology is beneficial or benign, it’s really up to the producers and distributors to sell it to the public.  They shouldn’t be allowed to hide from the consumer information based on their assumption that they know better than the consumer what is good for the consumer.  Similar labeling is already mandated in dozens of countries.

The initiative has a number of exemptions, including “certified organic” products.  This is kind of odd as many of the very people who are pushing the measure the hardest will not benefit from the law with regard to their foods of choice.  I wonder what the rationale was for that exemption.

It also bans the use of “natural” to describe any qualifying product, and I have to admit after reading the initiative that the exemptions can lead to some confusion.  But the courts will sort it out.

In the meantime, I would probably be inclined to vote for 37 solely on the basis that companies like Monsanto and Dupont are spending so much to kill it.  But I’m just that way.

Proposition 38 (see above)

Proposition 39 – Yes

Currently state tax law allows companies to choose between two formulas for taxation – one based upon sales in state only, and the other based on a combination of the proportion of its sales, property, and employment in state compared to out of state – so that if companies employed mostly out of state it would pay less in taxes.  This initiative would eliminate the second option.  As it effectively amounts to a revenue increase, the Republicans have killed the proposal each time with their 1/3 majority.

For some reason, probably as a selling point, a bunch of the new money will be earmarked for alternative energy projects over the next five years.  I would be fine with just the elimination of the tax loophole.

Proposition 40 – “Yes”

“Yes” is in quotes because this is one of those confusing measures where yes is no and no is yes.  Basically, a group of people don’t like how the State Senate Districts were drawn up in the process we passed, which took the process out of the hands of the legislature and put it into an unelected committee.

I didn’t support the initiative which changed the process, and the redistricting is far from ideal from my perspective.  However, the process was open and transparent, drawing considerable public input, and the decision was made.  If “no” prevails, they would have to start again and I’m sure the next product will also be imperfect.  We’ve got other priorities to fund.  Let’s just move on.