Thursday, October 23, 2014

November 2014 Endorsements

Got a lot of propositions on the ballot this time around, especially if you live in San Francisco. So let's get right to it, shall we? (Well, after you try the effects of ad-only voting.)

Prop 1 - Water bond - Yes

Prop 1 is a $7.12 billion bond to build increased water capacity and perform other water-related work. Seems like a pretty good idea in these years of drought, which are only bound to become more common if those 98% of climate scientists are right.

Now, we have a history of being against bonds, because they tend to be used for short-term projects that belong in the regular budget. Well, this is not one of those bonds. We like nearly everything about it, especially the part about building infrastructure for water recycling and the way it only matches the money put forth by local utilities.

Prop 2 - Budget Stabilization Account changes - Yes

Prop 2 would pre-allocate 1.5% of the state's general fund revenues to the Budget Stabilization Account. The BSA already exists, but Prop 2 would change the rules about how money is put into it and how it can be taken out.

To be sure, we are not fans of this pre-allocation business. Some high percentage of the California budget is earmarked, preventing legislatures from, you know, legislating. This is reason enough for at least one of us to refuse to vote for Prop 2 regardless of what it may contain.

For the rest of us, Prop 2 is using a bad tool to do a responsible thing. It saves money for lean years and pays off debt. The major opposition to Prop 2 ostensibly comes from people in education, whose school districts will receive caps on their own rainy-day savings. Apparently the state would like to handle the way state money is saved up, thank you very much. That seems reasonable to us, so we're voting Yes.

Prop 45 - Health insurance regulation - Yes

California has an Insurance Comissioner in charge of regulating car, homeowner, and other insurance. But health insurance (health insurance!) is not on her list, unless Prop 45 passes.

Why wouldn't we want this? Especially now that health insurance is mandated by Obamacare, there needs to be a mechanism to keep costs down. There are government bodies that publish information on insurance plans and permit plans to appear on the Covered California exchange, but they have no power to actually prevent an insurance company from raising rates.

Even though we're all voting yes on this, our cynical outlook makes us think California will likely fail to pass this proposition, largely due to the advertising blitz put on by all the major health insurance companies. One claim they make is that it'll give one politician too much power, a politician who can be corrupted by political donations. Oh, you mean the Insurance Commissioner, a job that's been in place for decades? The same ads also claim rates will go up, but we really doubt the commissioner will start rejecting plans because they're too cheap. Lies, all lies!

Prop 46 - Medical malpractice - No

Prop 46 is really three laws in one.

First, it mandates drug and alcohol testing for doctors. Who wouldn't want that? Well, maybe those of us who don't like the idea of doctors failing a drug test because of marijuana they smoked a month ago on their Jamaican vacation. Also, hospitals are free to institute their own drug programs, although the attorney among us expressed doubts that they would do so (for liability reasons, oddly enough).

Second, Prop 46 would require doctors to use a state-wide drug prescription database whenever someone tries to get their hands on OxyContin and other abused prescription drugs. We aren't opposed to this, but nor are we wildly enthusiastic as we think it probably won't do much to slow down the OxyContin train (how much does marijuana prohibition slow the flow of pot?).

But really, the meat of Prop 46 is it will raise the cap on pain and suffering damages, generating a potential windfall for the lawyers who wrote this. The other two provisions were really just sugar coating for this one. Now, it is true that the present $250,000 cap was put in place in 1975, and raising it to over $1 million is in line with inflation. But it's also true that every state we looked up had a lower cap, and the majority of us were not interested in seeing it increased.

Holding the minority view, our attorney friend (who once worked for hospitals against medical malpractice lawsuits) is in favor of Prop 46 because he feels an increase is due, and points out that it will match Wisconsin's cap. He also points out that medical malpractice lawsuits have a higher barrier to entry than regular lawsuits, so those rewards are more likely to be delivered to people deserving of them.

Prop 47 - Reduce criminal sentences - Yes

Prop 47 lowers the punishment for a host of non-violent crimes, many of which jam up our prisons, which then sucks more money out of the state's coffers. If you're a macho tough-on-crime type, you probably want to vote against this, but we're all peace-and-love hippie types, so we're voting for it.

Prop 48 - New Indian casino - Yes

To most of us, Prop 48 simply asks: do you want another Indian casino somewhere in Southern California? Our answer would probably be, "Sure, fine, why are you bothering me with this?" And indeed, if you're OK with Indian gaming, you're probably fine with Prop 48.

If you want to know the details, there are a couple tribes who live near well-loved National Parks, perhaps not an ideal place for gambling. A big casino on the shores on Mono Lake? No thanks.

But it happens that they own some other less-pretty land elsewhere. It's not part of their original reservation, but most people can agree it'd be much better to build a casino there. The Governor stuck a deal, and Prop 48 will ratify it.

The people who don't like this idea are the tribes who already have casinos in the area and aren't keen on extra competition. Well, we don't think it's too nice to keep other tribes from enjoying the same benefits they do, so we're voting yes on this.

SF Prop A - Transportation bond - Yes

Prop A is a $500 million bond to do a whole host of transportation-related work. We're usually pretty skeptical about bonds, but this one manages to pass the test, mostly dedicating itself to tasks that are long-term in nature. But what we really like about Prop A is that it actually tries to pay for itself with a small property tax increase. Count us in!

SF Prop B - SFMTA funding - No

Every year, SFMTA gets a percentage of the city budget, and so that percentage rises and falls based on tax revenues. Prop B would instead track population, which makes sense given that their transportation workload is stays the same even in a recession year. 

We're not a big fan of earmarks, but this is just choosing between one and another. We decided to vote No, thinking that SFMTA should face cutbacks just like every other department in those lean years. They can hardly claim to have no room for running themselves more efficiently.

But the big news in Prop B is our old buddy/nemesis, Terence Faulkner. He's back, and with a real gem right out of the gate. He quotes Casanova! Read it in your voter guide.

SF Prop C - Children's Fund - Split

We'll say it again, we don't like earmarks. And Prop C is an earmark…for children's programs. Crap.

Sorry folks, we don't have the guts to vote against children, so we're going to say we're split on this one (even though we had an odd number of participants). You're on your own.

(The satirical argument against this one in the voter guide is pretty good though.)

SF Prop D - Development Agency pensions - Yes

Prop D is a strange thing to be voting on. About 50 people were working for a state agency operating here that was converted into a city department, but their pensions didn't transfer. For technical reasons, the City can't just make it right. (We're actually not a big fan of pensions, but that's a story for another time.) We feel like giving these folks a break.

SF Prop E - Soda tax - Yes

Prop E is our soda tax, adding 2¢ per fluid ounce to soft drinks. Clearly this sugar water is bad for you, and you may have noticed that there's a lot of obesity in America. Soda is especially marketed at kids, whose obesity rates have tripled or more since 1980. The money from this goes to kids recreation programs. For most of us, that's enough reason to vote yes.

The remaining member of our group has some Libertarian tendencies, so he doesn't like the idea of government singling out one arbitrary bad habit and extracting money from it. If sugar is the problem, why aren't we also looking to tax Kara's Cupcakes, Bob's Donuts, Bi-Rite Ice Cream, The Crème Brûlée Cart, and The Ice Cream Bar? He suspects it's simply because we like those things, but not soda. Anyway, he's in the minority.

SF Prop F - Pier 70 development height - Yes

If you will recall, we were against the notion that voters should be put in charge of planning when the job really belongs to the planning commission. This fact alone makes us want to vote against those Prop B people and approve any tall building proposal sent our way, simply out of spite. And then we looked into this project and decided that we actually would like it to go forward. So instead of voting Yes purely out of spite, we're voting half for spite, half because it's actually a good idea.

When reviewing the arguments against this, we once again run into our frienemy Terence Faulkner. And what's this, he has a new title since we saw him last in Prop B? And yet another title in his statement on the very next page? Hold on, we need to make a table for this:

SF Prop G - Housing speculators' tax - Yes

Prop G will levy a large tax on the sale of a multi-unit property (30 units or less) if the owner has had it for fewer than 5 years. This will slow down or stop the flipping of apartment buildings in San Francisco.

The Ellis Act is a California law that allows landlords to evict tenants if they are planning to take their property off the rental market, either by converting it to condos or by inhabiting it themselves. With the influx of tech money in San Francisco, this could be a lucrative option, especially if a building is occupied by long-term, low-paying renters.

How are these two things related? While any landlord is free to invoke the Ellis Act at any time, it's unlikely that a long-time landlord would suddenly decide to do this. But if a building is flipped over and over again, each new owner will likely consider the condo conversion option. According to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, 78% of Ellis Act evictions between 2009 and 2013 were in buildings that had changed hands within five years.

Like many, we have been bothered to see how an influx of money, largely from tech workers, has been changing the character of San Francisco. Prop G will do something to stem the tide, so we are for it.

SF Prop H - Don't change fields - No

You probably heard about the recent scuffle over a field, which apparently are in relatively short supply in SF. How great then, that private donors have put up the money to make existing fields in Golden Gate Park twice as functional by adding lights (so you can play at night) and artificial turf (so the field isn't closed during the damp winter).

Well, the Prop H people don't think so. They worry about extra lights and the environmental impact of artificial turf. But we'll point out that they live in a city with tons of lights already and living grass fields have their own environmental impact (fertilizer, etc.).

So we're voting No on this, which means Yes, we want more functional fields.

SF Prop I - Don't not change fields - Yes

Prop I is a "poison pill". If Prop H passes but Prop I gets more votes, the fields will still get renovated. Whatever happened to just vote No? Whatever.

So I suppose we're going to vote yes on this for same reason we're voting No on H. We also like that Prop I includes an environmental impact provision, although we're pretty sure that it was going to be done anyway if it hadn't already been.

SF Prop J - Minimum wage increase - Yes

Two of us like minimum wage. One has reservations.

Federal minimum wage is $7.25, California minimum wage is $9.00, and San Francisco's minimum wage is $10.74. But it was established back in 2003 and hasn't been updated for inflation. Prop J would increase minimum wage dramatically, up to $15 per hour by 2018. For most of us, that was enough to vote for this automatically.

Our Libertarian is more skeptical about raising minimum wage. Economic theory states that while some people will get paid more, others will lose their jobs entirely. France has a very high minimum wage, and very high youth unemployment as a result. Those who lose their jobs will probably find little consolation in knowing that some of the still-employed are getting paid more than before.

But then, how much can you raise minimum wage before it starts to significantly impact jobs? Turns out the answer to that is not really known because there isn't much data on the subject, especially for an increase as large as this one. So in the name of science and experimentation, this last person has decided they are also in favor of Prop J, interested to see what the jobs impact winds up being (and keeping an eye on Seattle too).

SF Prop K - Affordable housing - No

Prop K is some sort of non-binding statement that the City will try to make housing more affordable. Excuse me, non-binding? And this was put on the ballot by all the Supervisors? Give us a break. We're voting no once again for…spite!

SF Prop L - SFMTA fines and fees - No

What's this, a second non-binding statement is on the ballot? At least they got signatures to put this one up, but come on.

If this were actually law, we'd be in favor of it! The SFMTA has been running away with fines and fees, and we think it's gone too far. So how about we actually do something?

We're playing our spite card again, and voting no.

Debaters only

We've said it several times before: we won't vote for candidates who don't debate. And once again that means we won't be voting for Nancy Pelosi, who has really made no indication that she's even running.

Jerry Brown has only debated once, but that's a heck of a lot better than zero.

Wednesday morning update - the results:

Prop 1 - Yes
Prop 2 - Yes
Prop 45 - No
Prop 46 - No
Prop 47 - Yes
Prop 48 - No

SF Results
Prop A - Yes
Prop B - Yes
Prop C - Yes
Prop D - Yes
Prop E - No (got 55% of the vote, but needed 2/3 to pass)
Prop F - Yes
Prop G - No
Prop H - No
Prop I - Yes
Prop J - Yes
Prop K - Yes
Prop L - No

Not even a tweet from @NancyPelosi thanking people for re-electing her.

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