Tuesday, October 25, 2016

November 2016 Endorsements

After a year off, we're back with some more endorsements. Nine of us had some pretty thorough, sometimes contentious discussions. Fortunately there was Golden Boy Pizza to smooth everything out before all was said and done.

Prop 51 - School bond - No

Our group has always been more skeptical of bonds than your average voter. It seems most people forget that you actually have to pay bonds back…with interest (which in this case will be an additional $8.6 billion for a $9 billion bond).

Our usual test for a bond is: does it borrow money to pay for a large one-time expenditure that will have long-term benefits? So building a bridge would be a good case for issuing a bond, road maintenance would not.

Of Prop 51's $9 billion, $3 billion goes to new school construction, $3 billion for K-12 public school modernization, $1 billion to charter schools, and $2 billion to community colleges. At first glance it would appear that at least some of this money would pass our test.

After some discussion, the majority of us (7 of 9) decided it does not. While new school construction of any particular school is a one-time expenditure, in a state as large as California new schools need to be built every year, and schools need to be modernized every year.

The 2014-15 K-12 budget was $76.6 billion, an increase of $6.6 billion from the previous year, very close to the $7 billion this bond hopes to raise for K-12. We think the state can find money for this in the general fund. Or if they can't we suggest they raise taxes. They could at least send the $500 million annual debt service this bond would create directly to the schools.

Prop 52 - Medi-Cal Hospital Fees - Yes

This hospital "fee" is hilarious! The federal government matches whatever money the state sends to hospitals for Medi-Cal. So we charge those hospitals a fee and then give it right back to them along with matching Obamacare funds. Genius!

We're all for it. And we don't even feel bad because Californians will still send way more money to the federal government than we get back.

Prop 53 - Statewide vote for revenue bonds - No

Revenue bonds are different from regular bonds (i.e. general obligation bonds) because revenue bonds don't affect the state budget. The debt service is paid for using a toll or other charge. Maybe the people who put this on the ballot don't know the difference, because they find $2 billion of non-debt to be such a problem that entire state should have to grant approval through more of these cursed initiatives.

Had this been the law already the entire state would have had to vote for the Bay Bridge retrofit. Seems silly to us, so we're all against. One member of our group even pledged eternal scorn to anyone who signed a petition to put this on the ballot, just FYI.

Prop 54 - Legislative transparency - Yes

The main provision in this initiative doesn't allow the legislature to pass a bill until the final version of that bill has been posted on the interned for at least 72 hours. The legislature often sneaks in bills at the end of their session or sneaks amendments in, so this would make that much more difficult.

The majority of us (6 of 9) are in favor, because what's not to like about transparency?

The dissenters prefer the current system. For one thing, the legislature is mostly Democrat, so supposedly any tricks they pull are in our interests as fellow Democrats. Some were concerned that the extra transparency would really help out lobbyists, who the legislature is perhaps really trying to outwit (indeed, the Chamber of Commerce supports Prop 54).

And then as always there's the whole thing about why are we voting on something like this? It could be established by the legislature themselves through a rule, although it seems unlikely they would pass a rule forcing more transparency upon themselves.

Prop 55 - Education and health care tax - Yes

This extends 2012's Prop 30 which created a new tax when California was in a pinch. The tax was only on earnings over $250k per year and used the money for education and health care, so we were all for it. It was temporary though, so now it is up for renewal.

Well, we're still for it. Remember how we don't like most bonds because we should be raising taxes instead? Well, here we are!

One member of our group wants Prop 30 to expire as it promised it would. His parents told him something about keeping your promises, blah blah blah. But if this were worded as an identical new tax he'd be all for it. Hrumph.

Prop 56 - Cigarette tax - Yes

California currently taxes cigarettes at 87¢ a pack, and Prop 56 would add an additional $2 on top of that. The money would mostly go to Medi-Cal and programs to keep people from smoking.

The majority (7 of 9) of us were in favor of this. I mean, have you heard that cigarettes are bad for you? The dissenters do not think the state should be interfering with personal decisions, tyranny of the majority and all that. Someone pointed out that this is a regressive tax, mostly paid by poorer people. Other comments made include a favoring of complete smoking prohibition, and someone finding smoking sexually unattractive (what has the supreme court said about a tax on un-sexiness?).

One interesting revelation from the discussion: cigarette smokers do not cost the government more in medical expenses! Turns out we've all got to go sometime, and providing health care for other terminal ailments is at least as expensive as treating a smoker with lung cancer. The coldly calculating among you could see smoking as a great way to prevent people from dying from heart disease, other cancers, Alzheimer's, etc. Food for thought…which we may also start taxing.

Prop 57 - Parole for non-violent offenders - Yes

This allows parole to be an option for non-violent offenders sentenced without the opportunity for parole. Given how crowded California prisons are and considering many of them are in there for drug offenses (some of which may soon be legal), we all are in favor.

We note that this does not instantly free prisoners, as they still have to go through the standard parole process. Some organizations claimed that violent offenders could be granted parole under Prop 57, but the supreme court disagreed.

By the way, we were also a fan of the way Prop 57 shifts the determination for trying minors as adults from prosecutors to judges.

Prop 58 - Bilingual education - Yes

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 227 mandating that all classes be taught in English. If an ESL student does not understand English well enough to take math classes in English, they are put into an intensive English program.

You may know this approach as "immersion," and some native English speakers have been known to enroll in Spanish or French immersion programs, but most opt for the standard "bilingual" approach. They speak Spanish in Spanish class, but everything else in their native language.

Prop 58 would open the bilingual option back up to to ESL students. Just as we would not want to force all native English speakers into immersion programs, we will stop forcing it upon EspaƱol estudiantes. Many students learn better this way, and it seems like the 1996 proposition comes from a mean-spirited time where illegal immigrants were blamed for a whole host of problems by then-governor Pete Wilson. Thank goodness we'll never hear talk like that ever again.

Prop 59 - Citizens United hooey - Yes

This is some non-binding whatchamadingle saying we want California law makers to do everything they can the overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. We mostly all agreed to vote for this, but we unanimously rolled our eyes over the stupidity of putting such a thing on the ballot.

Prop 60 - Condoms in porn - No (bare-ly)

This would force adult film performers to wear condoms during the, uh, climax of their productions. Have you heard that it's good to practice safe sex? This was our most split decision, 3 in favor, 5 against, and 1 undecided, with some reversals in the process.

We were fortunate enough to have an OSHA employee in our ranks to represent this issue as an occupational safety problem. We require that workers in food service and health care use barriers in any situation where a pathogen might be transmitted to or from them, so why would this be any different? In fact, OSHA already has a condom rule in place, and in a way this initiative only pushes them to better enforce the existing policy.

On the other hand, for those other jobs that require barriers, the barriers don't theoretically prevent the job from being done satisfactorily. We hear from a guy who knows a guy whose cousin read a book about porn that those dirty, dirty porn watchers do not like to watch (or buy) porn when people are using condoms. If this rule were enforced, the most likely outcome is that condomless production will simply be shifted to another state. Goodbye tax dollars and baby oil sales.

The industry already polices itself very well, with performers getting tested constantly and shutting itself down when an actor tests positive for HIV. But on the other hand, HIV does not appear in a test right away, meanwhile other performers could be infected. On the other other hand, adult video organizations claim there hasn't been an HIV infection during production in nearly a decade. There's also this new PrEP drug that limits the transmission rate of HIV.

Another argument against Prop 60 is that by setting rules like this through initiative and not the legislature, they can only be repealed in the same manor. Or we didn't really like how Prop 60 would actually allow any California resident to sue the producer of any non-condom film if OSHA doesn't respond to a complaint, which could result in a flood of lawsuits. Oh, and there's also the whole thing about consenting adults who know the risks and are acting of their own free will, I think someone was hung up on that.

An unusual, maybe unprecedented, aspect of Prop 60 is that it carves out a special place in government for a single individual, the proponent of the act, a Mr. Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. If Prop 60 passes but faces constitutional or statutory challenges (some think it will) and the Attorney General decides not to defend it, Prop 60 would empower him to take over the job of doing so, with state funding.

If all these idea-based arguments have you in a tizzy, it might interest you to know that Prop 60 is opposed by both the Democratic and Republican parties, plus just about every Democratic group you could name. Nearly every major newspaper in California opposes it as well. Then again, we were never really into the whole conformity thing.

Prop 61 - Restrict drug prices - Yes

This would force drug buyers in the California government to never pay more than the Department of Veterans Affairs for drugs.

Well, who doesn't like paying less for drugs? Drug companies, that's who. And honestly, their opposition to this initiative was a big reason no one in our group was against it (although there were two abstentions).

One concern is that, by linking California with the VA, drug companies may drive a harder bargain with the VA, potentially hurting veterans. But then the California government is also buying these drugs for the disenfranchised, so we do not necessarily value the veterans' problems over theirs. And the percentage of drugs bought by the state is a small fraction of the overall drug sales in California; we think the drug companies will be fine.

Prop 62 - Repeal the death penalty - Yes

We wanted to get rid of the death penalty in 2012, and still do. It's not a deterrent, kills some innocent people, costs more money than life in prison, etc. All the information you could ever want is at deathpenaltyinfo.org.

Wow, even the Democratic Party has finally come around on this one.

Prop 63 - Ammo control - Yes

This would apply the same California standards for gun control (background checks, licensed dealers, no guns for felons) to ammunition. Sounds reasonable to us, so we were generally for it (one person abstained). Prop 63 also bans large-capacity magazines, so that's cool.

One thing that gave us pause was that the opposition argument was written by representatives of law enforcement. They claim Prop 63 would divert law enforcement resources and was impossible to implement, but our unscientific conclusion was that cops like guns.

Prop 64 - Marijuana legalization - Yes

We wanted to legalize marijuana in 2010, and still do (8 in favor, 1 against). Back then we would have been the first state to do so, now we're following in the footsteps of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Wow, the California Democrats are in favor and even the national party is open to legalization in a concession to Bernie Sanders supporters.

We had some concern that in the enthusiasm to legalize marijuana there is no effort to discourage consumption like you see with Prop 56 and cigarettes. Some claim that Prop 64 is good for big business and bad for small business, but we think those small businesses are really just people enjoying their ability to make money by skirting the current law under its lax enforcement.

Prop 65 - Direct money from bag sales - No

Prop 65 will dictate where money from carryout bag sales must go, if a charge on carryout bags exists (see Prop 67). Under Prop 65, the bag charge would go to a newly created environmental fund instead of to the stores to cover the cost of the bags themselves and to promote reusable bags.

Well, we think it's fine if the 10¢ goes to the store. Some claim that a bag actually costs more like 12¢, but it's a pretty insignificant charge regardless.

One suspicious thing about Prop 65 is that it's funded by the plastic bag companies, which did not make it any more attractive to us. Perhaps they're just trying to confuse people, perhaps they think the mandatory charge on bags is some sort of money grab by grocers instead of a disincentive to consumers.

Or another theory is that Prop 65 will actually prevent a bag ban if it gets more votes than Prop 67. To at least one member of our group, this does not seem very likely. Yes, there is a little aside on page 111 of the voter guide that has got everyone worked up:

But after reading the actual text of the propositions and the state's analysis, this member thinks it is more likely a court will simply say Prop 65 overrules the bag charge use and leaves the rest of Prop 67 intact.

Not that it matters because none of us had a problem with the 10¢ charge going to the store, so we all voted No.

Prop 66 - Death penalty reforms - No

This would make changes to California's existing death penalty process to make it more efficient. Well, as opponents of the death penalty, we don't have much interest in that, so we all voted no.

And good thing we did, because it turns out Prop 66 is a poison pill! If it gets more votes than Prop 62 it will keep the death penalty in place. A member of our group found the key part of the initiative text:
This measure is intended to be comprehensive. It is the intent of the people that in the event this measure or measures relating to the subject of capital punishment shall appear on the same statewide election ballot, the provisions of the other measure or measures shall be deemed to be in conflict with this measure. In the event that this measure receives a greater number of affirmative votes, the provisions of this measure shall prevail in their entirety, and all provisions of the other measure or measures shall be null and void.

Prop 67 - Plastic bag ban - Yes

Earlier this year the legislature passed SB 270, a statewide plastic bag ban, but the California constitution allows for a veto referendum, sending any legislative bill to the public for final approval or rejection if enough signatures are gathered, and that's what Prop 67 is.

Most of the members of our group have lived in San Francisco where there has already been a plastic bag ban since 2007, the first in the country. Plastic single-use bags are a particular environmental nuisance and we are happy to get rid of them. Paper is better but reusable is best, which is why there is a mandatory 10¢ charge on the paper bags, to ensure that consumers are given the option to not use any disposable bag and to encourage the use of reusable bags. One of our members commented that he originally thought the SF bag ban was going to be a hassle, but found out it really wasn't. We are unanimously in favor.


51 - Yes
52 - Yes
53 - No
54 - Yes
55 - Yes
56 - Yes
57 - Yes
58 - Yes
59 - Yes
60 - No
61 - No
62 - No
63 - Yes
64 - Yes
65 - No
66 - Yes
67 - Yes

No comments:

Post a Comment