The problem? Regardless of whether the so-called "citizen initiative process" is good or not, there are still some good measures that will make the lives of Californians a little bit better. This year, voters in the Golden State will have no less than 11 ballot measures to vote on—and just like every cycle, there are some that are good, and some that are absolutely horrific.
So let's get right to them.
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Proposition 30: Passing proposition 30, a tax measure that will fund California's education system, is one of the two main focuses of the Democratic Party and the labor movement in California at the statewide level. For a while, though, it was touch and go. Leading up to the deadline to gather signatures to place measures on the ballot, Gov. Jerry Brown was leading a movement to gather signatures for his own tax plan, while progressive organizations and labor leaders were gathering signatures for a different plan that asked more from higher-income earners. Eventually, proponents of both plans, realizing that having two separate and competing tax measure on the ballot might cause both to fail, compromised on the plan that has become Proposition 30. Proposition 30 will raise taxes for seven years on those making over $250,000 a year, and increase the state sales tax by .25 points for four years. If it passes, it will help stop $6 billion more from being cut from the education system in the state. But if it doesn't, our budget will be even more of a mess.
Proposition 31: Proposition 31 was put on the ballot by an organization called "California Forward." They're one of these mushy-middle centrist reform groups. In Democratic and progressive circles, we often call them "California Backward." And that's what this measure would do. This measure is opposed by the Democratic Party and most progressive allies, primarily because it would allow the governor to make mid-year budget cuts without legislative approval. Gov. Schwarzenegger fought for this power during his term. Democrats and progressives opposed him then, and we oppose him now.<
Proposition 32: I've written about this one before. So has the Los Angeles Times; they called it "the fraud to end all frauds." And that's exactly what Proposition 32 is. It was put on the ballot by right-wingers. It's funded by right-wingers. And its sole purpose is to decimate the ability of unions to be influential in electoral politics while giving billionaires, most types of businesses, and Super PACs free reign to do as they see fit. Don't be fooled by this deception. Thankfully, recent polling shows the measure headed for defeat because of a vast outreach program by the left. But we take nothing for granted. Daily Kos Action is encouraging Californians to pledge to vote NO on 32.
Proposition 33: This is another one of those pernicious corporate measures that pretends to be an effort to provide a break for consumers, but it anything but. The funding for this measure comes from Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph. See, current California law forbids insurers from charging higher prices to customers if they've had a lapse in coverage, regardless of the reason. Maybe you were in school. The hospital. The military. Prison, perhaps. Either way, your car insurer cannot, as law stands now, discriminate against you for a break in coverage. Proposition 33 would repeal that vital consumer protection and allow insurers to charge higher prices if you've had a lapse. And how do they couch it? By saying that it would allow companies to provide discounts for those who have maintained continuous coverage! Taste of Orwell.
Proposition 34: A very closely-watched measure, Proposition 34 would end the death penalty in California and commute all sentences for those currently on death row into a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Simple as that. The Democratic Party and most allied progressive groups are obviously in favor—not just for the humanity of ending capital punishment, but because it will save the state billions over the long term.
Proposition 35: Proposition 35, which will undoubtedly pass, provides harsh penalties for sex trafficking crimes. So far, so good—and it has been endorsed by most left-leaning organizations. But some editorial boards, such as that of the Los Angeles Times, are opposed. The arguments against are primarily that California already has very strong existing laws against sex trafficking, and that the initiative statute process is a rigid and inflexible approach. It likely won't end up mattering: which average voter is going to oppose stiffer penalties for trafficking minors into prostitution?
Proposition 36: Right now, California has a so-called "three strikes" law: commit three felonies, and your third one can be punished with a life sentence. The problem is, we now have a lot of people serving life sentences for non-violent crimes that are classified as felonies. This is a misuse of limited public safety resources, and Proposition 36 attempts to address that. It will reform the "three strikes" law by ensuring that it applies only to violent felonies. The Democratic Party and most progressive organizations are supporting this measure.
Proposition 37: You can barely turn on the TV these days without seen an ad against the so-called "right to know" act. Proposition 37, supporters claim, would require the labeling of foods that are genetically modified. Supporters, who include most progressive organizations and the Democratic Party, argue that we have a right to know whether our food has been genetically modified with, say, genes that are designed to rot insect guts from the inside.
Monsanto Opponents argue that the law would cost too much and contains too many loopholes.
Proposition 38. Where to even start with this one? Proposition 38 is the brainchild of Molly Munger, daughter of Berkshire-Hathaway partner Charles Munger. Her brother, Charles Munger Jr., is one of the billionaires backing Proposition 32. Proposition 38 raises income taxes to fund education and pay down debt. On its face, that seems like something that Democrats should support. Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. Whereas Proposition 30 only raises income taxes on those making over $250,000 a year, Proposition 38 would raise taxes on those making at least $7,316 per year, while raising them less on higher-income earners. Furthermore, unlike Proposition 30, Proposition 38 will not obviate the $6 billion of so-called "trigger cuts" to the education budget that will occur if Proposition 30 doesn't pass. Even though polls show Munger's ballot measure failing, she has sunk over $30 million into the effort, even has her brother spends dozens of millions to pass Proposition 32 and defeat Proposition 30. The basic story behind story behind 30, 32 and 38 is this: a couple of billionaires who are only anybody at all because their dad is Warren Buffetts' vice-chairman are trying to impose their will on California, and then entire Democratic-progressive coalition is having to go all-out to counterbalance their millions. It's perverse.
Proposition 39. Proposition 39 repeals a tax loophole that allows multistate businesses that do business in California to choose from among several methods of having their tax liability assessed. Not surprisingly, these businesses take advantage of this so-called "single sales factor" taxation policy and cost the state billions in the process. Proposition 39 would repeal that loophole and require that a business' tax liability be assessed solely on its sales in California, and directs a healthy portion of the resulting funds to clean energy and energy efficiency programs. Sounds good, right? So why is the California Democratic Party neutral on it? Interesting question with an interesting answer. When the Party was considering its endorsements on these propositions, the top legislative priority for Assembly Speaker John A. Perez and the Democratic Caucus was the so-called Middle Class Scholarship Act, which would have repealed this same tax loophole and used the money to dramatically reduce the cost of education for students whose families made less than $150,000 a year. If that set of bills had passed, Proposition 39 would have been irrelevant, regardless of whether it passed, and could have potentially produced a conflict. Unfortunately, it takes a two-thirds vote to do anything with taxes here in California, and the bill failed by one lonely vote in the Senate—not because Speaker Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg didn't do absolutely everything they could, but rather because Republican legislators are jerks who would rather see children not be able to afford college, just as long as huge businesses pay less in taxes. So now that the Middle Class Scholarship Act is dead thanks to Republican sociopathy, you'll see most Democrats and progressives supporting Proposition 39. The Democratic Party is still officially neutral, but in reality, that's only because there was no other mechanism under the bylaws to consider it again before the election.
Proposition 40. This one is funny, precisely because it's so sad. This measure is ultimately an outgrowth of the new redistricting policy we have in California, where a so-called "Citizens' Redistricting Commission" draws all the lines. When the maps for the new state Senate maps were drafted, Republicans felt that the new map would be much worse for them than the old map, and used the mechanism extant in the redistricting law (which was itself passed through the initiative process) to put the map up to a vote. Keep in mind that gathering the signatures to do this costs millions upon millions of dollars. But after the measure made it to the ballot, the Republicans realized that—oops!—the new maps weren't so bad for them after all, so now they're declining to campaign for the measure that they themselves put on the ballot. This measure is slightly confusing, however, because a "yes" vote keeps the new maps, while a "no vote" throws them out. We want to keep the new maps, which is why the Party has endorsed Proposition 40.
*Please keep in mind that nothing in this editorial should be used to construe an official endorsement for or against any measure (except for Proposition 32, as mentioned). You can view the California Democratic Party's endorsements here. The Courage Campaign has also put together a voter guide that summarizes the recommendations of 13 different progressive organizations. There's not much daylight between the two.