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California Ballot Measures: A Suggested Voting Guide

Francesca Bessey |
November 3, 2012 | 11:22 p.m. PDT


California has several propositions on the ballot. (Nuclear Winter, Creative Commons)
California has several propositions on the ballot. (Nuclear Winter, Creative Commons)
California has a whopping 11 state propositions on the ballot this Tuesday, including several that could have an enormous impact on the state and its residents.

As the state's economic and educatonal situations grow more desperate, voters should support the ballot measures conferring the most benefits on the most people, as a necessary means of restoring the state's stability. What follows are voting reccomendations for achiveing such an end.

Proposition 30–Temporary Taxes to Fund Education & Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding

Vote: Yes

There’s no denying that California’s public education system is struggling severely right now. In four years, the system has seen over $20 billion in budget cuts, class sizes are among the largest in the nation, and more and more students are dropping out of state universities because of massive tuition hikes. Prop. 30 proposes a temporary income tax increase for the state’s wealthiest families in order to address this crisis. The revenue will be immediately directed into a state fund exclusively for public schools, and government transparency has been consistently emphasized in the measure’s publicity campaign. If California allows its education system to fail, the rest of the state will soon follow. Education is inevitably the one issue that is tied to every other, and it is one California cannot afford to ignore. Prop. 30 also includes provisions for a guaranteed public safety fund, asserting that California residents’ right to safety should not be at the mercy of budgetary concerns.


Proposition 31—Government Performance and Accountability Act 

Vote: No

Prop. 31’s official title makes it seem a little too good to be true—and it is. While the intent—a government dedicated to transparency, cooperation and fiscal responsibility—would please any frustrated taxpayer, the measure itself does not deliver so nicely. First of all, at nearly 9,000 words, Prop. 31 is simply too long. It tries to implement way too many changes at one time, to fix California’s budget crisis in one shot. The measure is in fact almost impossible for any California voter to support because, statistically, most voters will probably take issue with at least one of the countless constitutional amendments it proposes. One in particular that sets off alarm bells is the proposal of a biennial state budget. Supporters of the ballot measure claim that the two year budget will force the state government to plan ahead; however it also means that the state will have to wait longer to revise a bad budget or to respond to an unexpected surplus, financial crisis or other change of circumstance that would affect how the state spends its money. At a time when the fiscal landscape of both California and the nation is uncertain, this does not seem wise. 


Proposition 32—Prohibition of Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction

Vote: No

Prop. 32 addresses the concerns of many Americans about gargantuan political campaign contributions from corporations and labor unions, but not effectively, and not justly, either. The key component is how the measure aims to restrict contributions from these sources: by banning payroll deductions for political contribution purposes. While the majority of union-based contributions are done through payroll deductions, big businesses typically have the capital on hand to just donate directly. Thus, only union political activity would be seriously affected by the measure (ironic, considering unions actually exist for a political purpose, whereas corporations exist to make a profit). Additionally, Prop. 32 still has nothing on the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, so Super PACs will continue to serve as political piggy banks for the ultra-rich. If you’re still unconvinced, spend five minutes researching who supports Prop. 32 and who doesn’t. Consumer and environmental organizations, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters—all groups that want to see corporate political influence reduced—staunchly oppose the measure. 


Proposition 33—Auto Insurance Pricing Based on Driver’s Coverage History

Vote: No

Insurance companies offer discounted premiums to loyal customers, but Prop. 33 would allow them to extend these discounts to anyone who has been consistently covered by auto insurance from any company for the past five years. Proponents say the measure will reward California drivers for following the state insurance law and make insurance companies more competitive, which is true—but at whose expense? The law includes exemptions for those serving in the military, but not those who may suffer a serious injury or illness that prevents them from driving for an extended period of time. It exempts the unemployed (for 18 months), but not the tens of thousands of Californians barely making enough to feed their families, let alone pay for auto insurance. It has provisions for children still living with their parents, but not young people who have been living independently from their parents for a number of years before they lease or purchase their first car. These are categories of people who generally have less money to spend, not more—but they are the drivers who will be making up the difference for all the extra insurance discounts. This will lead to more people who cannot afford car insurance and thus and more uninsured drivers on the road.  


Proposition 34—Repeal of Death Penalty and Additional Funding for Homicide and Rape Investigations

Vote: Yes

Let’s face it: the death penalty is impractical. No legal system is perfect. We know from the work of organizations like The Innocence Project that people have been wrongly convicted of capital crimes. The state knows this, but in the past, instead of getting rid of the death penalty, they have spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars double checking police work, fighting appeal after appeal and keeping up an expensive cell on death row for a convict who will probably die of old age before the execution is approved anyway. Prop. 34 wants to put an end to this inefficiency and uncertainty, and it wants to redirect the money saved in a one-time grant of $100 million to law enforcement agencies specifically for the investigation of two of the most heinous crimes prosecutable under the law: homicide and rape. 


Proposition 35—Increased Penalties for Human Traffickers

Vote: Yes

Human-trafficking is one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world. The average age of a minor exploited through sex trafficking is 12-14. Three California cities—Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco—are among the highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation. Human trafficking is a gross human rights abuse and United States law has too long taken a lax attitude toward its perpetration. Prop. 35 will increase penalties and fines for convicted human traffickers. It also contains important provisions that that will begin to help prevent this crime as well as address the stigma experienced by many of the industry’s victims. The measure expands the sex offender registry to include convicted human traffickers. They would also be required to register their screen names and social networking accounts as a means of addressing the large number of minors who are manipulated into the industry through the Internet. The measure also elaborates on the definition of human trafficking victims, specifically excusing them from criminal prosecution of any kind and invalidating unjust defenses human traffickers have used in the past related to the moral character of the victim or, in the case of minors, supposed ignorance of the victim’s age.


Proposition 36—Revision of Three Strikes Law to Apply Only to Serious/Violent Felons

Vote: Yes

California’s prisons are so overcrowded that the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional for cruel and unusual punishment in 2011. Undeniably contributing to the problem is California’s Three Strikes Law, which puts away any two-time serious felon for 25 years to life after they commit a third felony, regardless of the nature of their third and final crime. This means we have people in prison for life because they stole $20 worth of merchandise from Home Depot or did a lot of drugs. Such egregious sentences are completely illogical. They are not necessarily just and certainly not practical, and they cost the state untold millions in prison funding—not to mention in the removal of a significant number of people from the economy who could contribute as workers and consumers. Revising Three Strikes allows it to return focus to its original intent—getting violent repeat offenders off the streets for good.


Proposition 37–Required Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods

Vote: Yes

Prop. 37 is a first attempt to catch the United States up with the fifty other countries worldwide who have already adopted such labeling laws. The reason why almost every other industrialized nation in the world mandates labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is because we simply do not know enough about them yet. Long term health studies have not been conducted on the effects of consuming GMOs, though several preliminary studies suggest a link between these foods and certain health problems like allergies and organ toxicity. Because GMOs are primarily used to engineer pesticide-resistant strains of staple crops, they are associated with an overall increase in pesticide use, which negatively impacts the environment and also contributes to the evolution of super weeds that are increasingly difficult to control. Contrary to what some opponents of the measure have argued, Prop. 37 does not ban any of these foods—it simply mandates that these foods be labeled, so that Californians are able to make an informed decision about what they put in their bodies. The “No on 37” campaign has also suggested that the measure will lead to a slew of lawsuits and will increase annual grocery bills by hundreds of dollars, however food costs in countries who have already adopted labeling laws experienced no such change. It doesn’t help that the chief financial backer of the “No” campaign, Monsanto Company, also insisted that DDT was safe.


Proposition 38—Tax to Fund Education and Early Childhood Programs

Vote: No

The recommendation of no should come as no surprise, considering Prop. 30 was endorsed just a few paragraphs ago. The two measures can be seen as competing solutions to the same problem. Prop. 38, however, proposes to do so by increasing taxes on annual earnings as low as $7,316, which is only about half the amount a person working full time for minimum wage would make in a year. Certain problems facing California’s education system can be directly linked to the hardship faced by low-income families, for example, kids who drop out of school to get jobs and support their families or who regularly miss class because they have to take care of younger siblings. Taxing these families threatens to work against the educational initiative itself. Prop. 38 also exclusively focuses on K-12 schools, ignoring the plight of California’s higher education system.


Proposition 39—Multistate Business Tax and Clean Energy Funding

Vote: Yes

Prop. 39 requires multistate businesses to pay taxes based on the percentage of their sales in California, and dedicates the revenue of the first five years to clean/efficient energy projects. Though voters should always be wary of a ballot-mandated direction of revenue into a special interest fund, clean and efficient energy is a constant need of the state and the nation, and the projects will most likely help to create some jobs. After the five years are up, the extra revenue will be a nice boost for the state’s General Fund. More importantly, however, Prop. 39 does what the ballot initiative process is supposed to do—check a stupid decision made by the State Legislature. That decision was a deal they struck at the end of budget planning for 2009 which allowed for the determination of California state income taxes on multistate corporations based on the number of jobs and investments that corporation maintained in California. They literally incentivized moving jobs and investments out of state. Prop. 39 shifts the standard from the corporation’s employees to the corporation’s sales, so the state does not continue to get shafted by companies taking our business but leaving our taxes behind. 


Proposition 40—New State Senate Districts Drawn by the Citizen’s Redistricting Commission

Vote: Yes

The only reason the State Senate Districts are being put to a vote next week is because several prominent Republicans, at risk of losing seats in the new districts, alleged the boundaries were drafted improperly, and spent two million dollars getting the initiative on the ballot. The Republicans subsequently dropped their campaign when the state Supreme Court ruled in January that the lines were drawn correctly and would be used in this year’s elections. Prop. 40, therefore, literally has no existing opposition—at all. There exists no reason for a no vote. All debate on Prop. 40 is essentially irrelevant.


Reach Columnist Francesca Bessey here.



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