2012 General Election Edition

Posted by the Mad Propster on October 21, 2012

Greetings, fellow Californians! How was your summer? Looking forward to the holidays? The new year? Ready for this bedamned election season to be over at long last? Us, too! The freakin’ suspense is killing us. So let’s power on through this stuff. We’ve got eleven state propositions to get through. I’m afraid we’re gonna need more than two minutes’ worth of your reading time, folks!

A refresher or an intro, depending on if you’ve voted with us before: Mad Props believes that California’s initiative process, now largely driven by obscenely well-funded special interests — many of which have no idea at all what it takes to run a decent government, or believe there is no such thing as decent government in the first place — has become something of a cancer to our dear Golden State. Around here, we feel any given initiative deserves a NO vote by default unless it is more or less crystal clear that a YES vote will leave us all better off. The burden of proof lies squarely with a measure’s proponents.

With no further adieu, here’s how you should vote on the statewide ballot initiatives in 2012 — or else (as we like to say) you’re part of the problem!

Proposition 30
Jerry Brown’s Tax Increase

You should vote: yes
This proposition was: approved

Prop 30 is the most important initiative on the ballot this time around. It is essential that this measure pass. If Prop 30 fails, the losses to the state will ultimately be beyond measurement, and the effects will last for decades.

Prop 30 is all about the fact that the state government simply doesn’t have enough money. “That’s because of government waste!” barks a cantankerous old ass who gets his news from AM radio. Nonsense! Bloody awful nonsense! The vilest kind of know-nothing nonsense!

Look, California is huge state! We’ve got more than 37 million people living here! If we were a country, we’d be number 34 population-wise, right behind Poland! We are the eighth largest economy on the planet! What does all this mean? It means that it takes a lot of dough to keep the state running! To keep the schools open for the kids. To keep the bridges in good repair and to retrofit them for earthquake safety. To fix, improve, and patrol the highways. To keep judges in courtrooms. This list could go on and on; we’ll spare you. The point is obvious. But for decades, stretching from 1978’s Prop 13 right through to the Governator “repealing the car tax” and beyond, we’ve decreased state tax revenues time and again, well beyond any rational level for a state this size.

Education has been shafted more than anything else. Here’s how it’s laid out by the California Academic and Research Libraries Association in an email to their members:

Since 2008, state funding for UC [that’s the University of California — 10 campuses, including the nation’s top-ranked public university] has dropped by nearly $900 million and $1 billion for the CSUs [the California State Universities — 23 campuses], resulting in sharp tuition increases, layoffs and furloughs, hiring freezes, academic program cuts, and other reductions. California Community Colleges [112 campuses] in the past four years have lost $809 million in funding, decreased enrollment by nearly half a million students, instituted faculty hiring freezes, and cut course offerings to meet budget needs. If Proposition 30 fails, UCs and CSUs will each lose a further $250 million, and California Community Colleges will lose $338 million.

We MUST fix this. The argument that “we can’t afford it” is completely bogus. Here’s how you afford it: Enact Governor Brown’s plan, Prop 30, which will raise the state sales tax for four years, and the income tax on those making more than $250,000 for seven years. This is abundantly fair. Everyone in the state will take a hit, and those who are doing quite well will take an extra hit. We cannot afford NOT to do this. We’re flushing the state’s future right down the porcelain fixture if we don’t.

When opponents of Prop 30 write, in the Voter Information Guide, that Prop 30 “is just an excuse for Sacramento politicians to take more of your money, while hurting the economy and doing nothing to help education,” they are singing a downright dishonest tune, one loved by Tea Partiers and others (like Charles Munger, who has spent more than $21 million dollars to defeat this measure) who believe that a centuries-old American understanding of “the public good” needs repealing. The Golden State is better than that, and it’s time to prove it. It’s time to stop starving public education, public safety, the courts, and all the other public services that the state government provides to improve all our lives. Mad Props beseeches you: Vote yes on 30.

Proposition 31
Two-Year Budget Cycle (plus a gaggle of other stuff)

You should vote: no
This proposition was: rejected

Prop 31 is perhaps the most deceptive prop on this ballot. It’s touted as the “Two-Year Budget Cycle” bill, and if that were an accurate portrayal of the bill’s contents, we would be urging a YES vote. But we cannot. There is a large array of other budget-related nonsense built into Prop 31, including:

  • Allowing the governor to cut pretty much anything he wants, without warning, any time the state is in a “fiscal emergency”. The Governator would have had a field day with this. And your kids would be down to two hours of school a day.
  • A requirement that bills before the legislature be available in print — we repeat, in print — for three days before they can be voted on. Has no one heard of email? Web sites? The answer to our budget problems is more paper? Talk about a fruitless waste of resources.
  • Budgetary constraints that would not apply to ballot propositions. As we’ve preached at your before, ballot-box budgeting is a huge problem in California. With Prop 31, that wouldn’t change at all. But we’d tie the hands of the legislature while giving more power to the governor. How can this be a good idea?

The SF Chronicle nails the call on this one: Prop 31 is a trojan horse for bad ideas that will make state budgeting an even bigger mess than it already is. Vote for better, not for worse. Vote no on 31.

Proposition 32
Campaign Contribution Ban (sort of)

You should vote: no
This proposition was: rejected

We hate to give you homework, but it’s really worth your time to read pages 28 and 29 of your Voter Information Guide, where Prop 32 is fully explained by the Legislative Analyst in words a sixth-grader could understand. The explanation has a lot to say about the roles that corporations and labor unions have in our elections — stuff you probably don’t know.

Now then. Prop 32 is deceptive as all hell. It sounds mighty good when summed up in a certain way: No one wants a union or a corporation taking money out of their paycheck and giving it to a politician they can’t stand. Outlawing that sounds (ahem) right on the money. Right?

But digging deeper, we find out that billionaire developers and other one-percenter snots [Oh, Mad Props, did you just go there? —You betcha! Mad Props goes there!] are behind this, and wrote in exceptions for the very kind of election influencing they engage in. Snots like Charles Munger (about whom, see above) and the execrable Jerry Perenchio. And oh, look! The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association thinks this measure is a good idea. We’ve told you about those nutjobs before. They wouldn’t know sound public policy if it bit them on the ass and sang the Michigan Rag.

The Los Angeles Times has a great piece on Prop 32. The bill sounds good at first, but when you scratch the surface, it’s basically a union-busting law put up by vaguely creepy white male gazillionaires. You know the kind — there’s one in the news every day right now, for at least another few weeks. Perhaps for four years.

Anyway, if we pass Prop 32, labor unions will be hobbled and the ultra-rich will influence our elections like never before. That doesn’t pass the bar set by the Mad Props Prime Directive: Vote NO unless the prop is obviously going to improve things. We urge you to vote no on 32.

Proposition 33
Car Insurance Reform

You should vote: no
This proposition was: rejected

We hate it when they do this. Back in 2010, Mercury Insurance put a measure on the ballot that would have allowed them to fleece certain of their auto insurance customers. It failed (narrowly), so they’re back with another verson. Read our take on 2010’s Prop 17. The arguments we made there apply now, too. In this new bill, they’ve excluded folks who’ve been unemployed from the potential rate hike, because their hearts are so pure. Now, what about someone who’s just arrived from out of state to take a new job? That person’s gonna get hit with a higher rate.

Still wanna vote for this, because you think you think that as a longtime Californian you’re gonna get one of the “persistency discounts” Mercury is just raring to give out? If you think that’s going to be anything like a sizeable chunk of change, we have a bridge to sell ya. Like we said in 2010, “California’s auto insurance status quo is certainly no promised land, but this little bit of ‘reform’ is really just a sneaky means of starting to undo reform the industry has chafed against for many years. Don’t let them get away with it.” Vote no on 33.

Proposition 34
End the Death Penalty

You should vote: yes
This proposition was: rejected

We have to admit, this one, more than most ballot measures, is really a moral issue. People already know their opinion on this issue, and there’s not much convincing one way or the other that can go on. Either you believe that capital punishment is a good thing, or you pretty much hate the very idea of it.

But perhaps some of you who think that capital punishment is a good thing can agree that the way California does it is a total mess. That’s the conclusion of one of the authors behind the 1978 proposition that reinstated the death penalty in California.”I thought the ultimate punishment would save money and end victim grief with finality,” says Donald Heller. “I did not account for multiple defense lawyers, expert witnesses including scientists, jury consultants and investigators; nor did I consider the cost of countless appeals and habeas corpus petitions.” Because of these snags, it costs us $300 million to execute someone, after an average wait of 25 years.

This is obviously a bad joke worth ending. Except that of course, it’s no joke at all: The state is taking a person’s life, via a criminal justice system rife with discrimination, bias, and unfairness. We know that innocent people get convicted of crimes. How can we even consider executing convicts?

Take a look at the Wikipedia’s map of countries that retain the death penalty. It’s like a Who’s-Who list of nations whose lead we must not follow when it comes to matters of justice and human rights.

For a comically weak argument in favor of keeping the death penalty (the NO vote here), look no further than this rhetorical miscarriage at the Orange County Register. It’s like a dim eighth grader’s first persuasive essay, all ready to be marked up in red by the salivating teacher. You’re way smarter than that. Prove it, and vote yes on 34.

Proposition 35
Trafficking and Slavery Prohibition

You should vote: no
This proposition was: approved

Prop 35 is the first of two law-and-order initiatives on the ballot this go-round. It is put forth by former Facebook executive Chris Kelly, who ran for Attorney General in 2010, losing the primary to Kamala Harris. Kelly desperately needs an accomplishment to shore up his next run for office. He shouldn’t get this one.

Kelly’s bill is a big overreach. It may very well put some new defendants in court, and some new convicts in prison, but it will do very little to stop human trafficking. It ignores the fact that most trafficking investigations and prosecutions are federal, because they often involve bringing people into the country or moving them across state lines. Prop 35 provides no funding for the additional work it requires of police departments, or the new training police will be required to undergo. It requires that some people who have not committed sex crimes be placed on the sex offenders list. These lists do plenty of harm and should be tightened up to focus on actual sexual predators, not expanded to include people who are guilty of crimes like extortion.

Our Voter Information Guide tells us that the California Police Chiefs Association backs Prop 35. Mad Props will now state, for the record, that we do not hold the opinions of various police groups in much esteem these days. Such groups always — always — promote putting more people behind bars for longer and for new reasons. That’s good for the employment of police officers and prison guards, but not for much else. California’s prison-industrial complex is already out of control, and already proves that we cannot solve our society’s ills simply by locking up more people for more reasons. There is no doubt that human trafficking is a real problem, but we agree with the Santa Cruz Sentinel when it says “Well-intentioned or not, adopting new criminal laws and sentencing guidelines through initiative is the wrong way to go.” This is a problem for the legislature — for the professional policymakers that we ourselves put in place to get the job done right. We will address this problem most poorly if we address it by initiative fiat. Vote no on 35.

Proposition 36
Repeal the Three Strikes Law

You should vote: yes
This proposition was: approved

Why vote yes? It’s quite simple. Non-violent offenders should not be spending the rest of their lives in prison. It really does boil down to that.

Do not think for an instant that the state has not sentenced people to life in prison for stealing food. It has. That’s why our Three Strikes law, the harshest in the nation, needs some work. Not repeal, but reform: Violent offenders will stay in the can, but others will get a second chance — after serving appropriate, sometimes lengthy, sentences. This isn’t just a big money-saver for our state; it’s good policy that carries with it the unmistakeable and beautiful smell of compassion. How often do you get to vote for compassion?

The California Peace Officers Association and the California State Sheriff’s Association urge a vote against this measure. As we just got finished saying (see above), Mad Props doesn’t buy what these groups sell. It’s time to fix our Three Strikes law. Vote yes on 36.

Proposition 37
Label GMO Foods

You should vote: yes
This proposition was: rejected

You can think of this as a different sort of Sunshine Law. It provides the People with certain information. Information about the food we eat every single day. What sort of information could possibly be more immediately relevant to our lives? Who could possibly be against letting us know what kind of food we are eating?

Answer: Big Agribusiness, of course. Genetically modified food is an enormous business. But the corporations that fill up your grocery store with goodies know that many people remain leery of GMO food. They tell us that GMO food can’t hurt us. That may be true — the science seems pretty cut-and-dry at the present moment. (Then again, science once said that asbestos was safe, too.) But if GMO food is perfectly safe, then what is the harm in labeling it and letting informed consumers choose to buy it or not? Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing that Republicans are always telling us should be decided “through the magic of the market”?

We admit, Mad Props is out of sync with nearly every newspaper editorial board in the state on this. Papers as varied as the SF Chronicle, the U-T San Diego, the LA Times, and the Orange County Register are against Prop 37.

It’s easy to understand why Central Valley newspapers stand against this prop: It represents big changes for food producers in the state. The urban papers that oppose the bill seem to have stronger arguments. The Times and the Register in particular point out the burden Prop 37 puts on mom-and-pop groceries, and that the bill promotes lawsuits as a means of enforcement. In fact, the Register points out the bill was written by a Berkeley attorney who has made a living off lawsuits relating to 1986’s Prop 65, the law that brought us the ubiquitous notices you’ll find in all sorts of public places that inform you of the presence of cancer-causing substances.

Well, we don’t mind being informed of all the poisons in our urban environment and thus don’t see Prop 65 as a disaster. Nor do we see the problem with labeling GMO food. Want to avoid getting sued in a future where Prop 37 is law? Good, then avoid the following two activities: producing GMO food without labeling it, and selling GMO food that isn’t labeled. Done.

All the advertising against this measure — all of it — has been generated by big companies that are afraid that if they have to fess up about what’s in the food they sell you, you will gravitate toward alternatives that they don’t produce. Just look at the list of companies trying to defeat this bill: Monsanto, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Nestle, General Mills, Del Monte, Hormel. What are they so damned afraid of? We all deserve to know what kind of food we are eating. That’s why the European Union requires labels on GMO food, along with China, Japan, and Russia. Consumers should have the freedom to choose. Vote yes on 37.

Proposition 38
Molly Munger’s Tax Increase

You should vote: no
This proposition was: rejected

Here’s the simple truth: This measure is one rich person’s pet idea, peddled as a more responsible alternative to Prop 30. If it gets more votes than Prop 30, then Prop 30 doesn’t take effect, and this pile o’ poo does.

The rich person in this case is Molly Munger, sister of Charles, mentioned twice above. Unlike her brother, Molly means well; Mad Props has no issue with her. But her proposition ties the money it raises directly to K-12 education instead of putting it in the General Fund — thus tying the legislature’s hands.

Munger has said “Under our proposal, virtually all the cuts that the schools have suffered in the last four years would all be restored — and under the governor’s initiative [Prop 30], virtually none would be.” This is disingenuous at best. The state still labors under Prop 98 (1988), which mandates that at minimum, 40% of General Fund spending must go directly to education. So if we pass Prop 30, don’t you worry, the schools are going to get their fair share.

Like we said, Prop 38 sends its money directly to K-12 schools. This means that community colleges, the CSU schools, and the venerable UC system won’t see a dime. That prospect is simply unconscionable.

It is a symptom of our broken initiative process that deep-pocketed do-gooders can get any old well-meaning proposal on the ballot, no matter how wrongheaded it ultimately is. That is exactly what is happening here. Vote no on 38, and in case you have already forgotten, we urge you once again to vote yes on 30.

Proposition 39
Tax Increase for Multistate Businesses

You should vote: yes
This proposition was: approved

There’s a loophole in state tax law that gives companies with no physical presence in the state (but who still do business here) a huge tax break. Closing this loophole will bring in an additional billion dollars worth of revenue each year. Prop 39 also stipulates that for the first five years after its passage, half the new revenue it produces must be used to make public buildings more energy efficient, saving the state and its counties and cities even more money in the long haul.

There is an argument to be made that we should vote NO on 39 because of that last bit: The bill not only raises revenue; it then earmarks that revenue for specific projects. This is an example of “ballot-box budgeting,” which has served the state very poorly over the last couple of decades. Mad Props has railed against ballot-box budgeting in the past, but we are willing to live with it here because the earmark provisions sunset after five years.

Look at the big-big companies that are footing the bill for the opposition here. General Motors. Kimberly-Clark. Are you going to vote for their interests, or for California’s? Listen to the right-wing arguments against this bill. It’s a job-killer. It’s anti-business. These are the same tired lines that get trotted out anytime we consider a tax increase on corporations. Big business isn’t going to abandon California. (You think General Motors would stop selling cars in the Golden State?) It’s time for these companies to pay their fair share and help California get back on track. Vote yes on 39.

Proposition 40
Referendum on State Senate Redistricting

You should vote: yes
This proposition was: approved

Pay attention, as this is a bit of an oddball. This measure is a veto referendum, so the people who got it onto the ballot wanted you to vote NO, in order to veto an action of the state legislature. Interestingly, however, those same people are no longer urging you to vote NO. The bill’s sponsors have admitted it is no longer necessary.

We will waste no more of your precious time. Check yes on Prop 40 and get on with your precious life.

Mad Props Readers Speak!

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