2018 General Election Edition
Greetings, civic-minded Californians! Welcome back to Mad Props, your independent guide to California’s ballot initiatives since 2008. It’s hard to believe we’ve been guiding you through your sample ballots for a whole decade, and we have been deeply heartened by the emails and social media queries this past week asking when the new edition would land. How about RIGHT NOW? Is right now good for you? Good. We’re here.
Our standard boilerplate: If you are new to Mad Props, you might want to read our manifesto, which details our basic belief that we all should vote “no” on any given proposition unless it’s clear the new law has a real shot at improving our lives. With that as our framework, here’s how you should vote on the props this November — or you’re part of the problem!
Proposition 1 targets our state’s ongoing housing crisis, which, keep in mind, is ultimately a lack-of-housing crisis — a crisis of supply. This prop would use bonds to generate $4 billion in spending on housing projects, mostly for veterans and lower-income Californians. It’s not a complete solution, but it’s a good idea that addresses the supply problem head-on.
Bond measures give a lot of people the heebie-jeebies, but this one isn’t scary when you look at the numbers, which are easy to follow and provided (by law) in your Voter Information Guide. Take a peek and you’ll see that $1 billion of the bonds sold for Prop 1 will be paid off by the veterans living in the housing generated by the measure. Neat! It will cost (roughly) $5.9 billion to pay off the rest of bonds over the next 35 years. That’s $170 million a year, which may sound like a lot, but it represents only one-tenth of one percent of California’s current budget. Big state, big budget, big numbers, people. In other words, we can afford to make this investment that addresses a very real and ongoing crisis.
Look once more at your VIG. On the pro side, you’ve got veterans, seniors, Habitat for Humanity, and other do-gooders. On the con side, you have only Gary Wesley, our state’s lone dissenter since the 1980s. Which side are you on? Help put a dent in the housing crisis. Vote yes on Prop 1.
Prop 2 doesn’t raise anyone’s taxes or add to the state’s bond debt. It simply reappropriates money raised by an existing tax. 2004’s Prop 63 — the “Mental Health Services Act” was a 1% boost in the state’s tax on income above $1 million; the money raised is earmarked for mental health services of various kinds. The “of various kinds” part has proven to be problematic: There are numerous documented instances of frivolous spending of MHSA funds.
If you’ve been voting in the Golden State a while, you may remember Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election in 2009 to put six pet propositions in front of the voters. Prop 1E (which Mad Props opposed) would have let the state grab MHSA money and use it for other things. The people gave that idea the thumbs-down — along with four more of the Governator’s props! Do y’all remember that? Oh 2009, you devil! You had us thinking our political system had gone completely insane! And now, you look so quaint!
Whoa, tangent. Anyhow, present-day Prop 2 will allow the state to use MHSA funds to build housing for mentally ill Californians who are either homeless or on the brink of homelessness. So the elevator pitch is, “Take some of this money that has historically been, um, somewhat oddly spent, and use it to address an immediate problem: people on the streets due to mental illness.” Okay, sounds perfect; who’s against it? A lone treatment center in Contra Costa county who might lose some funding. That’s it. Their alarmism is fueled by self-interest, and Prop 2 is good public policy, worthy of your support. Vote yes on Prop 2.
This is a $9 billion bond measure for water projects, always a good source of contention in California, the state that gets thirstier by the year. “Now, Mad Propster,” we hear you saying, “I seem to recall we passed a big old water bond at your urging just a few years ago, isn’t that right?” Why yes, that’s true: 2014’s Prop 1 was Jerry Brown’s Big Water Bond, $7 billion strong; we supported it, and so did the voters of California. Some of last June’s Prop 68 (a $4 billion bond; approved) also goes to water projects.
So what’s all this, then? Well, it may not shock you to learn that some, uh, “monied interests” — including Big Agribusiness in the Central Valley — paid the author of 2014’s Prop 1 to write this new measure, which would pump money into their pet projects. They also paid for statewide signature-gathering; you might very well have provided your signature sometime early this year upon leaving your favorite grocery store, and finding yourself exhorted to do something about the state’s water woes. (Never sign a petition without knowing who is behind it, dear readers!)
Anyway, there is some serious money behind Prop 3. The opposition is led by the Sierra Club, which makes a very important policy point: Targeted water projects in California have historically been paid for by their beneficiaries, but Prop 4 would instead have the people of California pay for expensive projects like the Oroville Dam repair. This would mark a huge shift in water policy in California — an expensive shift, from the people’s perspective.
Here’s more ouch along those lines: $750 million in spending under Prop 3 would be earmarked for fixing a canal in the Central Valley that is sinking because farmers have been pumping too much groundwater out of the ground for years, against explicit, dire warnings. Now these same farmers are saying to you, “We broke it; you pay for us to fix it.” That’s, um, not usually how it works!
Some props are simple. We will dispose of this one quickly. Prop 4 would provide additional funding for eight non-profit children’s hospitals and five University of California medical centers that provide children’s health services. At $1.5 billion, it is a comparatively small bond measure that will heal and, yes, save the lives of young people. There is no organized opposition to the measure. In your VIG, the naysayer is the aforementioned Gary Wesley. We’re done here. Vote yes on Prop 4.
Unless you’re new to California, you’ve probably heard of 1978’s Prop 13, which curtailed property taxes statewide. Prop 13’s effects were felt quickly. Only five years later, the Mad Propster’s elementary school teacher explained that we’d all need to start bringing our own lined paper from home due to budget cuts brought about by the enormous loss of tax revenue. California’s public schools have been vexed for funding ever since.
There is no doubt, however, that Prop 13 is good for homeowners, especially elderly ones who have lived in their homes for decades. Such folks, often on fixed incomes, would risk being priced out of their homes by rising property taxes if not for Prop 13. So Prop 13’s protections are, unequivocally, a goodness in that respect. These protections are also transferable under certain circumstances: Disabled people and those over the age of 55 can transfer their existing property tax assessment to a new home of equal or lesser value. In most cases, the new home must be in the same county. Such a transfer is only allowed once. (See the “What Happens Under Current Law” box in the online VIG or page 35 of your printed one for examples.)
Prop 5 would vastly expand the circumstances under which a homeowner could transfer their current tax assessment. You’d no longer be limited to one transfer. You could move anywhere in the state. And you could also trade up to a home of greater value while keeping your assessment. All of this would be terribly damaging to the state’s tax revenues, especially that last bit. How damaging? The nonpartisan analysis in your VIG is telling:
In the first few years [after Prop 5’s passage], schools and other local governments each probably would lose over $100 million per year. Over time, these losses would grow, resulting in schools and other local governments each losing about $1 billion per year (in today’s dollars). [emphasis added]
This is a disaster in the making. Who could possibly be behind such a scheme, and why? Prop 5 was authored by the California Association of Realtors, some of whom ultimately stand to make an absolute killing should Prop 5 pass, because so many more elderly homeowners (of all income levels) will be able to make real estate moves without any tax consequences. The realtors are shamelessly positioning Prop 5 as an ameliorative to the housing crisis. Don’t buy this argument! Recall that the housing crisis is a crisis of supply. Then consider that Prop 5 will not create a single new unit of housing.
Prop 13 definitely needs to be amended and corrected — in fact, there will be a measure on the ballot in 2020 to do just that — but expanding Prop 13’s protections in this way is unnecessary and unwise, and is only up for a vote due to the outsized power of a special interest. (Our screwed up initiative system strikes again!) Vote no on Prop 5.
Goodness gracious, it was only earlier this year that we were talking about the gas tax increase. As we said then:
In 2017, the state legislature raised the gas tax 12 cents per gallon — the first increase in that tax in 23 years. Long overdue, and a real step forward that is expected to give the state an additional $5 billion in revenue each year.
YES. Popular stuff!
But now some folks on the right who oppose tax increases in any form are here to say, “Let’s undo that tax hike entirely. Not only that, let’s make it impossible for the legislature to raise this tax ever again without voter approval.” These crusaders are led by one Carl DeMaio, a Republican from your correspondent’s hometown of San Diego, who served one term on the city council, then ran for mayor and lost, then ran for Congress and lost, and now makes his living by being outraged on the radio. Prop 6 is his brainchild.
About Carl DeMaio: You knew this guy in high school. This was the smarmy, sanctimonious, self-appointed hall monitor with the permanent shit-eating grin who pissed everybody off. He was the guy that everyone — every girl, every boy, every teacher — wanted to punch in the face pretty much all the time. And he’s still that guy. In a way that reminds you (if you’re the face-punchin’ type) of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, or Vice President Dan Quayle (if you remember that turd). Don’t believe me? Watch the guy.
DeMaio has been using Prop 6 to get his name back in the news, and has been astonishingly upfront about the proposition’s not-so-ulterior motive: “Republicans have a turnout problem, and this initiative could save them,” he said in an interview. (House Speaker Paul Ryan seems to agree; he is supporting Prop 6 in the hopes that its turnout will help stave off the loss of Republican seats in the House.) San Francisco Chronicle editors pointed out to DeMaio that if Prop 6 passes, prices will only go down at the pump if Big Oil is generous enough to pass the savings on down to us consumers, and his response was that he trusts oil companies: “Actually, as bad as oil companies are, yes. I would actually give them a smidge of an edge over these thieves in Sacramento.”
“These thieves” are no such thing, of course. They are your duly-elected representatives, dedicated public servants who did the right thing in passing the first gas tax increase since Friends was a hit debut. If we trash their wise decision, literally hundreds of projects across the state will be canceled, some of them in-progress. No! No, we say! Tell Carl DeMaio to stick to radio, tell Paul Ryan to stay out of California, and vote no on Prop 6.
There is a movement afoot in this great land to get rid ourselves of our twice-yearly shift in the hours — that 20th century relic known as Daylight Saving Time.
Because we’re all just fucking sick of it, right? The time change, that is. All it seems to do anymore is make everybody irritable. Twice each year we read the articles about all the lost productivity that can be attributed to the shift. And we read other articles about how the energy savings DST is supposed to create are illusory. And about how the agrarian lifestyle it was meant to either mimic or support (wasn’t it?) is actually not affected at all by where the hands point on the clock, whereas we urban clock-punchers really do have to start our workday at 9am, etc., so why do we keep messing with the clocks?
The madness must end, along with the penny and the paper dollar, but let’s tackle one problem at a time. For California to use Daylight Time year-round, ending the clock-shifting, two things have to happen. First, the people have to approve it, because the current DST regime was put in place by popular initiative — thus, under the state constitution, only another initiative can alter the law. Prop 7 is that initiative. Second, the U.S. Congress must give states the option to opt out of clock switching. That day is not here yet, but as more states (Like Florida! God dammit, they’re ahead of us on this!) clamor to end the madness, that day will come. So prepare the Golden State for that glorious future when children never learn of springing forward or falling back. Vote yes on Prop 7. And then, wait for Congress! (Ba-dum tchsss.)
Every now and again we get a ballot measure that attempts to solve a very real problem, but goes about it entirely wrong. That’s Prop 8 in a nutshell. The issue it addresses is the out-of-control cost of kidney dialysis — ongoing, time-consuming, in-clinic treatments that are essential to some 80,000 Californians whose kidneys no longer work. In decades past, dialysis was only available at hospitals and major medical centers, but as the prevalence of kidney disease has risen, companies have opened chronic dialysis clinics (CDCs) to serve patients’ needs. There are nearly 600 CDCs in the Golden State now, many of them in communities that don’t have a hospital or a major medical center. The very obvious upside to this development is that a great many of our fellow citizens now receive the life-saving treatment they need in the communities where they live.
The downside, as you might expect, is that these patients — or, in most cases, their insurers — are being absolutely gouged. (One of those insurers is California itself: Many dialysis patients are on Medi-Cal.) Proponents of Prop 8 estimate that the biggest dialysis providers charge 350% of the cost of providing treatment. They don’t take all that extra revenue and invest in their operations, either; dialysis clinics have become nationally known as corner-cutters on everything from employee training to patient safety to the basic cleanliness of the clinics.
Prop 8 plans to address all this by literally capping the amount of revenue CDCs can bring in. If they blow through the new limit, they will be obligated under the law to issue refunds. That’s it. Somehow this heavy-handed approach is supposed to make the CDCs simply clean up their acts (literally) and lower prices. Does that sound likely to you? Of course not. The companies that run CDCs are in fact far more likely to cut additional corners in a profit-restricted setting, or even close locations in an effort to squeeze maximum profitability from the centers that remain.
In your VIG, the proponents of Prop 8 bemoan the “bloodstains, cockroaches, and dirty bathrooms” that have been reported at CDCs, but the measure they’ve put on the ballot does not address these concerns in any way. It proposes no new standards, no inspections, nothing that addresses public health concerns. It just says, “You can’t make that much money anymore.” Whose crappy idea is this, anyway? The money behind Prop 8 comes from SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which has spent years trying (unsuccessfully) to unionize workers at the two biggest CDC chains, DaVita and Fresnius. They’ve made no inroads there, so they’re going after the industry with Prop 8 instead. They’ve put you, the voter, right in the middle of their cynical game. This is a wrongheaded, pernicious measure that will almost certainly make kidney patients’ lives worse and/or shorter. Consider those patients for a moment, then vote no on Prop 8.
Mad Props always gives it to you straight. So we have to be completely up-front here. Prop 10 would expand rent control in California, and if there is one thing that economists agree on, it is that rent control really screws up a market. Here is Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman, writing about San Francisco’s housing crisis all the way back in 2000:
So, rent control is a messy mixed bag at best. Prop 10 would allow localities to expand rent control laws for the first time since the mid 1990s. Why should you vote to allow this? Because the market is already really screwed up, and as anyone who rents in urban California knows, the rent is too damn high. No, rent control is no panacea, and yes, some cities are never going to allow rent control in any form. (We see you down there, Santa Barbara, you smug son of a gun, you.) Prop 10 would not force rent control on those communities.
But for crying out loud, it currently costs roughly $3800 a month to rent a broom closet in San Francisco with shared access to a Porta-John in the alley out back. Our guess is San Francisco, if given the opportunity by Prop 10, might enact some legislation to do something about its sky-high rents. San Francisco should have the freedom to do that. The cities that are grappling the hardest with the housing crisis should not be hamstrung by outdated restrictions leftover from before the housing crisis began.
Who’s filling your television each night with “No on 10” commercials? Landlords. (No surprise.) Backed by Wall Street. (Bit of a surprise.) Screw these profiteers! This really does come down to whether you believe that local politicians are best equipped to solve local problems. Mad Props agrees with Tip O’Neil’s old adage that ultimately “all politics is local,” and we support empowering local politicians. In keeping with that belief, we ask you to ignore the economists and the landlords, and vote yes on Prop 10.
Prop 11 is about workers’ rights. We’re going to quote Ballotpedia directly to set the stage here:
In December 2016, the California Supreme Court ruled in Augustus v. ABM Security Services that employer-required on-call rest breaks violated state labor law … [which] mandates that rest breaks must be considered off-duty and uninterruptible, including in the event of an emergency. Although Augustus specifically applied to private security guards, the California Legislative Analyst noted that on-call break practices among EMTs and paramedics are similar to that of private security guards. The analyst’s office also noted that several lawsuits alleging break violations under Augustus had been brought against ambulance providers and remained unresolved.
Let’s look at what this means in real life. Imagine you’re a paramedic, halfway through your shift. You’ve already taken one elderly cardiac arrest patient to the hospital; she didn’t look like she was gonna make it. You’ve also responded to a car wreck that included a grisly fatality; your patient was bloody as hell but will survive, in part due to your work. When it’s time for your lunch break, you and your EMT colleagues park the ambulance at the nearest fast food outlet. But just as you’re sitting down to your #2 Combo Meal, a call comes in. You stuff your food in a bag; you’ll be eating it cold later. You speed off to the next tragedy.
It appears that the courts are on the verge of ruling that this is not okay, that current law actually makes an EMT’s lunch break sacrosanct. This will mean two things: Paramedics will get to finish their lunches, and ambulance companies will need to keep extra teams on the road so that one unit can cover for another when there’s a break being taken.
To stave off that dystopian future, one ambulance company in particular, a conglomerate out of Colorado called American Medical Response, has spent $20 million on Prop 11, which would change labor law to specify that EMTs must remain on-call during breaks. So, this one’s a matter of who you side with: the ambulance companies, or their first responders, who already do a very difficult, very important job for absolutely crap pay. We think these heroes should be able to eat their damned lunches in peace. (And yes, if this means that the average cost of an ambulance ride goes up, we are fine with that.) We urge you (as we usually do) to side with the workers. Vote no on Prop 11.
In 2008, in an effort to curb the evils of modern factory farming, Californians passed Prop 2 (as Mad Props urged). The measure was mainly an attempt to outlaw cages that are so small as to be inhumane. Well, it turns out that Prop 2 has not been so successful in that regard, largely because it didn’t actually spell out minimum cage size requirements. Which is to say, it didn’t provide numbers. Prop 12 is here to provide the numbers.
If you want ’em, fall down the Ballotpedia rathole for details — but we expect you won’t need ’em. You probably already know how you feel about factory farming. Mad Props feels that Big Agra should be regulated, and as such, we stand with the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and urge you to vote yes on Prop 12.