Friday, September 29, 2006

Nov. 2006 California proposition recommendations

California proposition time. Time to make decisions we are not qualified to make based on commercials paid for by evil corporations, ballot arguments written by crackpots, and shiny-object provisions designed to make us treat each proposition as a popularity contest (Oil companies, booo! Tobacco companies, booooo! Sex criminals, booooooo!) while ignoring the fine print. Lucky you have me, I guess. Now I’m going to tell you why you should vote no on everything, and in favor of, well, oil companies, tobacco companies and sex criminals. I’m not happy about it either. Sometimes participatory democracy just works out like that.

(Updated with results in purple. 1A through 84 all won, 85 through 90 all lost, which gives the no doubt mistaken impression that Californians simply got bored half-way through the ballot book.)

Prop. 1A. Gas tax only for transportation. I’m not generally in favor of hypothecated taxes (where the revenue from one tax goes exclusively to one purpose): what the appropriate gas tax should be, and what the appropriate transportation funding should be, are two very different debates. It’s even worse when they’re locked in. Also, like all California transportation measures, too little goes to public transportation, too much for cars. No. Yes, 76.6%.

I am opposed to bonds, all bonds, 1) on pragmatic grounds because they’re an expensive form of funding, and the interest is money just flushed down the toilet, 2) on fairness grounds because they are regressive, allowing bond purchasers undeserved tax deductions, and 3) on principled grounds because they place tax obligations on the future generations that have to pay them off, which amounts to taxation without representation. So that argument is why I’m recommending a no on these five props.:
Prop. 1B. Bonds for various transportation-related things, mostly highways but including port security against terrorism, which seems a tad manipulative, a sweetener to sell yet another highway bond. No. Yes, 61%.

Prop. 1C. Bonds for shelters for battered women, housing assistance, wheelchair ramps and the like for poor old people, veterans, the disabled and possibly big-eyed puppies. No. Yes, 57.5%.

Prop. 1D. Bonds for schools. No. Yes, 56.6%.

Prop. 1E. Bonds for levees. No. Yes, 64%.

Prop. 84. Bonds for levees, drinking water, and – hey, didn’t we just see one exactly like this? No. Yes, 53.8%.
Prop. 83. Sex offenders. Lifetime GPS, increased prison terms, bans on living near schools or parks, indefinite commitment without trial to mental facilities. It requires prison sentences rather than probation for crimes including marital rape, where it’s mostly appropriate, but not always, which is why we have judges, and lewd or lascivious acts, where it’s probably appropriate less often. Appropriate, and proportionate, are precisely the concepts the authors of this initiative have left behind. The state (or possibly local government, the authors forgot to specify that detail) would be required to divert significant resources to monitor people many of whom are no particular danger to society, until the day they die. And the idea of committing people to mental facilities after they finish serving prison sentences is a Kafkaesque concept and an abuse of both prisons and mental facilities, the former being misused to house the mentally ill, the latter as a form of punishment rather than treatment. I read the whole text (and very icky it was too), and there are other questionably phrased sections, such as punishing people who communicate over the internet for purposes of sex with someone they “know or reasonably should know” is a minor. And what does it mean that their definition of child porn says that “it is not necessary to prove that the matter is obscene”? The poor drafting of this initiative (it’s not even clear whether it applies to existing registered sex offenders) means we have no idea which parts of it will survive judicial scrutiny, or what they will mean. Also, there will be a sequel: in addition to not being allowed to live near schools or parks (which eliminates most of LA and San Francisco), local governments can, and of course will, add other residency restrictions. No. Yes, 70.5%, but the residency restrictions were immediately suspended by a judge.

Prop. 85. Parental notification of abortion and a 48-hour waiting period. Speaking of waiting periods, we just voted this down one year ago. In fact, the ballot arguments seem to be the same, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t repeat what I wrote a year ago: I’d be against this anyway: parents should no more be able to force their daughters to carry a pregnancy to term than to force them to abort against their will. But this version also has problems with the way the judicial-bypass alternative is set up: it can take so long that parental notification might become, well, redundant; and if there is any sort of abuse, including “emotional abuse,” the court must inform Protective Services, a provision which seems less about protecting abused pregnant minors than it is a “nuclear option” designed to raise the stakes for girls opting for abortion. The prop’s agenda of punishing the little trollops is made even clearer in the ballot argument: “When parents are involved and minors cannot anticipate secret access to free abortions they more often avoid the reckless behavior which leads to pregnancies.” Also, the prop. requires doctors to report abortions performed on minors to the state, which is creepy and worrisome. No. No, 54.1%. Last year’s nearly identical proposition lost by 52.8%.

Prop. 86. Cigarette tax to pay for various health services, including ERs, insurance, nursing training, cancer research, and smoking-prevention programs. The tobacco companies are actually running ads warning darkly about money going to the evil hospitals. This is another hypothecated tax, and since the majority of the price of a pack of cigs would go to the state, California would be in the tobacco business in a big way. Nicotine addicts would have to find well over $1,000 more per year to support their habit. And the only representation that goes with this taxation is this vote, which will lock in spending priorities for all time, with the legislature unable to change them if the state’s medical needs change over time. So look at how it will be spent: some of it we don’t know, because it will have to make up the money lost to previous tobacco taxes, and the rest of it, well, do you feel qualified to say that 1.75% for prostate cancer treatment, 0.75% for rural emergency health services, 4.25% for colorectal cancer, 7.75% for obesity and diabetes, etc, are the appropriate way to divide up this pie, and that they still will be 20 years from now? I know I don’t. And I don’t know who sat down in a room and came up with this deal, but we pay for a government and for public health officials precisely to make these decisions. No. No, 52%.

Prop. 87. A tax on oil drilled in California, which we’re to believe is entirely free money because the oil companies would be prohibited, forbidden and banned from passing the cost on to consumers. Yeah, that’ll work. Money goes to researching alternative energies, alternative-fuel vehicles, energy education, with funding decisions made by an unelected board exempt from conflict of interest laws. Uh oh. I would actually support a tax on drilling, like other states have, but I don’t trust that the revenue from this one would be properly spent, and some of the things it would fund should really be funded at the national rather than the state level. No. No, 54.7%.

Prop. 88. Parcel tax for schools. I’m not fond of parcel taxes, where every parcel is taxed a flat amount. They’re an unfair substitute for property taxes based on the value of the property, or better yet, progressive income tax. But this one is worse than the parcel tax measures you normally see, because it’s at the state level, spending money on things the authors think are important, rather than priorities set locally. Presumably this is considered necessary because parcel taxes have been increasingly rejected by voters at the school-district level in recent years. No. No, 77%.

Prop. 89. Campaign contribution limits, public financing of some candidates (who raise money in $5 contributions, or something), limits campaign spending by corporations (while taxing corporations to pay for the public financing $200m/yr), but not un-incorporated companies (or unions, or Indian tribes, or individuals). First, limiting spending on initiatives (as opposed to spending for candidates, where spending limits serve the purpose of stopping corruption) has no chance of surviving the courts. Second, $200m seems like a lot of money to me. Third, if the authors of this thing had the courage of their convictions that elections belong to the people and should not be corrupted by corporate money, they should have financed it through the general fund; using taxes on corporations seems a little sneaky, a little cynical. In principle I do favor spending limits and public financing, but only if it’s done really carefully. This prop. strikes me as sloppy, and since some of it would be struck down by the courts, we’d be left with fragments of it, rather than a fully fledged system. No. No, 74.5%.

Prop. 90. Bars the use of eminent domain to seize property for private projects like shopping centers. Which would probably be fine, if California actually used eminent domain that way, which it doesn’t. That part of the prop. is therefore just cover for the rest of the proposition: “compensating” land owners for supposedly reduced property values as a result of new zoning, environmental and other regulations (including “limitations on the use of private air space”). No. No, 52.5%.

Comments welcome.

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