[guest post by JVW]
One week from Tuesday, voters will go to the polls across this great land to determine which party controls each house of Congress, who sits in the governor’s office in 36 states (and three territories!), and the ideological make-up of the various state legislatures, many of which have some interesting ramifications for the national agenda.
Just over half of our country’s states offer ballot initiatives and/or referenda, an exercise in direct democracy whereby the citizens can vote on whether or not to enact or eliminate laws. California, which enacted the referendum and initiative option over a century ago during the Progressive Era, traditionally offers a whole panoply of ideas (good and bad) for citizens of the Golden State to consider. Accordingly, here is this year’s smörgåsbord (I so love using special keyboard characters) along with my thoughts on the best way to dispense with them (and believe me, most of them ought to be dispensed with).
[Note: I am only going to give very brief summaries of each ballot initiative, and they will no doubt be colored by my own biases and ideology. If you want a full accounting of the language and intricacies of each individual proposition, you can access the voter guide at the California Secretary of State’s website.]
Prop 1: Authorizes $4 billion in bonds for funding
assistance housing programs for veterans, farm workers, people with disabilities, and the homeless.
Prop 2: Permits using existing money earmarked for housing for the mentally ill to finance $2 billion in bonds to build more housing for the homeless.
Prop 3: Issue $9 billion in bonds for various infrastructure projects, most of which have to do with providing fresh water.
Prop 4: Issue $1.5 billion in bonds to build new and renovate existing children’s hospitals, which is a huge boon to the construction industry.
Are you noticing a trend here? One of the best and worst aspects of the whole California set-up is the incessant proposal of bond issues every election. It’s a good thing, because California requires that the citizens assent to the issuance of any bonds; it’s a bad thing because our lazy and venal legislature now uses the mechanism of bonds to fund projects that properly ought to come from general funds.
Additionally, there is no guarantee that the bond money will meet the stated goals of the proposition, nor is there any accountability should they fall short. This should be a huge red flag to Californians. Two years ago, Los Angeles voters passed Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion tax initiative promising to build 10,000 new housing units for homeless Angelenos over the next decade. But an audit performed this past summer now suggests that as few as 6,000 units might be completed before funding dries up. It’s important to take a jaundiced view of the promises that government spending advocates make, since they are so very rarely realized in full.
Finally, the whole manipulativeness of the bond structure is obscene, with Prop 1 being the worst offender. There was no real need to include veterans in the Prop 1 list. They already qualify for low-interest home loans under what used to be known as the Cal-Vet program, with the loan repayments by the recipients providing the funding to pay off the loans in full without any taxpayer contributions. The state could easily increase the amount of money available to vets, but Prop 1 proponents are using veterans to cudgel us into adding yet more money for the homeless and for lower-income families. The same goes for pleading for money for children’s hospitals, which just like building housing for the homeless is a huge boon to the construction industry, who just happens to be a major supporter of all these bond issues. Funny how that works, no?
The legislative analyst tells us that debt service on the bonds is mostly manageable under the present rate of general fund revenue that is coming into the state. In other words, since the economy is good we can continue to issue bonds and the debt service ratio will peak at 4.5% of the general fund revenue (contrasted to the 2009 recession when debt service represented 6% of revenue) then level off at around 4%. However, that assumes that the economy will not go into recession and that revenues won’t drop, two assumptions that are rather hard to swallow. It also doesn’t account for future bonds which will doubtlessly be proposed. We’re spending too much already; let’s put the kibosh on the bonds for at least a couple of years, at least until we account for whether previous bonds accomplished what they promised to do.
I plan to vote no on Props 1 through 4.
Prop 5: Allows all homeowners over age 55 to transfer their lower property tax payment from their former home when they purchase a more expensive home.
Currently, several counties in the state already have this law on the books, so Prop 5 would make it statewide policy. There is a legitimate argument to be made for this, but I am tired of seeing tax breaks go to senior citizens (who vote disproportionately to their share of the population) instead of young first-time homeowners and families. In addition this will cost the state an estimated $1 billion in tax revenue, all of which will be pocketed by greedy geezers just as the state’s population continues to get older. I’m voting no.
Prop 6: Repeals the gas tax enacted by the legislature and signed into law by the governor last year. It would reduce state tax revenue by about $5.1 billion, money ostensibly used to repair roads and support public transportation.
I’m all for good roads and clean buses, but with the tax-and-spend Democrats dominating this state, repeal of the gas tax would be a shot across Gavin Newsom’s bow suggesting to him that he can’t expect to extort unlimited money from the residents of and visitors to the Golden State. It is also a giant middle finger to the public employee unions, who have funded a mindless campaign against this initiative suggesting that all of our homes will burn down because the fire departments won’t have enough money. This will be a rare yes vote on an initiative for me.
Prop 7: Would put us on permanent daylight savings time, subject to federal approval.
I’m not a morning person, so during the winter hours I would be willing to sacrifice the sun not coming out until 8:00 am if it meant we could have the sunset pushed back to 6:00 pm. The main argument against this seems to be that school kids would be going to school in the dark, but I’m all for toughening up the little dears. I’ll probably vote yes unless I am in a really grumpy mood and just automatically revert to a no vote.
Prop 8: Regulating the amount that kidney dialysis clinics can charge for treatment.
Nurses, like teachers, cops, firefighters, and other public employees are necessary and valuable members of the community. I’m sure most people have stories of a hospital stay for you or a loved one that was made infinitely more bearable by a kind, caring, professional nurse. God bless ’em; I truly mean that.
But that said, the California chapter of the American Nurses Association is one of the most avidly leftist and obnoxious unions in the entire state. Years ago, their Marxist leader formed key alliances with all of the other public employee unions, and ever since the organization has been a major supporter of private sector regulation and an untrammeled flow of public funding towards its members. The ANA has been having trouble organizing workers at dialysis clinics, so in response they have sponsored this measure to exact revenge. Yes, the medical industry has dumped massive amounts of money to defeat this measure, and I don’t like their ads any more than I like the pro-regulation side’s ads. But at the end of the day I reject government manipulation of markets. This deserves a very emphatic no vote.
Prop 9: Split California into three separate states.
This initiative is so stupid that a court yanked it off of the ballot.
Prop 10: Allows the entire state to enact rent control policies.
Rent control is one of those awful ideas supported by people who despise free markets, want to be generous with someone else’s money, and have no concept of unintended consequences. You know what cities have lots of rent control units? San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica do, to name a few. Do you think that it is easy to find affordable lodging in any of those cities? I truly hope this mindless idea goes down to a much-deserved defeat.
Prop 11: Requires private-sector ambulances to remain on-call during work breaks.
There is no formal opposition to this measure so it’s likely to pass overwhelmingly, but I can’t help but see it as a solution in search of a problem. I’m not aware of a bunch of people bleeding it out in the street because the private company EMTs are finishing up their combo meal at Del Taco. I think I’ll vote no just to be ornery, but if you want to vote yes then I’ll certainly understand.
Prop 12: Increases the minimum living space requirement for farm animals who provide meat and eggs, and prohibits the selling of products in the state from animals whose confinement doesn’t meet California’s requirements. Mandates that by 2022 all eggs sold must be laid in a cage-free environment.
We passed a proposition ten years ago that required these animals be given enough space to turn-around, lie down, stand up, and extend their limbs. This initiative would actually specify minimum square footage for these animals. This is one of those weird initiatives which are supported by some mainstream animal rights folks, but opposed by a more loopy sect of animal rights activists who think it’s a trojan horse for continued cruelty. The state estimates that oversight might cost up to $10 million annually, and the price of meat and eggs will almost certainly increase. I’m voting no.
So there you have it: one man’s ill-informed and reactionary opinions. Feel free to light into me in the comments.