2016 Election Day Preview: California Ballot Propositions I

(I’m not an expert on the state’s lengthy list of initiatives—17 in all—to be decided by a vote of the people—at least those who have not already—Tuesday, but this is my 11th-hour take. And when it would take a semester college course to get even a tentative grasp on them, then again, who is?)

  1. School Bond Funding for K-12 and Community Colleges. Initiative Statute.

You’d have to be a Scrooge to come out against a bond proposal to construct and modernize schools for our kids, and, lo, Ebenezer himself—Gov. Brown—has done just that! The issue, so to speak, with this initiative is that, unlike past measures, it was not introduced by the state but by private developers, who would win big here by shifting funding away from local development fees on new construction within the local school districts that would benefit. At the same time, this is such a pressing problem that if 51 were to fail, the legislature would certainly, IMO, adopt a similar measure by next election that would not contain this provision, er, giveaway. School supporters are so desperate for the funding they’re supporting it anyway. There’s also concern that it would not benefit low-income communities as much as it should, an old tune, that, as the former mayor of Oakland, the governor knows a thing or two about. Recommendation: No.

  1. Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Funding. Initiative Statute.

The state’s Medi-Cal program received a huge boost form the Affordable Care Act—one of its signature successes—$15 billion in new funding to modernize healthcare for the poorest Californians. Several initiatives Tuesday address additional funding of the socialist program. Fifty-two would continue a program in which hospitals fund Medi-Cal with matching funds from the Feds that kicked in more than $8 bil last year alone to the $95 bil program. In short, if you’re a Blue state, you accept this gift, if you’re a Red, you run for your lives from the hand that feeds, and to let your poor suffer alone. Recommendation: Yes.

  1. Statewide Voter Approval of Revenue Bonds. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Of all the initiatives on the ballot, this one may not only be one of the toughest calls, but may have much broader implications than we give it credit for. This, in short, could be a sleeping giant. The initiative proposes the seemingly benign objective of requiring voter approval of revenue bonds of more than $2 bil, a seemingly handsome reward for our Fair Democracy. Its proponent is Stockton agribusiness landowner Dean Cortopassi, who, depending on who you talk to, is either an even-tempered and well-minded millionaire, or a petty and self-interested businessman who’s misusing the initiative process to jab a thorn into Brown’s $25 bil Sacramento River Delta water project that would affect Cortopassi’s holdings. The argument against is that it will cripple the ability of state and local governments to fund necessary projects in times of need. While I’d certainly like to tell the governor and the state just what they can do with their environmentally unsound water project and insane $65 bil—and likely exponentially rising—High-Speed Rail project, this, unfortunately, may not be the avenue in which to do it. Cortopassi is correct to point out that we are on a slippery slope with bond funding, which last year ate up $6 bil from the general fund, what with the expected avalanche of anticipated bond projects arriving soon—of which the school bond measure is just the tip of the iceberg—we need to choose our bond expenditures carefully, all the while knowing it’s essentially the only way to fund these types of infrastructure projects and improvements, and, thus, the sleeping giant here. What tips the scales additionally, for me, is that it’s supported by the right-wing Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, perhaps the single most corrosive force in state politics in the modern era, and one of the principal reasons why this once-great state is in such decline and in need of such revenue in the first place. It’s an insane idea to hand your voice back to the closed-door state politicos and their grandiose schemes, but, as we just witnessed with Brexit, granting the people the authority to vote on certain issues may not always be the best idea, even in a Democracy. No Recommendation: Leaning No.

  1. Legislative Proceedings. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Ditto this initiative, in which the Mask of Democracy rears its often grotesque, two-faced head, once again. It’s seemingly benign contentions—supported by the likes of the California League of Women Voters and California Common Cause—would require 72-hour online postings of pending legislation and the audiovisual posting of legislative proceedings, seemingly aiding and abetting the cause of legislative transparency. Citizen activist groups could monitor legislation for back-door shenanigans before it arrives for a full vote, and we could witness ourselves if our elected representatives are, indeed, as eloquent as, say, Roger Williams or Thomas Payne. However, and here’s the rub, the 72-hour window would also embolden the “special interests”—those business-suited and briefcase-clad white men crossing L Street in the hot, midday sun in droves—to swarm like bees to flowers on the awaiting legislators, turning representative democracy into a game of The Price is Right. The provision for allowing personal recordings of legislative sessions and using such material for attack ads come election time is nauseating to say the least. As always, the “special interests” could likely gain the most from this initiative. Besides, I’m no fan of the Internet myself, especially for video use, and, anyway, you can already find the text of the bills online, whether pending or not, here: www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html. Recommendation: No.

  1. Tax Extension on Wealthy Income Earners. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

This extension of an earlier initiative—2012’s Prop 30—taxes an additional one-three percent of annual income on earners making more than $263,000 on a prorated scale, injecting an additional windfall of $4-$9 bil annually into the state’s general fund, with about half going to the K-12 schools and community colleges and up to $2 bil on Medi-Cal under a formula I read about but hardly understood. This is what’s known as a win-win—don’t worry, the luxury auto, yacht and wine industries will still do fine, recession or no—and if you’re like capital magnate Warren Buffet, you won’t mind paying the additional tax to fund a more livable environment outside the walls of your secluded castle. The rest of us will just be grateful for your generosity, even as we plant and harvest your fields and pay exorbitant rents on your squalid tenements. Recommendation: Yes

  1. Cigarette Tax. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Poor cigarette smokers. I hate to punish them again, but their noxious habit—I used to have it—accounts for $3.6 bil in state healthcare costs annually, according to the measure’s proponents, but that’s precisely what this initiative will do: exact a $2.00 per pack tax on top of the $.87 tax they’re already paying—with $.75 of that coming from previous voter-approved measures—further driving up the cost of a pack of the so-called cancer sticks to more than $8.50, when you include the sales tax. No, those allied toughs, everyday heroes and alluring heroines seen daily in B&W on TCM would be in an uproar! But the numbers were more concerned with as we step over these folks on our way to a better society is that it will bring in about $1.5 bil into state coffers, primarily to be used on the ubiquitous Medi-Cal program—up to $1 bil annually—and things like tobacco prevention programs. Yes, here, at least, it’s now good to be an indigent on a state-sponsored healthcare program, but terrible to be a smoker, in more ways than one. The tobacco industry is opposed to 56, of course, spending more than $55 mil to defeat it, which just goes to show that, yes, there’s a sucker born nearly every day. Recommendation: Yes

  1. Criminal Sentences. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

This initiative would do what Prop 66 below would not: return state prisons to more of a rehabilitation-based system rather than a punitive one, fueled by overzealous criminal prosecutors eager to put even nonviolent and juvenile offenders away for as long as they can get away with. As I understand it, Fifty-seven would provide for parole hearings for nonviolent offenders after they complete their base sentences as well as rehabilitation credits even for those who haven’t. The result is that, according to the Legislative Analyst, prison terms could be reduced by perhaps 25 percent for the former population. The impetus for this is the state’s teaming, overcrowded state prisons and the judicial decree that even law-and-order-minded Gov. Brown couldn’t empty these decrepit houses fast enough of nonviolent offenders in his great state-to-county prisoner migration of 2012. The state’s nonviolent prison population numbers into the tens of thousands—with nearly 30,000 last year—and while Californians are certainly sick of hearing about reduced sentences—and rightfully so, considering the revolving-door policies of several of the state’s county jails—this initiative will complete the process of not only trying to save the state needed revenue but maintaining these notorious walls for those violent offenders—those truly Bad Hombres, so to speak—we definitely do not want to see filtering in and out because of the severe overcrowding crisis, with emphasis on the word crisis. Even better, it would relinquish authority for the adult sentencing of juveniles—a truly heinous act, no matter the circumstances—from automatic sentencing requirements and prosecutorial retribution and put rightfully into the esteemed chairs of the more sympathetic, wise and level-headed juvenile court jurists, resulting in, by my calculations based on Legislative Analyst data, a reduction of such atrocities by roughly 85 percent. Recommendation: Yes

  1. English Proficiency. Bilingual Education. Initiative Statute.

Back in 1998, with Proposition 227, even our kids were subjected to a right-wing political hit when California schools were severely restricted in their authority to utilize bilingual education programs for English learners, the vast majority of whom—80 percent—are Latino. 227 required parents of English learners sign a waiver for their kids to be instructed in an English-only classroom, after an introductory haircut, so to speak, as with the native Californian “savages” in the Spanish missions; with enough like-minded others, kids could escape the wrath of the folks wielding the scissors in the English-only classrooms. Fifty-eight would largely reverse this by waiving that requirement, so to speak, and re-establishing bilingual education as a primary learning tool. It would essentially bring decision-making authority on bilingual learning back to the parents and the community, and away from right-wing Republican hacks who certainly support the notion when it comes to Charter schools. Why do we do this? Not only out of respect for the immigrants and their families, but because dual-immersion language programs work, and in a Blue state, we try to do not only what is right, but what actually works. Recommendation: Yes

  1. Corporations. Political Spending. Legislative Advisory Question.

Many are questioning the validity of this initiative, but, hey, if the legislature is going to ask my opinion on an important matter concerning campaign financing, I for one am going to give it to them. The legislature is inquiring upon its citizens whether it should go to Washington, like Mr. Smith, to try to initiate a Constitutional amendment reversing the widely panned 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Sounds like a bit of a long shot, but, hey, taken upon its merit, why not—why should we doubt its sincerity. The typically narrow 5-4 decision by the Roberts activist conservative court asserted, IMO, that corporations, non-profits and the like are essentially individuals when it comes to Constitutionally protected free speech in influencing elections, and that no restraints should be placed upon them, whether in money spent or transparent disclosure, on election campaigns independent of a federal office seeker or political party. It largely resulted in the creation of the SuperPac, politically action committees funded almost entirely by superwealthy individuals, which operate independently of the party or candidate they are advocating for, creating a superfine line between the federal prohibition of corporate-funded federal campaigns. While the result of the decision has played out as feared in that regard, the decision was widely believed to have favored Republican supermoneyed interests, but, lo, Democrats, much to the dismay of a Bernie Sanders, have adapted and also use it to their favor, with Tom Steyer actually outcontributing Sheldon Adelson at the top by $13 mil this year. The California legislature is largely Democratic. Go figure. The party is opposed to Citizens United en masse, but raises SuperPac money like there’s no tomorrow, if only because it has to, as if it were a drowning man treading water. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Recommendation: Yes

(This posting continues.)

© 2016 John Tyler/24 Hours

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