November 2016: California Propositions

Here are my current thoughts on the statewide propositions on the November 2016 ballot.

You can also read my thoughts on local propositions (Berkeley, East Bay regional, and BART) and on candidates, or see a cheat sheet summary.

Yes on 51?

Bonds for school construction. In general I am in favor of higher taxes to spend more on schools, and bonds are a good alternative to taxes for construction costs. Both state parties support this. Opposition is mostly the hard-line anti-taxers… and also Jerry Brown, whose opinions I usually respect but don’t always agree with. It is a shame that any of this goes to charter schools. But on the whole this seems worthwhile. Looking at the “general fund debt-service ratio” shows that this would not increase the amount we spend on debt service by an enormous amount.

No on 52?

This one’s weird. Basically, it takes an existing practice where the state gets more federal money for “free” for hospitals and encodes in the constitution. It also ensures that all of the money related to this practice goes to hospitals rather than some of being diverted to the general budget.

(Specifically, hospitals pay a fee to the state, and the federal government gives matching funds of an equal amount to the state. The latter money must go to healthcare purposes but the state can use the former money for non-healthcare purposes, and currently diverts about a quarter of it. This proposition would prevent that part from being diverted.)

Its financial support comes mostly from hospitals (ie, hospital CEOs). It was opposed by some health workers but they withdrew their opposition and are now neutral. (My impression is that they originally had their own different version of this ballot measure but withdrew it or it failed to qualify.)

It’s unclear to me what happens if the federal government changes the program — are we stuck with this fee anyway since it’s in the constitution? (There are clauses about it not taking effect in certain conditions, which might be addressing this concern. And none of the No people are raising this concern.)

The program enshrined by the proposition basically already exists, so I don’t think it’s necessary to pass this in order to continue receiving the federal funding. The big question is — how do I feel about the diversion of $900 million dollars from the hospital fees to the general fund during the recent budget crisis? On the one hand, this is hospital money and maybe it should be guaranteed to go to healthcare. On the other hand — there really was a budget crisis, and part of that is because so much of California’s money is tied to a specific cause, removing flexibility from the state legislature. Was that really a bad use of the hospital money?

As of now I’m leaning towards no, primarily because a “no” vote won’t lose the federal matching funds but will keep the state budget more flexible.

NO ON 53

We have too many propositions already. Currently voters do not need to vote on bonds that will be paid back from usage fees (as opposed to taxes). This would add a requirement for these bonds for large projects ($2 billion+) to be voted on at the statewide level. This is bad because:

Abstain on 54

This proposition does two separate things:

This seems basically reasonable, and is supported by groups like the League of Women Voters.

I have two concerns.

It is also mostly funded by conservative billionaire Charles Munger.

Frankly, I have been pretty happy with the performance of the state Democratic party in Sacramento over the past few years since they got supermajority and am inclined to trust their No endorsement. But I do respect the LWV and the arguments for it. In the end, this was the one slot on this ballot I abstained on.

YES ON 55

4 years ago, we voted to slightly increase income tax on the rich (>$250K for individuals, >$500K for couples) as well as a regressive sales tax increase. These are expiring now, and Prop 55 renews the progressive income tax.

This does not affect anyone making less than $250K (individuals)/$500 (couples).

It is pretty clear that people making that much money have been doing just fine in California over the last 4 years and this tax hasn’t exactly forced rich people to run out of the state.

I recognize that there’s a reasonable argument to be made where this is somewhat of a bait-and-switch: first the tax got wider approval than it might have otherwise by being billed as a “temporary” tax, and now that it’s expiring we can push for Prop 55 by describing it as “don’t cut taxes on the rich”.

But frankly, I wish this proposition was raising the income tax further. At the very least, this is the wrong time to effectively cut taxes on the rich.

YES ON 56

This increases the tax on tobacco by a fair amount, and also includes e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Currently California’s cigarette tax is the 37th highest in the nation; this will raise it to be 13th highest (but still well below, say, New York).

Nicotine addiction and tobacco are awful products with major public health impacts. I don’t believe in prohibition, but I am fine with high taxes on them. E-cigarettes are just as addictive as tobacco, and vaping sets off my wife’s allergies just as much as cigarettes do, and they should be treated similarly under the law.

One note: Proposition 98 of 1988 places certain requirements on taxes in order to assure that a high percentage of the state budget goes to education. (These days, more than half of the state budget goes to education.) This proposition sends all its money to health-related issues and explicitly exempts itself from Prop 98. The cigarette manufacturers have seized on this and are sending out flyers which say that this is an attempt to “cheat schools out of money”. In fact, they sent me flyers which just say that and don’t even mention what the tax is on. It’s disingenuous and makes me want to vote yes even more.

YES ON 57

This increases access to parole for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes. It also makes judges, not prosecutors, solely responsible for deciding whether to try juveniles as adults in court. Anything to end our culture of incarceration and our overcrowded prisons seems good.

YES ON 58

18 years ago, anti-Hispanic bigots made teaching students with immersion in non-English languages in public schools much more difficult. (They sometimes voiced their concerns as concerns that Hispanic kids were not being taught English at all but as far as I can tell this was specious.) This would return that control to the local level. Sounds right to me.

Yes on 59, sadly

Advisory questions are stupid and shouldn’t be on the ballot, but given that it’s here, it’s better that we send the message that Citizens United sucks than the opposite. Thanks a lot, legislature.

NO ON 60

This would require the use of condoms in porn. I understand the arguments for it but the arguments against are much more convincing. This seems to be a solution in search of a problem — the California pornography industry’s existing anti-HIV programs seem to work just fine. It seems to also create privacy issues for porn performers. This also creates a weird private right of action where the random person suing under the law actually gets to personally keep 25% of the penalty! WTF? Basically everyone respectable opposes this.

The only reason I could be convinced to support this is if somebody was able to make a data-driven argument that the vocal and publicly active adult film performers who are all unequivocably opposed to this proposition fail to adequately represent the majority of porn performers and that there’s a silent oppressed majority of people who really wish that there was some collective action to allow them to use condoms. I have not yet seen this argument made in a compelling manner.

Unsure on 61; voted no.

This proposition intentionally ties the hands of state agencies, forbidding them from paying more for drugs than the US Department of Veteran Affairs does. Probably going to be the most expensive ballot measure ever (No has already raised $70 million!?!) “No” is funded by Big Pharma (boo); “Yes” is funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the out-of-touch organization who also brought us the terrible 60. It’s unclear if it will actually accomplish its goals — it might lead to drug companies refusing to sell drugs to California, or raising the VA prices (though there are some legal caps on VA prices).

The League of Pissed-Off Voters and Chronicle are both opposed; I tend to agree with them when they agree with each other. I’d have trusted it a lot more had it come from a group with more credibility. I eventually decided to vote no.

YES ON 62 (not tricky 66!)

Repeal the state death penalty. This is a no-brainer for me: the death penalty is immoral both in theory and in its racist and expensive practice. California should not be part of it. (Don’t get confused: there’s another death penalty proposition which is awful and should lose. Yes on 62, no on tricky 66.)

(I note that Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern is opposed. I plan to remember that when he is up for election, I guess maybe in 2018.)

YES ON 63

This prohibits the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines and would require most individuals to pass a background check and obtain authorization from the California Department of Justice to purchase ammunition.

Most of what it achieves was already accomplished by the legislature earlier this year; this is primarily grandstanding for Gavin Newsom’s future campaigns.

But you know what? I want to live in a place where you pander by enacting redundant gun control laws rather than a place where you pander by toeing the NRA line.

The new changes that this introduces seem generally positive, at least if you hope to live in a world with less gun proliferation.

I recognize that these changes will have a negative impact on responsible recreational shooters; I count several of them as friends and have heard clearly from them that this will have a negative impact on them. I’m sympathetic, but only to a point. Our country (though admittedly not California) spends too much energy bending over backwards to the gun lobby. I encourage my responsible friends to find an alternative to the NRA to help move gun politics in this country in a positive direction; until then I’m just going to stick to supporting gun control.

YES ON 64

The prohibition on marijuana serves no public health benefit and is a major component of our racist police state. The time for this is overdue. The only downside I can see is that it in the short run it may hurt the economy of some northern counties which are driven by the black market, but in the big picture this is far better.

NO ON TRICKY 65

This is a bullshit attempt to look like you’re supporting the environment that is intended as a sneaky poison pill for 67: ie, if it gets more votes than 67, 67 may not take effect.

It also would screw over grocers by not permitting them to charge for paper bags, which actually do cost them money and do provide an incentive for them to suppor plastic bag bans.

15 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed in CA every year even with the huge number of local bans. We can do better.

NO ON TRICKY 66

If you look at the high expense of the death penalty and say “obviously the way to fix this is to prevent innocent people from having due process and kill them faster instead”, this is the proposition for you, and also you are an awful human being. Vote yes on 62 and no on 66.

YES ON 67

Large parts of California (SF, Alameda County, unincorporated Marin, San Mateo, and LA counties as well as most of their cities, etc) have successfully eliminated single-use plastic bags and used a small fee on other single-use bags to effectively encourage the use of reusable bags.

These laws work, which is why the state legislature passed a law to move this from 40% of the population to the whole state.

The plastic bag industry halted the law by putting this referendum on the ballot. Don’t let them win. And please ignore their tricky Prop 65, which looks like it puts the bag fee somewhere “better” but screws over the grocers who are supporting 67 and also sneakily attempts to override 67. Vote yes on 67 and No on Tricky 65.