June 2018: Propositions

Here are my current thoughts on the propositions on the June 2016 ballot. (Spoiler alert: yes on everything except 70.)

You can also read my thoughts on candidates, or see a cheat sheet summary.

Do you think that California should do more of its legislation via representative democracy (the legislature) rather than ballot propositions? Me too. But old propositions severely restrict the ability of state and local legislators to make changes without more propositions. We’ve been chipping away at these restrictions over time, but until then, many propositions are the only way to make change. In fact, all seven ballot measure on my ballot were placed there by the legislature (or the county Board of Supervisors, for Measure A), and in most cases nearly unanimously or with nearly unanimous votes from Democrats. So “this should be the work of the legislature” is a bad reason to vote no in this particular election. And in fact, I’m planning to vote yes on all measures except the only one with significant Democratic opposition in the legislative vote. (The “Path to the ballot” section of Ballotpedia pages does a much better job than the official voter information guides of explaining how propositions got to the ballot. I recall San Francisco did a better job here.)

State-wide propositions

Yes on 68

Bonds for parks, climate adaptation, water, flood protection, etc. Supported by the LWV, environmental groups, Democrats. Opposed by Howard Jarvis and a few Republicans. In general I’d rather we fund our projects via taxes rather than bonds, but otherwise this seems just fine.

YES ON 69

This seems to be a bit of inside baseball. Last year, the legislature increased some taxes and fees on gasoline, diesel and new vehicles (which still are embarrassingly low for the developed world). Due to various handcuffs placed on the state by another Prop-13-era proposition (the Gann limit), the state has a hard spending limit which can only change based on population changes and cost of living increases. So any attempt to create new government programs funded by new taxes can run up against this spending limit, which can only be circumvented by more propositions. So this proposition exempts revenue raised by last year’s bill from the spending limit. It also ensures that the money raised by it are only spent on transportation purposes; I don’t love ballot-box budgeting, but this proposition comes from the legislature, so that’s probably fine.

It would be better to just pass a proposition to repeal the Gann limit, but in the meantime I’m happy to chip away at its effects.

No on 70

This is the only proposition on my ballot where I can’t characterize one side in the official arguments as “nobody” or “a few Republicans” or “Howard Jarvis and friends” — it’s the only proposition with elected Democrats on both sides, as Governor Brown is a proponent, along with a bunch of Republicans. It got on the ballot as part of a compromise needed to get a 2/3 vote last year to extend cap-and-trade. It’s unclear that Brown actually cares if it passes, as long as he upheld his side of the bill by getting the proposition on the ballot. Its main effect is to require a one-time 2/3 legislative vote in 2024 to continue to use cap-and-trade funds. Nobody else who I respect seems to think this is a good idea.

Yes on 71

Right now, state propositions can take effect before the votes are counted. This makes them take effect after the votes are counted. It was put on the ballot by unanimous vote of the legislature. The only opposition comes from this one random guy who has been writing arguments against proposals that everyone else supports since the 80s (with a strawman argument about child molesters). Sounds fine to me.

Yes on 72

This one allows businesses like vineyards to add rainwater capture systems without triggering a reassessment and property tax increase. (Well, it lets anybody do this, but adding a rainwater system to your house is unlikely to count as a significant enough addition to trigger a reassessment.) These exceptions already exist for other safety and environmental improvements like solar panels and fire sprinklers. Ending Prop 13’s disincentive to improve your property would be better than these piecemeal improvements, but sure, this seems like a fine thing to do in a drought.

Bay Area (SF, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma Counties)

YES ON RM3!

It is a travesty that the cheapest transbay BART round trip is more expensive than the most expensive Bay Bridge round trip. Even if all this proposition did was raise Bay Bridge prices to make the more responsible travel method more cost-competitive and set the increased revenue on fire, I’d consider voting for it. But fortunately, this proposition will also fund a bunch of good projects, like new BART cars (increasing the transbay BART capacity by 30%) and Bay Trail improvements. It also will fund some questionable highway projects, but that’s the cost of writing a proposition that’s able to pass, I guess.

Alameda County

YES ON A

A new Alameda County sales tax to improve child care and preschool for low and middle income children. As a parent of a toddler I know how expensive and important child care is. Sales taxes are unfortunately regressive, but Prop 13 limits how much can be raised via property taxes, and this seems to be near-universally supported.