A Voter’s Guide to California Ballot Initiatives

Californians cast their votes tomorrow, and while municipal elections run the gamut from the mundane to the marvelous (Pasadena decides the fate of both strip clubs and the Rose Bowl), nine propositions under consideration wield considerable influence on the direction of state. I feel it’s my civic duty as a card-carrying Golden State muckraker to weigh in on what’s worth voting for. Sure, Diebold may “software glitch” our votes the way the power brokers want, but it’s the effort that counts!

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Proposition 1
Proposition 1 is actually a collection of five ballot measures touted by its supporters as the Rebuild California Plan. Some are decent ideas and some are not:

1A: Transportation Funding Protection
Prop 1A “protects transportation funding for traffic congestion relief projects, safety improvements, and local streets and roads” and prohibits sales tax on motor vehicle fuels “from being used for any purpose other than transportation improvements.” Supporters push this proposition as it closes loopholes left open by prior legislation, allowing the state to draw funds away to other parts of the budget. Detractors observe this will impact top priority expenditures such as education.

I recommend 1A for one simple reason: voters already agreed on it in 2002. Proposition 42, the original measure, asked that we tax fuel consumption as a means to repair and rebuild our roads. If those who argue against Prop 1A feel we need that tax revenue to deal with disaster relief and health care they should create propositions dealing with those issues exclusively, not sandbag laws trying to make sure money apportioned for a specific task is spent properly.

1B: Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act of 2006
The above mouthful seeks to sell roughly $20 billion in general obligation bonds for the purpose of widening, strengthening and upgrading California’s roads; subprovisions would retrofit California’s ports to reduce pollution and increase security.

Do California need more freeways? Do existing freeways need more lanes? No. The roads are an unmitigated disaster due in large part to our collective refusal to place limits on the state’s population growth. Widening already massive superhighways and creating new avenues for people to commute 100 miles in each direction won’t clear congestion but it will serve as an advertisement for more people to move here. At a cost of $20 billion plus interest, that’s a loan California can’t afford to take. Vote no on Proposition 1B.

1C: Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006
Prop 1C would issue roughly $3 billion in bonds to fund battered women’s shelters, low-income housing for the elderly, and “homeownership assistance for the disabled, military veterans, and working families.” Backers of 1C say it will revitalize the economy by creating jobs in construction and housing and point out that the rising cost of housing makes home ownership an untenable position for many people.

1C fails for the same reasons as 1B. Aside from the fact that much of the monies won’t be spent on building homes, the state of California is not in need of more housing. Visit Southern California or the suburbs of Silicon Valley or Sacramento and you’ll see an unending wave of McMansions in constant development. Are they affordable? Sometimes, sometimes not. Home ownership isn’t for everyone, and it certainly shouldn’t be subsidized for the poor just because the housing market here is insane.

Those issues, coupled with the fact that this is not a welfare state (for citizens that is; if you’re an illegal, however, those benefits keep rolling in), makes 1C a bad choice for California. Our veterans should be getting assistance from the federal government that ships them off to war, and battered women should not get special treatment over others in need.

1D: Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2006
Eases the burdens of existing schools while building and repairing others. Facilities also get an upgrade with a primary emphasis on technology and the sciences. Cost: $10 billion in bonds.

I wholeheartedly endorse the abovementioned resolution. Opponents state our education problems can be dealt with under the current fiscal budget, but I defy you to show me how that’s a possibility. Just a few years ago Proposition 98 protected public schools from budget cuts and substandard funding; it was quickly ignored so that the 2004 budget could be balanced. Our schools are disgraceful, and if $10 billion was set aside only for building and repairing facilities I would applaud the effort. People seem to forget that our children’s education has a greater impact than a line on a budget. How we teach our children determines the state of our society’s next generation.

1E: Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006
$4.1 billion in bonds rebuilds and repairs California’s levees and flood control structures.

With images of Katrina fresh in our mind, it’s easy to see why Proposition 1E sounds like a smart use of bond money. However, the emotional pandering also gives us pause. Are the levees and waterways in California in need of repair? Absolutely. But are those repairs a state issue? I’m not so certain.

As with New Orleans, our levees are a combination of federal and local responsibilities. Does it look like those obligations will be met? Louisiana would argue against that assessment, and I don’t expect Capitol Hill to get its act together anytime soon. So how do you vote?

Opponents claim the proposition will add no new water to the state’s drinking supply and that its poor language ignores the issue of budget allocation. Proponents say that “we simply cannot afford to neglect our water supply and flood protection systems.” Well, how’d they get so neglected in the first place? In the end, I say vote no on Proposition 1E. Keeping the levees safe is a noble goal – I only wish the legislature had thought of that 10 years ago when it wasn’t a crisis situation.

Proposition 83: Sex Offenders, Sexually Violent Predators, Punishment, Residence Restriction and Monitoring
“Increases penalties for violent and habitual sex offenders and child molesters” while requiring GPS tracking systems on all released offenders.

So popular it didn’t even need to be dubbed Jessica’s Law to up the sympathy factor, Prop 83 falls apart the minute you read the legislation mandating all paroled sex offenders are tracked via global positioning for life. No matter how despicable a child molester may be, no one should be forced to broadcast his every movement to the authorities. It’s a draconian strain on resources that will not serve the public’s interest.

Child molestation is a terrible thing. But turning California’s communities into a network of police states is far worse. Vote no on 83.

Proposition 84: Water Quality, Safety and Supply, Flood Control, Natural Resource Protection, Park Improvements
A $5.4 billion bond that “funds water, flood control, natural resources, park and conservation projects” as well as drinking water safety provisions.

The bill sounds fairly straightforward until you read the position papers on both sides of the aisle. Preserving natural resources and drinking water are fine things to do, but 84 clashes with Proposition 1E as to which one is the most redundant. Proponents suggest California drinking water will give us Montezuma’s Revenge if it doesn’t pass and opponents call it the “special-interest-hidden-agenda bond,” but if we’ve already argued against a similar bill what would make this one any different?

Prop 84 doesn’t allocate more money to water storage and encourages the maintenance of municipal, not state, parks and resources. If we want the dog park down the street to have green grass we’ll pay the city taxes for that. $11 billion after interest? That’s water under the bridge. Vote no on 84.

Proposition 85: Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor’s Pregnancy
“Amends California Constitution prohibiting abortion for unemancipated minor until 48 hours after physician notifies minor’s parent/guardian, except in medical emergency or parental waiver.”

Were you aware that right now someone could arrange a secret abortion for your daughter? And you wouldn’t even know?

I like my liberties just fine. Forcing teenaged girls to ask their parents for permission to get an abortion is a tragic mistake for so many reasons, not the least of which is an erosion of abortion rights under Roe v. Wade. The sad truth is that we cannot legislate dysfunctional families out of existence. If a minor wants an abortion and doesn’t want to tell her family she’s pregnant, chances are the decision is just one in a string of bad choices. Choices like not paying attention to your daughter, or not educating her on the dangers of unprotected sex. Lack of communication doesn’t begin in the waiting room at Planned Parenthood.

Even more disturbing is the thought of a girl living under the thumb of molestation would have to seek permission to abort a baby that came about under the most galling circumstances. Can you imagine the outcome of that scenario?

If you wish to uphold the right to privacy, vote no on Proposition 85. It couldn’t be a more reactionary and potentially devastating piece of legislation if it tried.

Proposition 86: Tax on Cigarettes
Raises the cost of a pack of cigarettes by $2.60!

There’s a part of me that wants to see this pass, if only to see the lengths Californians will go to punish those poor souls who just cannot seem to shake nicotine addition. Soon the only designated smoking area in the state will be a barge off the Farallon Islands and the basements of sorority houses.

But Prop 86 is ridiculous. The last time I took a peek at our American History books, they mentioned something about protesting undue taxation as a leading cause to revolution. And while it would be hilarious to watch an army of gasping, hacking smokers march on Sacramento before collapsing from their reduced lung capacity, raping them at the counter with such an absurd tax simply isn’t fair. Will the money be used responsibly? Probably as responsible as the money spent on the Truth advertising campaign.

Which is, to say, probably not. Vote no on 86.

Proposition 87: Alternative Energy, Research, Production, Incentives – Tax on California Oil Producers
Makes oil concerns pay $4 billion to find ways so we don’t have to use their products.

I love this proposition. Where else can you read legislation that forces an industry to pay for research that could make them obsolete?

Unfortunately, the only people opposing this proposition are the oil companies. You know, the same people that support President Bush and the rape of the Middle East. Makes this one a slam dunk, doesn’t it? Vote yes on 87.

Proposition 88: Education Funding, Real Property Parcel Tax
“Imposes $50 tax on each real property parcel to provide public school funding for kindergarten through grade 12.”

Proposition 1D is a far better alternative. Aside from it being a one-time bond issue, 1D also doesn’t impose more property taxes. If Californians wanted to fund schools through property taxes, why did we ever vote on Proposition 13 almost 30 years ago? I’m all for reforming the education system, but if we have to choose one of the propositions on the ballot to do so, Proposition 88 is not the winner. Vote no on 88.

Proposition 89: Political Campaigns, Public Financing, Corporate Tax Increase, Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Limits
Provides campaign funding for state elective office candidates by taxing corporations and financial institutions.

Stop political corruption? What a novel idea! Of course, I seriously doubt Proposition 89 will do any such thing, so I leave this one in your hands. Would you rather vote yes and create another layer of bureaucracy that pretends to stop patronage or vote no and help those fat-cat corporate stooges avoid a richly deserved tax hit? As the great Ozzy Osbourne once said in the seminal ‘I Don’t Know’: “don’t confuse – win or lose, it’s up to you.”

Proposition 90: Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property
Reduces eminent domain abuse and limits the government’s authority to adopt other land usages.

“Prop 90 is the single most dangerous threat that has ever been leveled at our state’s environment,” says Robert Redford. And when actors express political beliefs, I listen.

Eminent domain laws in this country are horrendous. Governments can come in, declare that your property could be better served as a shopping center or luxury townhouses and force you off the land for below market value. Sound fair to you? It doesn’t to the hundreds of people who have found themselves the victims of their city or state’s schemes to generate more tax revenue. Those writing in support of Proposition 90 lost their livelihoods to the abuse of this law.

Opponents like Redford say the passage of Prop 90 will bog down the state with unwanted lawsuits whenever property owners feels their business or properties have been compromised, to which I say: the more rights for the individual, the better. Vote yes on 90.

That wraps up my statewide election coverage. Who should you vote for in the other races? Keep it simple: vote out any and all incumbents. Honestly, what have they done for you lately?