Mad Props: Special Election Edition

Cheat Sheet
1A - NO
1B - YES
1C - NO
1D - NO
1E - NO
1F - NO
Oohwee! Look, folks! It’s a Special Election! Meaning, in this case, the people of California have a special, bonus chance to inflict grievous harm upon their beloved state via the initiative process. Is this your first time with Mad Props? Then just know that as a native Californian and lifelong student of politics, I’ve come to view statewide ballot measures as something of a menace. In several elections, I’ve voted NO on every single proposition; any given measure has a very steep uphill climb to convince me it’s worth a YES. [previous editions of Mad Props: Feb ’08 · Oct ’08]

This time around, we’ve got six propositions presented to us by the Democrats in the state legislature, six Republicans called the Sacramento Six, and good old Guvnuh Ahnold. When those folks came together earlier this year to pass the 2009-2010 budget (more than 100 days late), these props were part of the package. Don’t listen to anyone who likens this set of initiatives to the ones Arnold put on the ballot back in 2005 (which voters roundly rejected): in that case, the Gov was trying to do an end-around past the Lege. Now, he’s working with Sacramento Dems and the only six Republican legislators willing to raise taxes to help the state out of this terrible, terrible mess. There is no easy way out. The six propositions on this ballot represent one possible path—one I suggest you reject. In short, this package represents yet another Sacramento “fix” that purports to make big changes but in many ways will just reinforce the current dysfunctional situation.

  • Proposition 1A: Changes Budget Process. (info @ Ballotpedia)
    You Should Vote: NO
    This is a really difficult call. I want to support 1A. I am very nearly swayed by the argument that if we do not pass 1A, things are going to get unimaginably worse. But I cannot shake the feeling that both the Gov and the Lege—who as public servants took on the responsibility of making tough decisions (and are paid fairly and squarely for their time and energy)—are just passing those tough decisions on to the voters, who actually have full-time lives of their own and cannot be expected to understand an extraordinarily complex proposition like 1A. I also cannot help but note that 1A and its attendant propositions have the unmistakable smell of a rush job.

    The only thing that anybody knows for certain is that Proposition 1A is an ungainly hydra whose various heads will almost certainly come together to act in unpredictable ways. But don’t take my word for it; here’s the state’s impartial legislative analyst, writing in your Voter Information Guide:
    The fiscal effects of Proposition 1A are particularly difficult to assess. This is because the measure’s effects would depend on a variety of factors that will change over time and cannot be accurately predicted. Consequently, the measure’s effects may be very different from one year to the next.
    This is the legislative analyst’s equivalent of “Here Be Dragons.” And guess what? He even goes on to name the dragons:
    The key factors determining the impact of Proposition 1A in any given year are: Future Budget Decisions by the Legislature and Governor … [and] Revenue Trends and Volatility. [emphasis his]
    That sounds a lot like the status quo, doesn’t it? This is no surprise, because Proposition 1A isn’t really comprehensive budget reform. Comprehensive budget reform would begin by removing the two-thirds vote required to get a budget passed in Sacramento. That requirement, enacted by voters as part of 1978’s Proposition 13, is the single biggest problem relating to this whole budget mess. It makes the entire Legislature beholden to Grover Norquist-type reactionaries who want taxes to creep ever closer to zero, who don’t believe in a government that provides actual services to its citizens, who think that every rugged individual should toil endlessly to build their own small fortune (should they not be lucky enough to inherit one) and provide their own health care, child care, elder care, streets (what, you have no private half-mile-long driveway to your hillside estate?), parks (what? no half-acre out your back door?), police (no private security in your gated community? you lazeabout!) and so on.

    Now then. The San Jose Mercury News addresses my complaint:
    Proposition 1A should be seen as a down payment on comprehensive reform. That has to include lowering the requirement for two-thirds of the Legislature to approve a state budget and new taxes, but voters won’t agree to that change without spending controls.
    Right, but then why not offer spending controls when you put a threshold change on the ballot? We don’t have to accept 1A’s particular oddball set of spending controls—forged during an abnormal time when nobody can really see straight regarding the economy or where it’s headed—in order to ensure real reform later. If you follow the Merc’s advice, you might very well be making a down payment on a pricey item that will never be delivered.

    Not convinced? Okay, set aside the ridiculous “they’re taxing us too much!” arguments against 1A that run rampant on the Web and read what Phil Angelides, the League of Women Voters (PDF), and Calitics have to say. I admit to being especially influenced by the argument at Calitics that voters should be wary of doom-and-gloom predictions should 1A not pass: “We remind voters the words of Bill Clinton: ‘If one candidate’s trying to scare you, and the other one’s trying to get you to think … if one candidate’s appealing to your fears, and the other one’s appealing to your hopes, you’d better vote for the one who wants you to think and hope.’” I’ve thought about this, and I hope that California can find a better solution. Vote NO on 1A.

  • Proposition 1B: Education Funding. (info @ Ballotpedia)
    You Should Vote: YES
    Yes, I am aware that 1B only takes effect if 1A passes. And I am aware I just urged a NO on 1A. The reason I’ll be voting YES on 1B is simple: should 1A pass, the schools will potentially be even more screwed than they already are, and 1B will help unscrew them—mostly by repaying the money Arnold has stolen from them over the past few years. Fair enough. Anything that potentially helps halt the decline of California’s schools—once the best in the nation—has my vote. Vote YES on 1B, just in case 1A passes.

  • Proposition 1C: Messin’ With the Lottery. (info @ Ballotpedia)
    You Should Vote: NO
    The biggest change in this proposed “modernization” of the California Lottery: the state would be able to borrow against $5 billion in future lottery profits. That’s right, we’re talking about bringing this year’s budget into balance by gambling on gambling. I don’t often agree with SF Mayor and Gov-hopeful Gavin Newsom, but he sums this one up nicely: “It seems like we lost our way a little bit. Play the lottery. Lose a little more … so we can get a little more, so we can pay a little more interest on the previous debt of previous years. That is hardly an economic development strategy for our state’s future.” Preach it, Gav. Vote NO on 1C.

  • Proposition 1D: Balance the Budget On the Backs of Children. (info @ Ballotpedia)
    You Should Vote: NO
    That this prop is titled, in part, “Protects Children’s Services Funding” has almost got to be someone’s idea of a bad joke. Sure, it protects funds for kids over HERE, but it raids set-aside money for kids’ programs over THERE. Don’t be a part of this. Also, see my comments below on 1E, as they apply here, too. Vote NO on 1D.

  • Proposition 1E: Balance the Budget On the Backs of the Mentally Ill. (info @ Ballotpedia)
    You Should Vote: NO
    Kids and the mentally ill are nearly always among the first groups to take funding hits when money starts vanishing. Such decisions speak volumes about our priorities as a society; they highlight a sorry lack of compassion at the societal level. California is better than this. We can do better than solving our fiscal crisis by preying on the state’s most vulnerable citizens. All it will take is real leadership in Sacramento. Your tool for putting real leadership in Sacramento is the ballot box. Happily that same tool lets you say NO to rotten ideas like this one. Vote NO on 1E.

  • Proposition 1F: Raises for State Officials. (info @ Ballotpedia)
    You Should Vote: NO
    This proposition has undeniable appeal: if our leaders can’t get the job done, why should they get raises? But even a moment’s scrutiny reveals the sheer silliness of this measure. Do you think reactionaries in the Lege will come to their senses and support the increased taxes we need in this state just because they can’t have a raise if we don’t get the budget balanced? Hell no. This prop doesn’t say they won’t be paid (which could in fact affect legislative behavior) if they screw up; it just says they can’t have a raise. That’s not going to change even a tiny bitlet of public policy. If you vote YES on 1F, you’re voting purely out of spite. That’s no reason to enact a law. The “argument against” in the Voter Information Guide, submitted by another politics geek who found an easy (and free!) way to hype his online musings to every voter in the state, is pretty much right on the money. The “argument for” and the “rebuttal to argument against,” on the other hand, are CHOCK-FULL OF CAPS IN THAT WAY THAT ALWAYS MAKES ME SUSPICIOUS AS TO A PROP’S TRUE MOTIVES. Screw this bullshit. This proposition won’t fix anything, and any warm feeling you get from voting for it will be forgotten by June. Vote NO on 1F.