Oct 282010
California State Capital in Sacramento
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With less than a week until the midterm election, here’s the final installment of my Voter’s Guide for the propositions. I’ll give you my take on the final three propositions and share my reasoning.

Proposition 25: Changes legislative vote requirement to pass budget and budget-related legislation.

Present California law requires that the state legislature submit a budget to the governor each year by June 15. For reasons not pertinent to this discussion, the law also requires a two-thirds majority of both houses for passage of the budget. Proposition 25 will reduce this requirement to a simple majority. It also ensures that legislators will no longer be paid retroactively for monies withheld while the state operates without a budget.

Of issue on this matter is the state legislature’s abysmal record on budget passage. Since 1980, the legislature has met its June 15 deadline only 5 times. And the current fiscal year continues the pattern, marking the ninetieth time in the last 25 years that the state started the fiscal year without a budget.

Proponents of the initiative claim that late budgets cost taxpayers millions of dollars, hurt schools and services, and damage California’s credit rating. They cite the fact that, without an approved budget, teachers must be handed pink slips and small businesses and state workers given IOUs. Projects are also shutdown and services delayed, which adds additional cost increases with restarts and further damages the state’s credit rating.

Proposition opponents assert that Prop-25 is a backdoor means for legislators to spend more money.  They claim that the circumvention of the two-thirds majority will result in politicians raising taxes. They even assert that the measure will somehow “eliminate the right of voters to use the referendum to force a vote and stop taxes disguised as fees.”

A reading of the text of the proposition seems to reveal that the argument against Prop-25 is nothing more than scare tactics designed to get voters to reject the measure. The initiative in no way changes the two-thirds majority requirement for tax increases. In fact, it specifically states that the two-third requirement to raise taxes is to be retained. Likewise, the proposition is devoid of any language to repeal citizen’s rights to vote.

Proposition 25 promises to end the budget gridlock in Sacramento and hold legislators responsible for passing timely budgets. It will retain the existing super-majority requirement for tax increases and dock legislators pay if they fail to perform as directed. This is long awaited reform that brings California into line with the other 47 states that only require a simple majority for budget passage. Voters need to say NO to scare tactics and vote Yes on Prop-25.

Proposition 26: Requires that certain state and local fees be approved by two-thirds vote.

This initiative is all about making it more difficult for the legislature to increase revenues. Current California law allows the legislature to raise “fees” with a simple majority vote but requires a two-thirds super majority for tax increases.  Prop-26 will broaden the definition of what constitutes a tax and render many payments that are currently considered fees to be taxes.

The fees affected by the initiative are those that “benefit the public broadly,” which mostly means those used to address health, environment, social and economic concerns. Oil recycling and hazardous waste fees fall into this group, as do certain fees on alcohol retailers.

Proponents of Prop-26 promote the initiative as a means to stop politicians from “enacting hidden taxes.” This claim is based on a blurring of the distinction between taxes and fees and a conclusion that raising fees with a simple majority is equivalent to raising taxes.

While there is a basis of truth in this claim, it fails to recognize that taxes are typically applied in a more broad sense where fees are levied for very specific circumstances. Many of the fees in question are those associated with ensuring that polluters pick up their own tab. One example of this is a so-called Prop-26 “hidden tax” that is levied against oil companies in order to cover the costs of oil spill cleanup. Other examples are fees on polluters for cleanup of hazardous waste and fees on tobacco companies for the adverse affects of tobacco.

The truth is that the major proponents of Prop-26 are the oil, tobacco and alcohol companies who pay the fees in question. These companies, including Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, and Phillip Morris have funded virtually the entire campaign for Prop-26.

Smart voters will not allow these deep-pocketed polluters to pass their tab to the taxpayers. A vote against Prop-26 will ensure that vital health and environmental services are not robbed and that the companies that pollute continue to pay for their own way.

Proposition 27: Eliminates state commission on redistricting.

Prop-27 is the polar opposite of Prop-20. Where 20 seeks to expand the authority of the Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC) to include control of congressional districts, Prop-27 completely eliminates the Commission and returns authority for the redistricting of both state and federal districts to the state legislature.

So, the decision for California voters is as follows: vote Yes-on-20 and No-on-27, which will put all authority in the CRC; vote No-on-20 and Yes-on-27, placing the state legislature in control, or vote NO on both propositions, thereby maintaining the present split authority.

Prop-27 does include certain provisions that require the legislature to hold public hearings both before and after they create redistricting maps — a measure that could help limit gerrymandering. The initiative also requires that all districts be essentially equivalent in size. These are positive moves, but neither of these measures, nor the small savings in redistricting costs, represents sufficient cause to support the proposition.

As with Prop-20, the decision is really about the best way to address the issues surrounding an ineffective legislature and the predominance of incumbent reelection. And in the end, there’s really no proof that an independent commission will improve this situation in any way. A redistricting bureaucracy that answers to nobody is a recipe for perpetuation of the problem — it’s another Band-Aid that will only create an appearance of change while leaving the broken system intact.

There are far more effective measures that we can take. If we’re serious about effective change and holding politicians accountable, we need to move in the direction of public campaign finance, preferential voting and term limits. The problem isn’t that state legislators serve their own best interest; it’s that California voters allow them to. If you don’t like what the legislature does — you can vote them out. We need structural change in Sacramento, not another bureaucracy. We need to empower the legislature and then hold them accountable — vote YES on Prop-27.

So, there you have it — Dave’s entire $0.02 on the California propositions — paid in full.

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Oct 262010
Official "Vote NO on Prop 8" logo
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Okay, the midterm election is another day closer, and here’s the next installment of my Voter’s Guide. So, if you have the time and are so inclined, you can read on. I’ll give you my position on each issue and also share why I’m voting the way I am.

Of course, if you’re a conservative, you’re not likely to agree with my positions, as I just today reviewed the guides assembled by several Democratic leaning groups, like the Courage Campaign, CREDO and the California Democratic Party (okay, so a little more partisan than just a lean), and it looks like I’ll be voting the party line on all issues for which they’ve taken a position. Perhaps this content could still have some value for conservatives though — as an anti-guide, or maybe just to help understand why somebody might vote along the Democratic line.

Proposition 22: Prohibits the state from borrowing or taking funds used for transportation, redevelopment, or local government projects and services.

Under the State Constitution, state and local governments share revenue from certain sources. This arrangement leads, from time to time, to the state affecting the distribution of funds to local agencies. This initiative will apply new limits to the authority of the state over local finances.

Specifically, the measure will limit the state’s access to fuel tax revenues, including temporary borrowing for cash flow purposes; it will also prohibit the redirection of redevelopment funds and eliminate the state’s ability to temporarily shift taxes from cities, counties and special districts to schools. There is also a provision to prohibit the use of Vehicle License Fees to cover state mandated costs.

In a nutshell, this initiative is designed to tie the state government’s hands in matters of the distribution of shared revenues. On the surface, this seems to have some merit. Those promoting the initiative label it a measure to “stop state raids” of local funding. Who wouldn’t be for that?

The problem is found in the detail. First off, Prop-22 attempts to constrain the state at a time when we have a $20 billion budget crisis. And it does so in a manner that prohibits the state from even performing such innocuous maneuvers as temporary borrowing to avoid cash flow issues. It also takes money from schools and codifies into the State Constitution protections for redevelopment agencies.

These measures seem unwise and imprudent in such a time of fiscal crisis. Proponents argue that the money should flow to its originally intended targets, while the opposition would argue that when money is tight, it should flow in order of precedent for the services most needed.

Good organizations are split on this proposition, with cities, most police, and local firefighters in favor, and teachers, nurses, and state firefighters opposed. The truth is that, if passed, the initiative will take significant funds from schools and healthcare and send it to redevelopment agencies and the private developers who rely on their funding. This is just bad policy and deserves to be defeated by an informed electorate.

Proposition 23: Suspends implementation of Air Pollution Control Law (AB32).

The state enacted AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, in 2006. AB32 set a target of reducing the Green House Gas (GHG) to their 1990 levels by 2020. The legislation required the Air Resources Board (ARB) to adopt the rules required to make this happen. Proposition 23 seeks to suspend the implementation of AB32 until the unemployment rate in California drops to 5.5 percent or below for four consecutive quarters.

Proponents of the initiative promote the measure as a smart move to minimize energy costs and spur job creation. They insist that the move is needed, in spite of pollution concerns, because of the state’s $20 billion budget deficit and high unemployment. They contend that, while Global Warming may be a serious concern, California cannot solve the issue on its own.

What the proponents don’t want to reveal is the fact that since 1970, California has had only three periods when the unemployment rate was below 5.5 percent, and that those periods each lasted only around 2-1/2 years. The fact is that with unemployment currently over 12 percent, it will be a long while before California experiences a full year where unemployment dips below 5.5 percent.

The other thing that Prop-23 supporters don’t want California voters to understand is that main backers of the proposition are Valero and Tesoro oil companies — two Texas firms who are amongst the worst polluters in the state.

This proposition has nothing to do with jobs. These oil companies are simply trying to use the state’s unemployment situation as leverage to rationalize legislation that will only serve to increase pollution and bolster their bottom lines. For them, this is all about maintaining the status quo, about keeping the profits in the coffers of polluters instead of transferring the wealth to a new generation of clean energy companies.

California is on the leading edge of developing a clean energy economy. Millions of jobs will be established as this effort is allowed to move forward. Californians need to reject the self-serving propaganda of these old-world, dirty energy polluters and embrace the future. Clean energy will return America to the forefront of technology, establishing new export industries and putting the planet on a track for a sustainable future, while simultaneously addressing our nation’s security and economic issues associated with dependency on foreign oil.

Prop-23 is a death blow for progress that serves but one purpose — to save the profits of polluters. There is absolutely no reason to vote in favor of this proposition except to support dirty energy and the oil companies behind it. VOTE NO — Please!

Proposition 24: Repeals recent legislation that would allow businesses to lower their tax liability.

The background on this proposition is that the legislature and governor recently made certain agreements that changed the rules for business tax treatment in California. This proposition seeks to repeal these deals and return the tax rules to their previous status.

Prop-24 will repeal deals involving business use of financial losses, the determination of income for multistate businesses, and the ability of businesses to share tax deductions.

With regard to losses, the initiative will repeal the deal that allowed businesses to claim present losses on amended returns for previously filed tax years. It will also return the allowance permitting losses to be carried forward for 20 years back to only 10 years.

On the topic of California taxable income, the measure will eliminate a new rule that allows businesses to be taxed based only on the portion of their sales in California. It will return the process to its former state where business income was based on three factors: the value of the businesses properties in California, its payroll within the state and its sales. It will also, obviously, prevent business from changing the method they choose to use each year.

Finally, the initiative will repeal a deal where businesses within a unitary group of businesses were allowed to share tax credits, and it will return the rules to their former status where only the business that earns a tax credit can use it.

The fiscal impact of Prop-24 amounts to an increase of state revenue of around $1.3 billion by 2012-13. Most of that increase will be channeled to schools under Prop-98.

Proponents of Prop-24 label the measure the “Tax Fairness Act.” Opponents call it the “Jobs Tax.” Therein lies the debate. But oddly enough, Republicans and Democrats alike support Prop-24. Why? Because they understand that giving special tax breaks that apply only to multistate businesses is not only bad governing —  it’s also BAD BUSINESS.

California is in dire economic straits, and making special deals for large, multistate businesses that will greatly reduce tax revenues and require further cuts to essential services is as imprudent as it is unfair. Businesses that are based in California need to pay taxes to California, regardless of where they make their sales — just like other California businesses.

A vote for fairness is in order — vote YES on Prop-24.

So, that’s installment #2. If you’re interested, stay tuned and tomorrow we’ll finish the propositions with installment #3 of Dave’s 2-cents on the California election.

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Oct 252010
ballot box
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The midterm election is now about a week away, and being a political junkie, I’ve of course got my ducks in a row. While you may still want to take this with a grain of salt, I have read all of the 9 propositions on the California ballot and carefully considered the arguments both for and against each. I’ve also had many people ask me how I was going to vote on specific issues, so this then is my first installment on an answer.

Proposition 19: The legalization of marijuana under California law.

This is a big 10-4. Marijuana should never have been illegal in the first place. It’s sad to see that Senator Feinstein is behind the Argument Against Prop-19. She and Laura Dean-Mooney of MADD are in opposition for the same unsupportable reason. They claim that the legislation will lead to bus drivers and the like being stoned on the job. They even assert that jobs could be lost and schools could lose federal money, all because employers will not be able stop employees from being high at work.

Of course, this is all complete nonsense. There is really no change in the present situation, except that employers would no longer be able to terminate employment based solely on the fact that an employee had tested positive for marijuana, which can remain in a person’s system for as much as 30 days. The new legislation expresses the strict prohibition on impairment while driving or partaking of other potentially dangerous activities and also stipulates that employers have the right to address impairment of job performance.

Those opposing the reform on the grounds stated are simply attempting to create a legitimate sounding argument to support their underlying position against legalization.

For those not hampered by emotional belief systems on the matter, the facts are clear. Marijuana is a drug that’s far less dangerous than alcohol and should be regulated and controlled instead of criminalized. This proposition will put an end to the massive number of Californians arrested for marijuana each year — 61,000 in 2008, and it will free law enforcement officers to focus where they’re really needed — working on violent crimes.

Legalization will reduce law enforcement costs and help address prison overcrowding. It will remove the black market and strike a blow on the cartels while also removing the profit motive on American streets. Legalization will, in short, cut crime. This is the primary reason that police organizations throughout the state support Prop-19.

And as if this were not enough, the legalization of marijuana will establish a new revenue source for our cash-strapped state. The Board of Equalization estimates that tax revenues will start out at around $1.4 billion, and that’s on top of the cost savings.

Incidentally, the other popularly surfaced argument against legalization is the “Gateway Theory.” While not specifically mentioned by those opposing Prop-19, it should be understood that study after study has refuted any statistically significant linkage between marijuana use and the abuse of more dangerous drugs. In fact, there’s a much stronger correlation to alcohol use, and even where direct correlation was evidenced, the studies found other more significant links.

Proposition 20: Redistricting of congressional districts.

The question here is really a case of not only who do you trust to configure California’s congressional districts, but whether or not you feel that you should have some recourse if you disagree with the districts they define.

Under current law, there is a 14-member redistricting commission that will define districts for the state legislature, but their authority does not extend to congressional districts, which are presently under the purview of the state legislature. Prop-20 will expand the authority of the Citizens Redistricting Commission to include congressional redistricting.

Those in favor of the proposition assert that the legislature can’t be trusted to serve anyone’s interest but their own and therefore an independent authority is needed. Those opposed claim that the redistricting commission is a waste of taxpayer money — that it creates a new bureaucracy, and that most importantly — taxpayers will have no recourse to hold the commission responsible for its actions.

It is interesting to know that the entire Yes on Prop-20 campaign has been funded by Charles Munger, Jr., son of Wall Street billionaire Charles Munger.

In the end, although proponents are undoubtedly right that the politicians will carve out the districts in their best interest, and that such action typically results in more incumbents being reelected, there’s really nothing to prove that an independent commission will net any better results. Incumbents win because they typically get more campaign financing and the electorate votes for them.

There are far more effective measures that can be put in place to address the incumbent issue than a redistricting bureaucracy that answers to nobody. If we’re serious about effective change and holding politicians accountable, we should instead move for public campaign finance, preferential voting and term limits. And in the meantime, if you don’t like what the legislature does with redistricting, you can vote them out. A NO vote seems in order for Prop-20.

Proposition 21: The $18 annual vehicle fee to help fund state parks.

This initiative is simple. It adds an $18 fee to the vehicle registration for all non-commercial vehicles, except trailers and trailer coaches, and the proceeds are earmarked to go to state parks and wildlife programs. In return, all subject vehicles are allowed access to state parks without further charges.

Proponents of the proposition argue that state parks are in peril from poor maintenance and many are in danger of closing. Opponents claim that the initiative is a “cynical budget shell game that could still leave our parks dilapidated.”

Of course, even in their argument, the opposition admits that the parks need the funding. Their game is to color the initiative in the worst possible light, labeling it the “Car Tax.” These people are none other than the same folk who oppose any taxation, regardless of the intent. And their claim that the parks could remain dilapidated completely ignores the fact that 85% of the proceeds are dedicated to the operation and maintenance of our state parks.

Those who don’t understand or appreciate the process through which a society of free people fund the services that are important to them will never support taxes or fees of any sort. These people don’t seem to understand that the state economy has suffered and that parks are already closing and are in serious need of maintenance as a result.

The real question here is whether or not you believe that the preservation of the California state parks is worth $18 per year. And if you ever visit them, the real cost is closer to zero. Sometimes people just need to stand up and say, “Yes, I’m willing to pay for that.” Oddly, it’s usually those who can afford it least who are willing to make the sacrifice, and those with deep pockets who complain about every penny they pay.

If you care about the state parks, vote YES. It’s a small amount to pay.

And if you’re interested, stay tuned each day this week for further installments of my 2 cents on the California election.

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