November 2012 California Ballot Measures

23:51 Sun 28 Oct 2012
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I’m more interested in the state-level measures than I am in this year’s elections at any level, and this is how I’m going to vote on them. Quick highlights: YES on 34, NO on 35, YES on 36.

Proposition 30, Sales and Income Tax Increase

Essentially a set of taxes on higher earners to shore up the state budget. This is the measure that’s involved the second-highest amount of funding from both sides.

My vote: yes.

I’m torn on this. More money for education by taxing higher earners sounds good, except:

  • I don’t know if feeding more money to the education system without fundamentally reforming it[1] is the right thing to do.
  • What I want is for California to put fewer people in prison and improve the budget by cutting the incarcerated population, but instead California cuts education and then insists that only a tax increase can solve the problem.
  • Apparently there’s no guarantee that the money will actually go to education.

With those objections in mind, I’m still voting yes, possibly enabling bad behaviors on the part of California’s state government.

Proposition 31, Two-Year State Budget Cycle

A set of change to the budget system, including making it a two-year cycle, requiring performance reviews and goals, expanding gubernatorial authority, fiscally limiting legislative authority, and requiring publication of bills three days before they’re voted on.

My vote: no. I think.

This is a very tricky one for me. Requiring publication of bills before votes sounds excellent. But the rest seems highly bureaucratic, and expanding the power of the governor here seems dubious.

Proposition 32, the "Paycheck Protection" Initiative

An attempt to hamstring union fundraising; this is the measure that the most combined money was spent on campaigning for/against.

My vote: No.

I actually agree with a lot of the statements made by the promoters of this initiative: there are union special interests in this state whose political clout is too great, and who prevent changes that would be beneficial for the state overall in order to protect their own interests, and who do so using money automatically deducted from their members’ paychecks. The prison guards’ union, for example, is a blight upon the state. However, this bill would severely hamper all unions—and the unions are one of the few counterweights to corporate interests here. Without them the state lurches rightward in an unhealthy way. And, of course, the measure ignores completely the influence of corporate special interests, the majority of whose contributions don’t come from employee paychecks. It’s essentially an attempt to create a very uneven playing field.

Proposition 33, Automobile Insurance Persistency Discounts

As far as I can tell, an attempt to loosen car insurance regulations in a way that would allow insurance companies more leeway in setting their rates—which proponents claim would reduce those rates in general, while opponents claim the opposite.

My vote: No.

States with similar systems appear to have have higher rates than those without. Furthermore, the measure was put on the ballot by Mercury Insurance, leading me to conclude that its purpose is unlikely to be ensuring savings for California drivers.

Proposition 34, the End the Death Penalty Initiative

Eliminate the death penalty, including changing current death sentences to life imprisonment. Also requires those found guilty of murder to work in prison for victim restitution and creates a fund intended to aid police departments in solving more murder and rape cases.

My vote: YES.

The state (any state) absolutely cannot be trusted to execute people. This is starkly clear in the United States, which has proven it repeatedly by murdering people who did not commit the crimes they were convicted for. It doesn’t matter whether you think the state has a moral right to kill those guilty of certain crimes (I don’t)—in practical terms this is a question of whether you think the state should be able to kill the innocent from time to time and write it off as acceptable margin of error. Given that the supposed deterrence of the death penalty has no scientific or statistical support, the only remaining argument I can see is vengeance; not necessarily a bad argument, but again in practical terms this is an argument for the execution of innocents in order to satisfy vengeful urges.

Proposition 35, Ban on Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery

Contrary to what the title of this measure might lead you to believe, human trafficking and sex slavery are both already illegal in California. This measure increases penalties, including requiring “convicted sex traffickers” to register as “sex offenders”—the scare quotes are present because the measure significantly expands the definitions of those things in dubious ways.

My vote: NO.

This law expands the definition of “sex trafficking” so much that if you sub-let to someone who does sex work on the side, the fact that they pay you rent makes you someone who “profits from sex trafficking”, even if their sex work is entirely consensual and you don’t know anything about it. That’s just too broad a law, and in any case the moralizing, “let’s just punish some people harder” approach is entirely the wrong one with which to approach the problems with prostitution[2].

Proposition 36, Changes in the “Three Strikes” Law

Change the “Three Strikes” law so that convictions for non-violent felonies will no longer send people with two prior felony convictions to jail for life.

My vote: YES.

The list of things that are now felonies is large and only growing larger; obviously, drug possession is the class that’s resulted in so many ridiculous sentences. This law is responsible for a large part of the surge in California’s prison population (along with the “War on Drugs”, of course), and hence for a tremendous amount of human suffering and misery. This measure doesn’t go far enough, but at least it’s something.

Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food

Mandate that food defined as “genetically modified” be labelled as such, with a number of exceptions.

My vote: yeah, I guess.

There are lots of problems with this one. Who gets to define “genetically modified”? Shouldn’t the focus be on specific modifications that are harmful, rather than lumping together the vast potential range of genetic modifications that could be made? Why all the exemptions, which border on making this an anticompetitive measure in favor of “organic” producers? Then again, it’s currently really hard for non-GMO producers to even label their food as such thanks to FDA regulations, so this measure, as flawed as it is, might be the only way for consumers to easily determine[3] the GMO status of products, which is something they should be able to do. Also, Monsanto is heavily against it.

Proposition 38, State Income Tax Increase to Support Education

Raise taxes for all Californians to fund education. More restrictive than Proposition 30, in that it mandates that the money can’t be used for other things and that the state cannot cut other funding in response to this measure passing.

My vote: yes.

I’m torn for the same reasons as for 30, but I think this is the better initiative between the two, partly because of its prohibitions on the state using the funds for other things.

Proposition 39, Income Tax Increase for Multistate Businesses

Changes California tax laws so that out-of-state business have to pay California taxes based on the percentage of sales in California (currently they can reduce California tax liability by having no facilities in the state).

My vote: yes.

I’m a little leery that this will just create more pressure for gaming the system, and of the additional bureaucracy it will create, but I think its effect will be to make costs fairer between in-state and out-of-state companies.

Proposition 40, Referendum on the State Senate Redistricting Plan

Let the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s redistricting plan move forward.

My vote: yes.

I don’t have a lot of hope that it’s possible to entirely move away from district boundaries that are politically motivated[4], but the California Citizens Redistricting Commission seems at least like a step in the right direction.

[1] “Reform” here is not code for privatization or school vouchers. But I have significant problems with the notion of mandatory schooling and the institutionalization of education in general, and think the system needs radical change—although I want radical change that can’t be exploited to cut social mobility or exclude more people from opportunities for academic learning.

[2] Prostitution should be legal between consenting adults, and coercion and exploitation should be illegal (involving sex or not, incidentally). Anti-prostitution laws are typically defended as “protecting women”, but if you believe that you should ask sex workers under the current regime how “protected” they feel by police and prosecutors.

[3] Although there are suggestions that in fact it’s not easy at all for even producers to know for a fact the GMO/non-GMO status of their products, making this less valuable to consumers.

[4] It should really be possible to figure out a neutral formula or algorithm—however, any such formula, even one produced at random, would be almost guaranteed to upset entrenched interests, leading to fights and demands for tweaks that would lead right back to more or less where we are now.

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One Response to “November 2012 California Ballot Measures”

  1. Lev Says:

    Well-reasoned arguments that I mostly agree with, except:

    Prop 37: I see it as an appeal to consumer fear by the organic food industry (now quite a force in the food world) to muscle out a rival. GMO food is in no way unsafe or less nutritious than conventional food. A vote for Prop 37 is a vote for fear, uncertainty and doubt about a safe and highly beneficial technology. Even if one think Monsanto is the Devil, sometimes the Devil is right.

    Prop 38: I’m under the impression that Prop 30 and Prop 38 are mutually exclusive, so wouldn’t Yes votes for both effectively cancel each other?

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