A few friends have asked me for my views on the various California ballot propositions, so I thought I'd throw together some quick thoughts for anyone who's curious. As most of you know, I am left-leaning and a Democrat, but will try to put on my advisor hat, instead of my advocate hat. Also, I am nowhere near as close a follower of state politics as I used to be when I worked in Sacramento, so take this with a grain of salt.
Proposition 19: Pretty straightforward -- if you think marijuana should be legalized, you should vote yes, and if you don't, you should vote no. To be clear, even if it passes, marijuana will still be illegal under federal law, so this initiative is more about expressing the public's view as well as whether *state* law enforcement resources should be applied to enforcing the law. In other words, I wouldn't advise running out and opening your own marijuana dispensary if this passes!
Proponents include supporters of drug liberalization and critics of existing drug policy, as well as the NAACP (on the ground that drug law is disproportionately applied to minorities). Opponents include law enforcement and public safety advocates (including the Republican and Democratic candidates for Attorney General). There are a lot of good arguments and studies on both sides about how societally harmful/not harmful marijuana use is, and whether enforcing our illegal drug laws against marijuana users and dealers is societally beneficial that I really can't do justice in a blog post.
Propositions 20 and 27: "Redistricting" -- OK, I know your eyes have already glazed over, but this is important stuff! The way that voting districts are drawn can really affect who is elected, which in turn really affects the overall composition of Congress and the state legislature. Historically, elected officials have had the power to draw the lines, but more recently there has been a push to give that power to some sort of "impartial" entity. It's a complicated subject, and the best way I have to explain it is to describe my own personal views, which have changed over time.
I used to be a big proponent of traditional redistricting. My reasons were:
1) Like many aspects of government, redistricting is very complicated and involves really difficult policy trade-offs. Isn't that exactly what legislators are supposed to do in a democracy? And if we don't like what they're doing, we can vote them out. Besides, do I trust some supposedly "impartial" body to do any better?
2) I also have a big fear of gridlocked government that thwarts democracy. I believe that America's dynamism and rapid pace of change are one of its greatest strengths, and I used to believe that you get the most democratic (and therefore dynamic) outcomes if the winner of the elections gets to implement what they want without too much obstruction from the losing side. If the Republicans win in Texas, they should get to govern Texas, and if Democrats win in California, they should get to govern California. To the winner goes the spoils, and if either party fails to perform, they'll get swept from office eventually. In the meantime, government reflects the dynamism of American society, which is a good thing.
After spending a lot of time in government, I came to question my views, because:
1) Redistricting is about the very rules of elections themselves, so when abused, it can actually makes it harder for true voter preference to be expressed in elections.
2) And frankly, there is a lot of abuse, on both sides. In Texas in the 1990s, Republicans deliberately drew lines designed to minimize the power of Democratic voters (e.g., draw the lines so that even if 40% of voters voted Democratic, only 25% of the state legislature and Texas congressional delegation would be Democrats). Democrats have done similar things, and in fact, in California, Democrats drew the lines to make sure most existing Democratic incumbents were protected, even at the expense of having a legislature that had a bigger Democratic majority that reflected California's voters!
3) But most importantly, I've concluded that aggressive redistricting doesn't result in the outcome I want, which is the best possible expression of voter intent in the form of actual government action (whether that action be "liberal" or "conservative" action). Most districts have ended up being drawn in a way that emphasizes the voting power of each party's most motivated or organized constituents. And for both parties, that has produced more ideological or ethically compromised legislators who actually contribute to gridlock and/or undemocratic outcomes. Neither dynamic, nor democratic.
Whew. If you're still with me, at a high level what this means is:
-- If you are more convinced by "Old Mike" and pro-"traditional" redistricting, you probably want to vote no on Prop. 20 and yes and Prop. 27;
-- If you are more convinced by "New Mike", you probably want to vote yes on Prop. 20 and no on Prop.27.
There are some nuances that are possible; for example, you may agree with one argument at the state level and another for Congressional districts, in which case you might vote differently than above. If you want to get that detailed, see the League of Women Voters analysis.
Proposition 21: If you want to pay a $18 annual car license fee specifically to support state parks, you should vote yes.
In addition, some people feel that even if they support a particular cause or expenditure, it's bad policy to write into law a dedicated source of funding for it. For example, in times of budget crisis, one might argue that the $500 million this measure would raise would be better spent on other things. Certainly, my friends who work on the state budget find it incredibly frustrating that a huge percentage of the budget must by law be spent on certain things because of votes taken years or decades ago, even though times and priorities may have changed.
On the flip side, education, transportation, and many other programs have dedicated funding, so if you feel strongly about parks, why shouldn't they get one too? Also, if you are generally in favor of more government revenue, the money raised by this proposition means existing park money could be used elsewhere. After all, money is fungible.
Proposition 22: Prop. 22 is all about *who* gets to decide how state and local tax dollars are spent. Normally, the state government gets to decide how your state taxes are spent, and local government (cities and counties) gets to decide how your local taxes are spent. However, in the past several years, California has had serious budget problems, so the state government has used local tax money to help with the state budget. This made the cities and counties mad, so they put this proposition on the ballot to stop that from happening again.
Some types of programs get more support at the state level, while others get more support at the local level. That's why you see the odd (and somewhat sad) situation where certain interests (like police and fire departments, libraries) support the proposition while others (like teachers and redevelopment agencies) oppose it. Basically, everyone is just fighting over the money.
So it's hard for me to even advise how you might vote on this proposition. If you prefer that more of your local taxes be spent by local officials, you probably want to vote yes. Then again, certain programs (like education) are heavily funded by the state, so voting yes might make it harder for those programs to get the money they want. Really tough call. I'm leaning toward voting "no".
Proposition 23: This proposition would suspend enforcement of a recently passed state law seeking to limit carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, until the state's unemployment rate drops below 5.5% for a year (historically, that threshold has been reached very rarely).
If you support efforts at the state level to limit global warming, you definitely want to vote no on this one. If you think global warming is exaggerated or a hoax, or that now is a bad time to try and address it, you should vote yes.
Proposition 24: Corporate tax law is ridiculously complex, and I don't think you need to know the details to decide how to vote on this one. If you think state corporate taxes should go up, vote yes. If you think state corporate taxes should not go up, vote no. All the usual arguments for and against corporate taxes apply, including how much tax in total you think we as a society should pay to support government expenditures, how that tax should be collected (corporate vs. sales/income/property taxes), and who should pay what share of taxes.
Proposition 25: Like redistricting, the state budget process is hideously complex. At a high level, a state budget must do two things: decide how much tax to collect, and how those taxes are spent. Under current law, both those decisions require a two-thirds majority in each house of the state legislature, plus the governor's approval. The state legislature has been majority Democratic for most of the past few decades, but never two-thirds Democratic. This means that at least a few Republican legislators have to vote for a budget before it can pass.
Democrats will tell you that Republicans have used this requirement to drag out the process every year, until eventually some special favor is given to a few Republicans to vote yes. They will also argue that the Republican legislators have historically acted irresponsibly, refusing to vote for any budget but never putting forth any realistic budget plan of their own.
Republicans will tell you that without the two-thirds requirement, Democrats would "go crazy" and raise taxes and spend money the state doesn't have. They also argue that the two-thirds requirement is the only way Republican legislators and their constituents get anything significant done, because it's the only leverage they have in an otherwise overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.
It's important to note that this proposition eliminates the two-thirds requirement for *how* state money is spent, but keeps in place the two-thirds requirement for any tax increase. For committed Democrats, that's probably less than ideal, but still an improvement. For committed Republicans, this is just the beginning of a slippery slope towards Democrats getting everything they want in the state budget.
The fact is that, at least at the legislative level, California is a Democratic state. So if you have some sympathy for Democratic policies (or disagree with them but feel that as the majority party in the state they should get their way), you want to vote yes. If you lean Republican in your outlook and want Democratic policies restricted or stopped (or otherwise feel that forcing a super-majority serves a good purpose), you want to vote no.
Proposition 26: More arcane budget stuff! You probably don't care whether money you pay to the government is called a "tax" or a "fee", but there's a big legal difference. It can get really technical, and a little absurd at times when lawyers argue about it. For purposes of this proposition, what you need to know is that taxes require a two-thirds vote at the state or local level, while fees require a majority vote. This proposition would make all "fees" also subject to a two-thirds vote requirement.
If on principle you generally oppose more government revenue, you should vote yes on this proposition because it makes it much harder for the government to create or raise fees. If you are more supportive of government revenue for whatever reason, or you feel that a majority vote should be sufficient to collect new or more revenue, you should vote no.
So there you have it. All feedback welcome, especially if you think I've made a factual error!