They look like democracy, but they aren’t really democracy.  Sure, every voter gets to vote on them.  Isn’t “one person, one vote” the definition of democracy?  Not quite.  Real democracy isn’t just about the voting; it’s about the crafting.  The problem with ballot propositions is that the voters don’t get to help craft the legislation.  There’s no opportunity to amend, to “perfect” the proposition.

As a result, we get some pretty imperfect legislation to vote on.  Thus, my default position is to vote “no” unless I can be convinced that the imperfect legislation is significantly better than the alternative.

My one exception to this rule is on propositions that come from the Legislature.  It is my hope that, before they get to the ballot, our legislators have done their work of perfecting the legislation.  Yes, I wish they would just pass the legislation – that’s what we pay them to do.  But I will consider and vote on it.

That said, here is my voter’s guide for the 11 California propositions:

30 – YES!  While put on the ballot by petition signatures, the law comes from the Governor and Legislature, so it’s one I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to.  In a complex society, we need to coordinate our efforts and pool our resources to care for one another and to lift up the common good.  We coordinate our efforts in a thing called “the government” and we pool our resources with things called “taxes.”  California needs to raise taxes to meet the needs of one another and to lift up the common good.  Teachers deserve a livable wage and class sizes that are small enough that our kids and young adults get quality educations.
The taxes will be an increased income tax on couples making over half a million dollars a year (that lasts 7 years) and an increased sales tax (that lasts 4 years).  Is this the best way to raise this needed revenue?  Who knows?  I would have done it all through income tax (a more progressive way to raise revenue than sales taxes), but this is the compromise the Governor and Legislature came up with.
The big thing that’s missing is a State Constitutional amendment that would over turn the 2/3 majority needed to raise taxes.

31 – No.  I like the goals of this proposition around transparency and accountability, but it’s an example of how initiatives aren’t “perfected” before they go on the ballot.  As I read the information on the proposition, it looks to me like it will perpetuate underfunding of vital state programs. Any new state program or expansion of existing state programs what would add $25 million to the budget requires either an offsetting cut to some other program or increased revenues.  But it takes a 2/3 supermajority to increase revenues.  This means that programs will be perpetually pitted against each other.

32 – NO!  “This may be one of the most cynical ballot measures we have seen,” write California Church IMPACT.  I couldn’t agree more.  Name one corporation that withholds money from payroll to give to political campaigns.  This is clearly an attempt to disempower unions, organizations that are democratically controlled by their own members.  Corporations would continue to be able to spend money in politics out of their coffers; this does nothing to overturn or limit Citizens United.

33 – NO!  I didn’t like this last time it was on the ballot and I don’t like it now.  It is just another attempt by Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph to make more money by charging more for auto insurance.

34 – YES!  Killing people is wrong.  Let’s end the death penalty.  Ending the death penalty system save us $1 billion over five years – without releasing a single person from prison.  Ending the death penalty would eliminate the risk that we could execute someone who is innocent of the crime.  Vote YES on 34!

35 – NO.  From California Church IMPACT’s voter’s guide:  “Human trafficking is the most vile abuse perpetrated against men, women, and children today.  It strips them of not just their freedom but of every human resource for survival.  We know according to human rights groups that more people are enslaved now than at any other time in history.  However, this proposition not only does nothing to help victims, it amends the existing law in very dangerous ways that will strip law enforcement of some of its current directives.  Prop. 35 amends Penal Code Section 236.1, a comprehensive statute covering all manner of trafficking including domestic work and other forms of coerced and unfree labor.  Prop. 35 eradicates any aspect of human trafficking other than sex slavery, and this is a dangerous and irresponsible action.”

36 – Yes!  I don’t like “three strikes” laws to begin with.  This initiative at least brings a tiny bit of sanity to the law.  If this initiative passes, a criminal would have to commit “serious” felonies to be sentences to life imprisonment.  Far too many people in our overcrowded prisons are serving life sentences for non-violent, non-serious felonies, rather than being rehabilitated and helped to create productive lives.

37 – YES!  I want to know what’s in my food.  That’s all this initiative does.  Why are Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical and others spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat this measure?  Because they are afraid that, once we know what’s in our food, we’ll demand real food, not frankenfood, and they’ll lose money.  So they are putting commercials on TV, claiming to be looking out for the family farmer, when their real concern is their bottom line.  Yes, there’s a weakness in the law (that pesky problem with initiative legislation):  it doesn’t offer farmers a sufficient “escape clause” for when their regular crops are inadvertently cross contaminated by bee pollination, but that’s a weakness we can address down the line.

38 – No.  My plan, up until a week and a half ago, was to vote “yes” on both 30 and 38.  I wanted to make sure at least one of these measures passed.  But the problems with 38 are just too many.  (1) It restricts the revenue raised to K-12 education only; no other programs can benefit from the raised revenue.  (2) If 38 passes and 30 doesn’t (or 38 passes by a larger majority), the “trigger cuts” in the state budget will go into effect while we wait for the prop 38 money to come in; that will be a mess.  (3) 38 does nothing to address the current underfunding of Prop 98 allocations now or in the future.  This law is well meaning, I’m sure, but it’s not good law.

39 – Yes.  This is a soft “yes,” a gentle “yes,” based much more on the recommendations of others than my own analysis.  It looks like this initiative closes a tax loophole that allows multi-state businesses to avoid paying taxes in California.  In addition, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office projects closing this loophole will generation 40,000 additional jobs in California.
A portion of the non-educational revenue (based on prop 98 rules) generated is initially directed toward a new “Clean Energy Fund” for creating jobs and job training in clean energy and improving energy efficiency.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I think Climate Change is the most important moral issue of our day, so I like the idea of this allocation – except for the fact that I oppose budgeting by citizen initiative.  I’ll vote for 39, anyway.

40 – Yes!  The non-partisan Citizen’s Redistricting Commission is good for democracy and this initiative affirms their latest work.