|Sensible opinions on the California ballot propositions since 1980 by Pete Stahl|
Read the ratings:
Prop. 51 - YES
Prop. 52 - NO
Prop. 53 - NO
Prop. 54 - YES
Prop. 55 - YES
Prop. 56 - YES
Prop. 57 - YES
Prop. 58 - YES
Prop. 59 - YES
Prop. 60 - NO
Prop. 61 - NO
Prop. 62 - YES
Prop. 63 - YES
Prop. 64 - YES
Prop. 65 - NO
Prop. 66 - NO
Prop. 67 - YES
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Pete Rates the Propositions
You want details? We got details. Twelve years ago the federal government enacted a law allowing Indians to operate casinos on tribal lands, provided they agree to "compacts" with the states they're in. Due to ambiguity in that law, a number of California tribes felt they didn't need formal agreements, and built casinos without them. This sparked a long battle in federal court to determine whether these casinos were legal. It looked likely the ruling would go against the tribes.
The Wilson Administration wanted to regulate gambling on reservations, so in early 1998 it negotiated restrictive formal compacts with eleven tribes that hadn't yet opened casinos. Dubbed the "Pala Compacts," these placed unnecessarily tight limits on the type and number of gaming devices allowed each tribe. Wilson intended to force the Pala Compacts on all tribes after the court ruled against the casinos. That fall, after the legislature ratified the Pala Compacts, the casino-operating tribes gathered enough signatures to force a vote of the public. That referendum on the Pala Contracts is Prop 29.
Meanwhile, the casino-operating tribes had qualified their own model compacts for the November 1998 ballot as Prop 5. It was more favorable to the Indians, of course. For instance, 5 did not limit the type or number of video gaming terminals, nor did it require casinos to allow workers to unionize. After a bitter campaign, Prop 5 passed (over my objection to its lack of labor provisions). In the same election, more Indian-friendly Gray Davis took over the Governor's Mansion. Lost yet? It gets worse.
Last August the state Supreme Court invalidated Prop 5 because it allows "Nevada-style casinos," which are banned by the state Constitution. The casino-operating tribes, now desperate to avoid the Pala Compacts (Prop 29), entered into new negotiations with the Davis administration. By September the state had ratified new compacts with 57 tribes, including the eleven that had signed the original Pala Compacts. This means that not even the Pala Band wants you to vote for Prop 29; they prefer the 1999 agreement. The 1999 compacts lift the Pala Compacts' arbitrary limits on gambling, but retain their labor-protecting provisions. The 1999 compacts also require gambling income to be shared among all tribes in the state, not just those with casinos. These compacts I like.
But we're still faced with that pesky constitutional ban on Nevada-style casinos. That's where Prop 1A comes in. 1A amends the Constitution to allow Nevada-style casinos on tribal lands with state-approved compacts. If 1A passes, September's agreements will go into effect and we can forget about this mess. So: Vote "yes" on 1A for the new agreements, and "no" on 29 to kill the Pala Compacts once and for all.
(Please see My semi-biennial lecture on bonds for my opinion on bonds in general.)
Prop 12 is a pork barrel. It authorizes about two billion dollars in bonds for the acquisition, restoration, conservation and/or development of parks, facilities and natural areas throughout California. Prop 12 specifies sites and amounts for dozens of projects, from the acquisition of ohlone tiger beetle habitat on the central coast ($5 million) to the completion of the California African American Museum in Los Angeles ($3 million). It has $1.5 million to link bike paths to public transit in Whittier, and $2 million to remove non-native vegetation from reserves in San Diego County. It has $15 million for youth soccer and baseball fields and $250,000 for maintenance of the California golden poppy. Prop 12 has so many provisions it takes eight pages of fine print in your ballot pamphlet. For such an environment-minded measure, 12 has sure killed a lot of trees.
Nevertheless, Prop 12 deserves your vote. The traditionalists among you should support 12 because California has used bonds to fund parks and wildlife projects since 1928. The capitalists among you should support 12 because it gives the tourism industry a shot in the arm with its aid for such attractions as the San Diego Zoo and the California Academy of Sciences. Social progressives should be pleased that 12 earmarks $100 million for impoverished urban areas. And of course environmentalists should applaud 12 because the bulk of its funds will be used to remove fragile habitats from the hands of potential developers, preserving our state's unique and varied ecosystems for generations to come.
This Prop 13 has nothing to do with property taxes. That one was 26 years ago. This Prop 13 concerns something much more essential: water.
The delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers is the most important natural resource in California. It is the source of water for over half the people in the state and nearly half the fruits and vegetables grown in the country. If the Delta is degraded by pollution, saline backflow from San Francisco Bay, or a host of other dangers, we're all in big trouble. Prop 13 will provide $630 million to help make sure this doesn't happen. Included in that figure is the state's contribution to the state/federal CALFED Bay-Delta Program to restore and maintain ecological health in the Delta.
The rest of Prop 13's $1.97 billion will fund wastewater treatment and recycling, agricultural runoff management, innovative watershed protection programs, and a whole slew of other projects throughout California. Read about them in your Bill Jones Fun Book. These projects are not optional; they're crucial to the long-term viability of the state.
1974's Prop 13 slashed local governments' budgets, rendering most unable to fund library construction and renovation. The state now pays most of this. In 1988 voters approved Prop 85, providing $75 million for library buildings. Virtually all of that has been spent. A 1998 study has identified nearly $2 billion in library facility upgrades needed within the next two years. Prop 14 will provide $350 million, or just one sixth of what's needed.
Public libraries have recently taken on a substantial new role. In addition to providing traditional information such as books, tapes and newspapers, libraries must now provide public access to the Internet. Prop 14 allows bond proceeds to be used for Internet wiring and computer acquisition. With 14 our libraries can continue to be effective resources for the community long into the Information Age.
California's 19 city and county forensic crime labs can determine the quality of justice we receive. If their work is substandard, innocent people may be convicted and criminals acquitted. So it's crucial that crime labs' facilities and equipment be up to date. You don't need to have watched the O. J. trial to agree.
As technology has advanced, the cost of providing the most current equipment has skyrocketed. Instruments to perform DNA testing, trace chemical analysis, and other new tests are expensive. Furthermore, caseloads are increasing all over the state. Prop 15 will provide $220 million to upgrade local crime labs and their equipment so they can answer the increased burden with more accurate results. It can only improve our quality of justice.
There are currently two veterans' homes in California, with beds for about 1,800 elderly and disabled veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there is a need for at least 3,800 more beds. The federal government is willing to pay 65% of the construction costs if California can come up with the rest. Prop 16 will provide $26 million, our share of the costs for more veterans' homes. An additional $24 million from Prop 16 will refinance previous lease-payment bonds at more favorable rates, saving the state money.
You know those innocent-seeming raffles your church or Little League runs? They're illegal. That's right. "Throw the deacon in the slammer, Henrietta. He's a criminal!" Unless tickets are available for free, raffles are considered lotteries, which are constitutionally prohibited (except for the state lottery). Prop 17 will amend the state Constitution to allow raffles by nonprofit organizations for charitable purposes. At least 90% of the gross receipts must go directly to those charitable purposes, and anyone paid to conduct the raffle must be an employee of the nonprofit organization.
Face it folks, the war against gambling in California has been lost. The Lottery is everywhere. There are racetracks across the state. People bet over the Internet. Card rooms abound. Vegas and Reno are just an hour away by jet, and if 1A passes you won't even need to go that far. The image opponents of 17 are selling of a moral, pure land threatened with dastardly sin is just plain hooey. "But our neighborhoods!" they intone. Right. Your neighborhood market sells lottery tickets and makes good money at it. The war is over. Gambling won. Get over it.
Prop 17 will legitimize a widespread activity that's really quite harmless compared to some of the horrors mentioned above. Claims that 17 will allow organized crime to move in are ridiculous. Raffles operate illegally today; legalizing them, if anything, should reduce organized crime's involvement. My only reservation about 17 is that it doesn't apply to for-profit operations, so you'll still have to hear the words "no purchase necessary" in about every other commercial.
Prop 18 extends the death penalty to murderers who kill after having ambushed a victim, or in connection with kidnapping or arson. Prop 19 extends the death penalty to murderers whose victim is a BART or Cal State University police officer. If you favor the death penalty, stop here and vote "yes" on both. If, on the other hand, you believe the death penalty is a barbaric act perpetrated by a supposedly civilized society, voting "no" on 18 and 19 is your chance to limit its application.
Ladies and Gentlemen! Step right this way! Presenting the Amazing Useless Proposition! Gawk as this Freak of Democracy does Nothing at All! Gasp as it Merely Pours Money from One Pot into Another! Cringe at the thought of its Unintended Long-Term Consequences! Marvel at its Unamendable Permanence! Hurry, hurry, hurry!
What am I ranting about? Here's what. One third of state lottery receipts go to public schools, colleges and universities, which can use the money any way they see fit. Prop 20 would earmark a portion of these funds for instructional materials (mainly textbooks). That portion, starting at about 5% ($43 million this year), would gradually increase as lottery receipts rise, eventually approaching 50% of the schools' lottery money.
That might be a good idea, but it ignores this: Independent of the lottery, the state budget already earmarks $600 million for instructional materials. What will happen to that figure if Prop 20 passes? That's right. The legislature will reduce it by the amount the lottery provides. Since Prop 98 prevents the total school budget from being reduced, the legislature will simply reallocate funds for other educational purposes to compensate for the new lottery mandate. Net effect of Prop 20: zero.
For 20 to increase the amount of money budgeted for textbooks, the lottery will have to take in nearly three times as much as it does today. Better start buying those scratchers in bulk.
In the long run, of course, lottery receipts will increase to such levels and beyond. Then Prop 20 will require us to spend $200 or more per student on textbooks, maps, and so forth. Will this be good policy fifteen years from now? Who knows? Apparently the authors of Prop 20 know, because the only way out of Prop 20's mandate will be another ballot proposition. I, for one, don't relish the thought of visiting this sideshow again.
The official argument in favor of 20 states, "When it comes to academic achievement, textbooks are second only to competent teachers." When I read this, I thought, "Great! Prop 20 will increase salaries to attract more competent teachers!" I guess the joke's on me. Prop 20, the Avis Rent-a-Car of education initiatives, is aiming for second best for our schools. Prop 20's budget straitjacket will actually prevent use of lottery proceeds to improve the level of instructors. How unbelievably shortsighted.
Prop 21 is a reckless and unnecessary attempt to get tough on juvenile crime. Violent crime in California has been declining, with the greatest decrease concentrated in the 23-and-under population. You'd think we should stick with current policies on juvenile crime—they seem to be working. Yet Prop 21 will move more children into adult courts and adult prisons, extend their sentences, and compromise the confidentiality of their records. This for the population with the greatest chance of being rehabilitated. It makes no sense.
Under 21 it would be up to prosecutors, not judges, to decide whether to try as adults 14-year-olds accused of various offenses, from hate crimes to using a gun in the commission of a felony. This is dangerous. A politician like the district attorney is not suited to determine whether a 14-year-old has acted as an adult. The temptation to grandstand or cater to victims will be overwhelming. Let's leave this decision in the competent hands of judges.
(Strangely, this provision also kicks in if the victim is over 65 and the defendant knew it [see p. 128 of your Prop Book, sec. 707(d)(2)(C)(iv)]. I can see it now: "Your honor, my young client was certain the victim was only 64 years old. She should never have gotten that facelift.")
Prop 21 lengthens sentences by up to ten years for crimes that can be shown to be "gang-related." It increases jail time for petty vandalism and graffiti. It forces judges to jail juvenile defendants awaiting trial for various crimes. And it eliminates the option of "informal probation" for less serious juvenile felonies. These are tough measures, but why get tough now when violent juvenile crime is on the decline?
Under current law, the names of juvenile defendants must be kept secret until charges are filed. This is to prevent some poor kid's life from being destroyed by mistakes and deliberate misaccusations. Prop 21 will allow the police to reveal the names of juveniles merely suspected of violent offenses, as well as those only arrested for serious felonies. What's the point of that?
Most ominous is Prop 21's requirement that juveniles 16 or older convicted in adult court be sentenced to adult prison. The results of that are nothing short of horrifying. The following is excerpted from a report by Jason Ziedenberg and Vincent Schiraldi of the Justice Policy Institute of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (www.cjcj.org/jpi/risks.html).
Marriages in California must be between a man and a woman. Prop 22 seeks to add that any other kind of marriage, presumably performed elsewhere, will be invalid here.
No states allow the marriage of two people of the same sex, or of more than two people, or involving non-humans. Nevertheless, the U. S. Constitution requires all states to honor the laws of other states, so if some state did start allowing marriages of, say, people and corporations, California would have to recognize them. Prop 22 would be utterly unenforceable. So you should vote against 22 purely on the basis of its obvious unconstitutionality.
Of course, 22 isn't on your ballot to prevent people from marrying corporations. It's there to make a statement against gay marriage. I won't bore you with why I think that's a bigoted, counterproductive, small-minded attitude. I do want to point out, though, that it wasn't that long ago that interracial marriage was illegal in much of this country. Surely the same arguments were used then as now. If you're considering voting for 22, try reading the arguments in its favor while substituting "black and white" for "two men or two women." I think you'll see my point.
Have you ever been so fed up with the candidates that you wanted to vote for Mickey Mouse? Me too. Until now I have had to content myself instead with voting for the well-meaning fruitcakes of the Natural Law Party. But Prop 23 will give me another way out, adding a choice for "None of the Above" to all state and federal offices.
On its surface, Prop 23 seems unnecessary at best and puerile at worst. We already have the option of not voting for any candidate. Adding a choice for "None of the Above" does nothing. In the spirit of votes that do nothing, I propose we also add choices for "All the Candidates are Ninnies," "This Ballot is too Long," and "Go Dodgers!" Heck, let's sell commercial advertising on the ballot, and add votes for Favorite Cola and Top Ten Movies. Who knows—it might increase voter turnout.
This is all good fun, but it ignores a real problem. In performing the act of voting, most of us feel a need to fill out our ballots completely. We may never have heard of the candidates for Board of Equalization, judge, or other obscure offices, but we feel compelled to choose anyway. On what basis can we choose a candidate? Probably something irrelevant: name recognition, like/dislike of listed occupation, ethnicity of surname, etc. By offering a "None of the Above" choice, Prop 23 will allow us to skip races about which we know nothing, while still letting us feel we've done our duty as citizens. The result will be more offices decided by the knowledgeable portion of the electorate, and fewer candidates elected based on irrelevant factors. 23 might reinvigorate our democratic process just a little bit.
There is a danger that Prop 23 will lead people to vote only for candidates whose views are identical to their own. A voter might think, "I've always voted Republican, and I hate Democrat Smith, but I disagree with Republican Jones's stand on abortion, so I'll vote for None of the Above." If such reasoning were to become widespread, it could eventually lead to the splintering of the major parties and the emergence of multiple narrow-interest parties, as we see in several European countries, notably Italy. I believe, however, that after 200 years the two-party system in the United States is sufficiently institutionalized that it will take more than "None of the Above" to change it.
There are currently no limits on how much money candidates for state and most local offices can raise. Oh sure, we passed limits with Prop 73 in 1988 and Prop 208 in 1996, but those were quashed in the courts, leaving us with nothing. Prop 25 is yet another attempt to implement campaign finance reform for state and local offices. Let's hope this one can stand up to constitutional challenge.
But before I go too far, there is late-breaking news. Prop 208, a lovely reform package I supported wholeheartedly four years ago, is not actually dead. Rather it has been in limbo since it passed, pending review in federal court. A few weeks ago the U. S. Supreme Court upheld a Missouri law similar to Prop 208. This decision, Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, affirmed contribution limits ranging from $275 to $1,075. As a result, many expect Prop 208 will now also be upheld. If you believe this prediction, you should vote against Prop 25 so we can have 208's stricter limits. I'm not as knowledgeable or confident in this process, though, so I'm going to support 25 to hedge my bets. The rest of this rating assumes 208 will not be upheld.
Prop 25 has been crafted to work around legal precedent. It limits campaign contributions, restricts when funds can be raised, establishes voluntary spending limits with appropriate incentives, increases reporting requirements, and, as a new wrinkle, imposes limits on committees supporting and opposing ballot propositions. The details:
Contribution limits. Under 25, contributions from individuals, PACs and unions would be limited to $3,000 per candidate per election for state legislature and local offices, and $5,000 for statewide offices. Since most cycles include two elections (primary and general), the actual limit is $6,000 (or $10,000) per election year. Contributions from businesses and other campaign committees would be banned. Contributors may give a combined total of only $50,000 per year. Sure these are high numbers, but remember, the current limits are infinity. And there's a silver lining: Prop 25 states that if Prop 208 is upheld, its stricter contribution limits will apply. So if 25 passes, we may still see limits of $500 for statewide office and $100 for local office. That would be gravy.
A popular argument against Prop 25 is that it imposes no limits on campaign contributions by candidates themselves. I admit it's true: Prop 25 will do nothing to stop future Michael Huffingtons and Jane Harmans from buying seats in Sacramento. But that's not because of oversight or maliciousness. Rather, Prop 25 is silent on campaign self-funding because such a provision is so clearly unconstitutional it would torpedo the whole proposition. Fortunately the voters rarely elect millionaires who self-fund their campaigns, from the pair mentioned above to Steve Forbes and Charles Foster Kane. So I wouldn't worry that 25 will cause the state government to be taken over by plutocrats.
Soft money. Prop 25 will limit contributions to political parties for advocacy items such as advertising and candidate support to $25,000 per year. (Contributions to fund party operations, such as office space and state conventions, are unlimited.) There is also a limit of $5,000 per year to all PACs. Political parties themselves may contribute only limited amounts to their candidates, according to a table: $2.5 million for governor, $200,000 for state senate, and so on. Again, while these figures may seem ridiculously high, they're better than what we have today. And they're actually lower than some of the numbers in Prop 208.
Fund-raising season. Gray Davis started raising money for his 2002 reelection campaign the day after his 1998 election. He has already stockpiled an enormous war chest. Prop 25 will allow contributions only within twelve months of an actual election. Off-season campaign contributions can often look like bribes. Eliminating them will go a long way toward erasing the appearance of impropriety.
Spending limits. Prop 25 will establish voluntary spending limits of the type that have been upheld by the courts. Candidates have the option of limiting their spending to $10 million for governor, down to $400,000 for assembly. Candidates who choose to limit spending will receive the following benefits: (1) a note on ballots stating they've accepted limits, (2) broadcast advertising subsidies of up to $1 million for governor, or $300,000 for other statewide offices, based on a formula that favors many small contributions over a few large ones, and (3) free placement in information packets mailed to all voters four times before each election (available at charge for others). These are appropriate incentives for candidates to stay within the spending limits. Yes, it may cost the state $50 million to mail the packets and buy the broadcast subsidies. I say, better the state than ARCO.
Prop 25 will also apply voluntary spending limits to ballot proposition campaign committees. In return for staying under $6 million, the committees will be eligible for the benefits outlined above for candidates. This novel approach may be the first real step toward sanity in our crazy proposition scene.
I can't say Prop 25 is perfect. Its contribution limits are too high, and the broadcast ad subsidy is an unwarranted gift to television and radio stations. But as I like to say, you can vote only "yes" or "no" on these props; there is no essay section. Taken as a whole, Prop 25 will cause huge improvements in state campaigns. Remember: without 25 there will probably be no contribution or spending limits at all. Legislative races now average one million dollars in campaign spending. This has got to stop. Prop 25 might not be the best of all possible solutions, but unless the courts reinstate Prop 208, it's the only one we've got.
It currently takes a two-thirds majority to approve local school bonds. Prop 26 will reduce that to a simple majority, making it easier for communities to pass these bonds. 26 requires that simple-majority bonds pay only for capital improvements, and that the bond measure list specifically which facilities will be funded.
California classrooms are among the most crowded in the nation. Half our school buildings predate 1970, and most lack the information infrastructure that will soon become essential. Prop 26 will prevent a minority of voters from blocking the fixes for these problems.
Public education is one of the things that have made this country great. It ensures a level of citizenship that is essential for our vibrant democracy. Yet some voters selfishly use their support of private schools as an excuse to vote against public school bonds. "Why should I pay for schools I don't use?" they ask. This is a big mistake. Even if you send your kids to private school, you must agree that society is well served by improvements to the public school system. Nevertheless, such attitudes have caused the failure of nearly half the school bond measures since 1988, even though all those measures received majority vote.
Prop 26 will bring California back into line with most other states. It will give each community a real chance to put its money where its mouth is, and give our public schools a fighting chance. Vote for 26 and feel good about supporting education.
Prop Twenty-seven is a vain attempt
Prop 28 is an attempt to repeal the 50-cents-a-pack tax we enacted sixteen months ago when we passed Prop 10. Here's what I said then:
Prop 10 will jack up the tax on cigarettes by 50 cents a pack (and the tax on other tobacco products by the equivalent of one dollar a pack). By itself, the tax increase will reduce the number of smokers in California. This was shown ten years ago when, following Prop 99's 25-cent increase, tobacco use declined by one quarter. If you believe the state has a duty (ethical or fiscal) to discourage smoking, stop here and vote for Prop 10.
How can I be in favor of such social engineering, you might ask, when my position on Prop 6 [a ban on horsemeat, which I opposed as an unnecessary infringement of freedom] is so strongly civil libertarian? Simple. Horsemeat consumption does not put people in the hospital at public expense. No one ever got sick from second-hand horsemeat. Horsemeat has not been shown to cause forest fires or lost productivity due to illness. Horsemeat is not physically addictive. Cigarettes, of course, are all these things, so the state has a compelling interest in limiting their use.
Does it matter what the state will do with the $750 million Prop 10 will raise every year? I don't think so- for all I care they can use it to build fantastic sports palaces for wealthy, private athletic leagues. But for the record, the bulk of Prop 10 proceeds will be used for programs aimed at promoting the development of children aged five and under. These programs will include parental education, child care provider training, and health care services. Prop 10 funds will also go toward general health education, anti-tobacco advertising, and breast cancer research.
Linus hits Charlie's car, injuring Charlie. Charlie feels entitled to $30,000 to cover medical expenses and damage to his car. Linus agrees, but Linus's insurance company, LucyCo, offers Charlie only $20,000, without explaining why. LucyCo stonewalls, drags its feet, and makes suspicious-looking "errors". Finally, strapped for cash, Charlie is forced to sue Linus for the remaining $10,000. Charlie wins, and LucyCo must pay.
From LucyCo's standpoint, this is all just dandy. Charlie must jump through many hoops and wait many months before LucyCo has to cough up that 10 grand. Charlie might file a complaint against LucyCo with the state Department of Insurance for acting in bad faith, but there's nothing in that for Charlie, and it's unlikely to result in anything worse than a hand slap for LucyCo. So you can see LucyCo has no incentive to stop behaving this way.
"Why doesn't Charlie just sue LucyCo?" you ask. Simple: In 1988 the Supreme Court ruled that Charlie, as a "third-party," has no right to sue LucyCo for unfair claims practices. Props 30 and 31 will give Charlie that right.
Prop 30 imposes three conditions Charlie must meet before he's allowed to sue LucyCo. Charlie cannot have been driving drunk when the accident occurred. Charlie must have asked LucyCo to settle for an amount within Linus's coverage limits. And when Charlie sued Linus, the jury must have awarded Charlie more than that amount. These conditions assure that the courts won't be clogged with spurious Charlie suits.
If that weren't enough, Prop 30 also sets up a binding arbitration system so Charlie won't have to sue Linus in the first place. If Charlie and LucyCo volunteer to use the system, Charlie must accept the arbitrator's judgment and cannot sue LucyCo.
Prop 31, a companion measure to 30, imposes even more restrictions on Charlie suits. Under 31, only individuals (not businesses) may sue. 31 limits economic-loss claims to those resulting from car accidents. 31 restricts "emotional distress" claims, and prevents Charlie from refusing binding arbitration just so he can sue LucyCo. These are all reasonable, and will further ensure that only the most egregious cases will reach court.
These two measures were passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor Davis last fall. They are the result of much negotiation and compromise, with all parties being heard. Clearly they are fair laws. The insurance industry, however, feels they are too much of a concession, and has gathered enough signatures to force this referendum. The industry thinks it can get you to tip the balance back in its favor. "People will vote ‘no' rather than try to understand complex propositions at the end of a long and complicated ballot," they reason. If they're successful, and 30 and 31 fail, it may signal a dangerous new trend. Every interest group that can pay for signature collectors will force a referendum whenever a bill is passed against its interests. I hope we can discourage them by passing these two props.
When California wants to finance large projects, it asks the voters for permission to take out loans. Props 12 through 16 are just such requests. If the voters approve, the legislature may take out loans for the projects by selling general obligation bonds, which are paid back with interest over twenty-five years or so. The bond payments come out of the state's main budget, the General Fund. So when we vote on the bonds, we are really voting on whether the project in question ought to be added to the state's budget.
"Wait a minute!" I hear you cry. "What about those interest payments? Won't we end up paying more for interest than for the bonds themselves?" This used to be the case, but with today's low interest rates each dollar of bond money will cost only 25 cents in interest, accounting for inflation. (See page 82 of your first ballot pamphlet for details.)
"Okay," you admit, "but loans are still more expensive than pay-as-you-go." This is true. But loans are the only way to buy a house, or a car, or anything else that you need immediately but can't pay for yet. It's worth paying the premium of interest to get the funding now.
"Well and good," you continue, "but there are $4.7 billion in bonds on this ballot. Isn't that too much to borrow?" For you, yes, but the State of California can handle it. Current bond payments total less than 5% of the General Fund; Prop 12-16 bonds would keep it that way.
Props 12-16 will fund long-lived, tangible acquisitions, like parklands and buildings. It's sensible to make extended payments for items that will be used far into the future. Remember, too, that California's population continues to grow by hundreds of thousands of people a year. Borrowing makes particular sense if you know your income will go up in the future. As the state grows and the economy soars, the General Fund will certainly grow too.
There is one last reason to vote for a bond measure. In addition to being formal requests for permission to take out loans, bond measures are also looked upon as referenda on the merits of the proposed projects. If a bond measure fails, legislators are likely to believe that the public feels the project is not worthy of receiving any state funding. You may have meant, "yes on the project but no on the bonds," but your message to Sacramento will read, "no on the project." So if you vote down a bond measure just because you don't like bonds, you may well have killed forever the project the bonds were to have funded.