|Sensible opinions on the California ballot propositions since 1980 by Pete Stahl|
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Prop. 50 - YES
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Pete Rates the Propositions
Proposition 73: Parental Notification for Minors Getting Abortions – NO
Prop 73 concerns pregnant adolescents under 18. Imagine the desperation most of these young women must feel. They're already dealing with the normal pressures of being teenagers in our high-intensity culture. Now they face embarrassment from having their sexual activity revealed, stress from their relationship with the presumptive father, and God-knows-what from their parents. If that weren't enough, there's the life-changing decision of whether to terminate the pregnancy or carry it to term, and if the latter whether to raise the baby or give it up for adoption. It's a dizzying prospect. What would you do?
In this situation most girls, I'm sure, can count on their parents for steadfast support and sound advice. But many cannot. Domestic violence is a fact, and adolescent pregnancy is intricately intertwined with it. According to a 2001 report by the Center for Assessment and Policy Development and the National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting and Prevention,
Evidence suggests that no fewer than a quarter of adolescent mothers experience some form of interpersonal violence in the year surrounding their pregnancy, with some studies reporting rates of 50 to 80 percent.
Prop 73 would require physicians to notify a parent or legal guardian and wait 48 hours before they perform abortions on girls under 18. If a girl is fearful of her parents, Prop 73 allows her to go to juvenile court, where a temporary guardian and attorney will ask a judge to waive parental notification.
Now put yourself in the shoes of a pregnant teenager who needs a waiver. You're in desperate trouble. You may already have experienced violence. You can't let your parents know. Will you go to Juvenile Hall for help? Is that the key to safety? It just isn't plausible.
Prop 73 will cause many scared adolescents to go outside the system to avoid notifying their parents. They'll go to neighboring states if they can, as now happens where there are notification laws (according to a recent USC study cited by the Los Angeles Times). Or they'll pursue back-alley abortions, with the attendant risk of medical complications and death.
Or they'll give up and carry the baby to term. This, of course, is the outcome supporters of Prop 73 are after. Because at its core, Prop 73 is a Pro-Life law, intended to prevent as many abortions as possible.
Pro-Choice voters should be doubly wary of Prop 73, because it introduces into the state Constitution the words "unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born." (See your ballot pamphlet, p. 56, Sec. 32(a)(2).) If the Constitution declares a fetus a child, it opens the door for abortion to be declared murder. Watch out.
Prop 73 is a roadblock to safe, legal abortion. It will lead to more domestic violence, more back-alley abortions, and more unwanted pregnancies carried to term. There is no upside. Vote no.
Proposition 74: Increasing Teacher Probationary Period to Five Years – NO
Read the argument in favor of Prop 74 in your ballot pamphlet. "Prop 74 is Real Education Reform." Signed: the Governor, a former U. S. Secretary of State, and an Educator of the Year.
Now here's a quiz. (Yes, I know I didn't warn you there would be a quiz. Sorry.)
Guess what! The answer isn't a, b or c. It's d! It's so ridiculous, I'm actually laughing out loud.
Prop 74 will extend the probationary period for teachers from the current two years to five years. This will make it easier to fire incompetent teachers who managed to make it past the first two years undetected. Will it have any other effect? Will it help teachers teach or children learn? Nooooooo.
This measure is a bald, ham-fisted assault by the Governor on the California Teachers Association, in direct retaliation for its political opposition to his education policy. It's petty, vindictive, and helps absolutely no one. Even the California School Boards Association, whose members would stand to benefit from the reduced costs of dismissing teachers in years 3-5, opposes Prop 74. "The initiative would actually give districts less discretion than they currently have to define the unsatisfactory performance of teachers," opine the boards.
Schools may well be in crisis. Should we increase school funding? Decrease class sizes? Use innovative programs? No. Let's attack the teachers! That will help our schools more than any of those other dumb ideas! Ugh. Real Education Reform my ass.
Proposition 75: Requiring Consent for Political Use of Public Employee Union Dues – NO
Prop 75 would require public employee union members to give written consent each year in order for the union to use part of their dues for political purposes. In effect, this will significantly reduce the amount of money public employee unions have for political action. Prop 75 is similar to the failed Prop 226 (June 1998), but while that applied to all unions, Prop 75 applies only to unions of public employees, such as nurses, firefighters and teachers.
Collective bargaining is not the only important benefit public employee unions provide. Political action is crucial as well. Public employees are directly affected by elected officials and ballot propositions—see Prop 74 above if you doubt it. Political advocacy protects the interests of all union members, so it's appropriate that all members participate in funding it. Unions shouldn't have to ask for special permission to fund political action any more than any other activity conducted to benefit all members. It's a matter of principle.
Of course, Prop 75 isn't really about principle. It's about sticking it to the teachers, just as are Prop 74 and, to some extent, Prop 76. The backers of these measures are political opponents of the California Teachers Association, and the propositions are an attempt to change the rules for political advantage. It's a shame to see it on our ballots. Even if you favor Prop 75, you'll only encourage more of this kind of petty squabble on future ballots if you vote for it.
Proposition 76: Limits on State Spending – NO
"Captain! Look on the view-screen! There's an enormous robot running amok! It has huge escalator claws, and has already ripped up nearly half the state budget! I can just make out its identification: PROP-98."
"I know how to handle this, Yeoman. We'll send an even bigger robot to destroy the first one. My model PROP-76 can do the trick."
"But Captain, what if we lose control of the second robot? Won't the budget be in worse trouble than it is now?"
"That could never happen. I programmed that robot myself. Nothing could possibly go wrong."
Guess what happens next. (Hint: It doesn't involve the Captain marooned on a lush planet with a sexy space alien.)
Here on Earth, Prop 98 (passed in 1988) specifies the minimum funding for schools and community colleges using a complex formula—a machine. It contains an "escalator clause" that ratchets up school spending each year to match growth in school attendance and the state economy, and ratchets it up further if the Legislature allocates more than required by the formula (as happened from 1997-98 to 2001-02). The Legislature can make an exception in lean years with a two-thirds vote, but even then the escalator keeps running, and the subsequent year's required allocation will be even higher. For this year, the Prop 98 robot requires the state to spend $50 billion on K-14 education, out of a state budget of $113 billion.
Prop 76 will create an even bigger robot to rein in Prop 98, reducing the school funding guarantee in multiple ways. If you're a fan of the Prop 98 guarantee, this is all you need to know. Stop here and vote "no" on Prop 76.
The Prop 76 automaton will work like this: Total state spending will be limited to the prior year's spending level, adjusted upward by the average rate of revenue growth for the last three years. This is intended to "smooth out" the wild swings in revenue our government has seen over the past few boom/bust cycles.
Under Prop 76, in good times state spending will increase only modestly, so as to avoid a painful drop-off when the boom ends; in bad times, reserve funds (saved from excess revenue collected during boom periods) will prevent spending from dropping too much. In good years, there will be less temptation to enact expensive programs that commit funds downstream. During lean times the Legislature won't have to struggle quite as hard to make ends meet.
It all sounds great. Unfortunately, the Prop 76 robot has serious bugs in its code that will cause it to run amok just like its predecessor, causing much more damage than Prop 98 ever could.
Here's an example. Remember that Prop 76 calculates next year's cap by multiplying this year's expenditures by the three-year average growth in revenue. Now imagine we have a bad year, and revenue falls below the spending limit. The next three spending caps will be lower because this year's growth in revenue is down, and also because this year's expenditures are down. It's a double-whammy. The subsequent three spending caps, which are based on those, will also be reduced. And the next three. And so on. Under Prop 76, one poor year will reduce future spending limits forever. The robot will ratchet down the state budget permanently, with no way to recover. Because of this, the nonpartisan California Budget Project says Prop 76 would "lock in bad times."
Another bug: If we have a few good years, the reserve funds could grow into the tens of billions of dollars. At that point it may be sensible to enact a tax cut and draw on the reserves. But a tax cut would reduce revenues, and since the spending cap is based in part on revenue, the tax cut would trigger another permanent downward ratchet of state spending, even in good times!
Finally, the Prop 76 robot will grant budget-slashing superpowers to the Governor practically every year. Under Prop 76, the Governor can declare a "fiscal emergency" if General Fund revenues have fallen 1.5% below his estimates. So all the Governor has to do is slightly inflate his revenue estimates, and voila, fiscal emergency. When this happens, the Legislature has 45 days to address the shortfall, by two-thirds vote. If it doesn't (the Gov needs just 14 allies in the State Senate to prevent it), the Governor will be allowed to make unilateral cuts in virtually any programs he wants, including schools and entitlements. The Legislature will be unable to override the cuts, even with a 100% vote. Of course, any cuts would be factored into all future spending caps.
As you can see, Prop 76 will unleash a huge budget robot that will wreak devastation on our government, even in prosperous times. Imperfect as they are, I prefer the humans in the Legislature to hammer out my budget every year. At least they can be voted out of office if they do something outrageous. The evil Prop 76 automaton will be protected as part of the Constitution, and be nearly impossible to dislodge. As Klaatu said to the robot Gort in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Meringa!"—"get back in your spaceship and leave this planet alone!"
Proposition 77: Redistricting by Three Retired Judges – YES
A popular school of thought holds that today's political atmosphere of intense partisanship can be largely attributed to non-competitive legislative districts. These districts are so heavily tilted toward one party or the other that they foster the election of strongly partisan representatives. Legislators from such districts tend to avoid working with the other party because it can leave them vulnerable to charges of party disloyalty in their home district primaries. The result is that legislators are predisposed toward obstinacy and against compromise.
Is it happening in California? In a word, yes. A quick peek at our current districts reveals fantastically contorted gerrymanders designed to maximize the number of safe Democratic and, consequently, also safe Republican districts.
Consider, for example, the psychedelic, fractal-patterned State Senate districts 16 and 18. These districts' interlocking spiral arms gently tease apart the Democratic and Republican neighborhoods of Bakersfield, Visalia, and other San Joaquin Valley cities. Even though the districts cover the same part of the state, District 16 has a 45,000-voter Democratic advantage and District 18 a 60,000-voter Republican advantage. (Each district has roughly 300,000 registered voters.)
The November general election means nothing in such districts. The majority-party candidate is assured of victory. Instead, what's important is the primary contest. And how do you win a partisan primary? By appealing to activist and loyalist elements within your party. So candidates in primaries accuse each other of not being "true Republicans," or of being too willing to compromise on core Democratic issues like the environment. Typically, moderates lose these primaries to hardliners. The nominees are then rubber-stamped in November, even if there's significant independent and crossover vote for moderate minority-party nominees, because the district registration is so heavily tilted. The result is a Legislature (and Congress) full of extreme partisans, responsive only to the members of their own party, with no incentive to compromise or back down from obstructionist tactics.
The solution is to replace the current, single-party, distended districts with more compact districts that reflect the true political diversity of each area. These will encourage legislators to be responsive to all constituents, since they'll presumably need at least some independent and crossover support to win November general elections.
Will the Legislature ever give us unrigged districts? Of course not—it would endanger too many legislators' seats. To end single-party districts—to end the polarization and acrimony—we must take redistricting out of the Legislature's hands. It's as simple as that.
Prop 77 will give a panel of three retired judges the task of drawing Congressional, State Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts. The judges would represent both major parties, and any plan would have to be approved unanimously.
The selection process for the judges would make Rube Goldberg proud. From a list of retired judges willing to serve, 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans are chosen at random. These 24 are placed in a large birdcage suspended over a crocodile-filled moat by a rope being burnt slowly by a candle. In turn each of the four legislative leaders (Assembly and Senate majority and minority leaders) gleefully yanks a lever, causing a mechanical boot to kick four of the other party's judges into the moat, where they meet their doom. By the time the rope burns through, only eight retired judges are left: four from each party. The cage falls into the moat, bounces off the crocodiles' full bellies, and lands on a clothesline where mother's nightgown is drying. A family of squirrels, mistaking the judge-filled birdcage for an exercise wheel, jumps onto the cage and starts running, causing the cage to tumble like an oversize Bingo ball hopper. The hanger for mother's nightgown gets tangled and unlocks the door of the spinning cage. The door swings open, and out tumble three judges at random (but at least one from each party). These three retired, dizzy judges become the redistricting panel.
If you followed that, you'll see there's at least a 50% chance a party you despise will land a majority of seats on the panel. Could this be bad? Unlikely. Plans must be approved unanimously, and since each major party is guaranteed a seat, each has a veto. Also, since the eight most partisan judges from the each side are fed to the crocodiles, at worst you'll be facing the ninth and tenth smarmiest retired judges from either party. Finally, the panel is required to get comments from the Legislature before it approves a plan. You can be sure the legislators will make it abundantly clear to their representative(s) on the panel if a proposed plan gives the other party an advantage.
Under Prop 77, districts must conform to city and county boundaries as much as possible. This is sensible, not because cities are compact—they're not, as a map of Los Angeles, with its narrow corridor to San Pedro, or San Diego, with its channel through the Bay to the enclave of San Ysidro, will show—but because they are permanent communities with shared infrastructure, institutions and interests. A further provision prevents districts from bypassing contiguous areas of population in order to incorporate more distant areas. This will prevent the pseudopodia we see in today's districts that reach across mountains and deserts to distant pockets of sympathetic voters.
Note that Prop 77 does not require districts to be competitive. There's nothing in the measure that suggests Democratic and Republican registration should be comparable in any district. After all, to do that would require gerrymanders every bit as misshapen as those we have today. For example, to be competitive, a district starting in San Francisco would have to stretch far and wide to find enough Republicans to balance its Democrats, and a district starting in the state's northeast corner would have to reach hundreds of miles to find Democrats to balance its Republicans. Prop 77 requires compactness, not competitiveness.
Because of this, I don't expect Prop 77 to cause drastic changes to the make-up of the Legislature or our House delegation. The Bay Area will continue to send liberals to Sacramento and Washington, and the Inland Empire will send conservatives. Instead, in a few districts in areas that aren't solidly liberal or conservative, Prop 77 will enable moderate candidates to win seats by courting the cross-over and independent voters that aren't enough in today's single-party districts. These moderates can form a swing block in the Legislature, pursued by both sides of the aisle. With a little luck, that would lead to concessions from the polarized wing of each party, and from there to dialog, courtesy, compromise, heightened perspective, and all the other good behaviors that make governing bodies functional. To me, that's the promise of Prop 77.
Prop 77 is not without its flaws, some of them quite annoying. Once a plan is approved by the panel of judges, it goes into effect for the next statewide primary election. It is also submitted for after-the-fact approval by voters, as a ballot proposition in the November general election. If voters reject the plan, we start all over with fresh birdcages and crocodiles.
Asking the public to vote on the plan is stupid. Voters have no way to evaluate a redistricting map, and the alternative—the districts we'll get if the plan is rejected—can be seen only with a crystal ball. Here's what I predict: After redistricting, every special interest will decide that its favored party has been shortchanged, and issue a call to reject the plan. The plan will fail by an enormous margin. Another cycle of the process will produce a nearly identical plan, which will go into effect two years later and once again be rejected, and so on. Eventually crocodiles will have eaten all the retired judges in the state. Yes, it's annoying, but not enough to justify allowing our polarized legislators to continue drawing their own, single-party districts.
Also, Prop 77 would kick off a redistricting cycle immediately, in mid-decade. This is not the same thing Tom DeLay's farcical mid-decade redistricting of Texas, which replaced an outrageous Democratic-tilted plan with an outrageous Republican-tilted plan. Prop 77 will replace an outrageous Democratic-tilted plan with a non-partisan plan. Still, Prop 77 requires new districts in time for the 2006 elections, which means the deadline must be before February 13th, 2006, which marks the beginning of the filing period to run in the new districts. Three months is barely enough time to select a panel of retired judges, much less devise plans, hold hearings, incorporate the legislature's advice, and come to unanimous agreement. I am mightily bothered that a new plan is required so soon. But again, it isn't enough to sour me on the whole proposition.
We must change our system of drawing legislative districts. The viability of our state government depends on it. Prop 77 is far from perfect, but it's the best chance—the only chance—we've got to make our Legislature truly representative again.
Proposition 78: Prescription Drugs: The Industry's Proposal – NO
In Xanax-du did Schering-Plough
(In case it isn't clear from my faux-Coleridge, Prop 78 contains a poison pill, so to speak. It's on p. 69 of your ballot pamphlet, section 130624: "The department may terminate Cal Rx if the department [determines] . . . that there are insufficient discounts to participants to make Cal Rx viable." In other words, if no pharmaceutical manufacturers offer discounts, the program will be canceled. Since there are no plausible incentives for manufacturers to do so, it's a foregone conclusion that Prop 78's program would never even get off the ground. It really is a sham.)
Proposition 79: Prescription Drugs: Consumers Union's Proposal – YES
Prop 79 will create a new prescription drug discount program for Californians with low and moderate incomes, seniors whose drugs are not covered by Medicare, and families whose health care costs consume 5% or more of their income. For $10 per year, participants will receive a card entitling them to reduced prices for prescriptions. The people eligible for these cards need these discounts to keep rapidly escalating drug prices from pushing them into insolvency.
The lower prices will come from two sources. First, the state will try to negotiate discounts from pharmacies accepting the card. Since the state won't have any leverage, I don't expect this source to work too well.
The other source will be rebates negotiated with drug manufacturers. Here the state will have some leverage: a threat to exclude all the manufacturer's drugs from the Medi-Cal "preferred" list, thereby making doctors much less likely to prescribe them. (Drugs for which there are no therapeutic equivalents are excepted.) Over $4 billion in annual drug purchases are made through Medi-Cal, so this is serious leverage.
The target price for prescriptions under Prop 79 is the "Medicaid best price," which averages 50% for drugs for which generic substitutes are available, and 35% for those without. Prop 79 will provide substantial discounts.
Since 1993, prescription drug spending in the United States has been rising at three times the rate of inflation. People over 65 spend about $2,300 a year on medications. We must get these costs under control for our most vulnerable populations: those with low and fixed incomes. For years Medi-Cal has been negotiating for rebates from drug manufacturers in exchange for inclusion on its "preferred" list. Prop 79 simply extends this benefit to a larger population
Proposition 80: Re-regulating Electricity Providers – NO
I wish I could recommend this measure. I'm still seething over the criminally-induced energy crisis of 2001 and the federal government's non-response. On its surface, Prop 80 looks like a way to fight back, ensuring that crisis will never recur. But appearances can be deceiving. Prop 80 will actually be a step backward in securing reliable electricity for California.
Prop 80 uses a multi-pronged approach for a complicated problem. As they say, you can't tell the players without a scorecard, so here's your scorecard:
The key to achieving electricity security is building more power plants. California adds 600,000 residents every year, and those people (and their businesses) need juice. If we don't build more plants, we place ourselves at the mercy of The Grid, and you know where that can lead.
Building power plants takes a lot of capital. In order to provide that capital, power plant investors need reasonable prospects for return on investment. In the electricity biz, that means a guarantee that there will be paying customers for the new plants' power for several decades.
This is the crux of the issue. Direct Access allows customers to jump to any electricity provider. Direct Access was temporarily suspended in 2001, but will reappear in 2015. When that happens, there will be no way to guarantee customers for any particular provider. For example, say PG&E plows $250 million into a new plant, then watches helplessly as a sexy promotional campaign induces throngs of its customers to jump to a competitor via Direct Access. The investors in PG&E's new power plant will see no return (I believe the technical term for this is "up the creek").
Because of this risk, investors have stopped providing significant capital for new plants in California. All plants over 1,000 megawatts approved in the last two years are on hold. In total, over 7,500 megawatts of approved capacity is not being built. This is not enhancing our electricity security.
Prop 80 hopes to address this problem by permanently barring IOU customers from switching to Direct Access. So if you're a PG&E customer today, under Prop 80 you'll be one forever. This provision seeks to guarantee PG&E will have customers for the electricity from any new plants it builds, thereby attracting the capital it needs to build them.
However, Prop 80 does nothing to prevent Community Choice Aggregators from switching whole cities and counties to Direct Access. So under Prop 80, while individuals will be unable to switch, the entire city of San Francisco could become a CCA and abandon PG&E in one enormous block. If a trickle of lost customers is too scary for investors today, imagine how hundreds of thousands of customers disappearing en masse would look. Eeeek!
Unless it eliminates all Direct Access, or can otherwise guarantee returns for power plant investors, Prop 80 cannot claim to address electricity security in a meaningful way. Prop 80 will bring us no closer to building needed power plants.
Okay, so Prop 80 won't help build more plants. But, as my regular readers know, you should never vote down a measure because of what it doesn't do. So let's look at what Prop 80 does do.
First, there's the aforementioned ban on IOU customers switching to Direct Access. Opponents of Prop 80 claim this ban will limit the market for electricity from renewable sources such as solar and geothermal. They claim that, given the choice, more individuals would go with green ESPs regardless of the cost, while large IOUs and CCAs would go with whatever ESP is cheapest (because their customers and shareholders demand it). Given the rapidly escalating price of fossil fuels, however, I'm inclined to believe renewable electricity will be competitive for everyone. So score this issue a draw.
Prop 80 also tightens the deadline, from 2017 to 2010, for every IOU, ESP and CCA to achieve at least 20% electricity from renewable sources. The earlier deadline will be mildly beneficial. But Prop 80 also requires a two-thirds vote of the Assembly and Senate and the Governor's signature to modify it. I'm not certain, but this requirement may effectively block enactment of subsequent targets, such as 35% by 2020. If that's true, score one against Prop 80.
Prop 80 also writes several current PUC policies into law, on topics like procurement and adequacy. This could prevent the Commission (which could tip toward the industry with a new appointment in 2007) from eroding environmental and consumer protections. But it will also prevent the strengthening of those policies. Draw.
Finally, Prop 80 will prevent utilities from imposing Time-Differentiated Rates on customers without their consent. These are rates that vary with the time of day, so electricity would cost more at peak times than off-peak. I don't see the sense in this. Time-Differentiated Rates are no problem for telephone calls, mass transit, or even parking meters (25¢ weekdays 9-5, otherwise free). And increasing the peak-time cost of electricity will reduce usage during the hours of highest consumption. That means our capacity requirements will be lower, and we won't have to worry so much about insufficiency and rolling black-outs. So score five points against Prop 80.
Final score: Prop 80 loses, six to none.
It's interesting to note that, for its advertised environmental provisions, Prop 80 has failed to garner the endorsement of the California Green Party. They too cite problems with Community Choice Aggregation, among other issues. Considering that it doesn't effectively guarantee a secure electricity supply, and loses on so many other issues, sadly I cannot recommend this proposition. Let's all hope a better solution comes along soon.