How I voted on all the California propositions and why
I voted by mail yesterday.
I basically didn't like any of the candidates for statewide races. They are lame and I don't even want to talk about them. I considered voting third party but since a lot of the polling has been pretty close I ended up reverting to "lesser of two evils" mode.
But enough about that. Let's talk about the half of the ballot I was actually excited to fill in. There are nine statewide propositions on the California ballot this year and some of them are issues I care about quite a lot.
- Prop 19: Marijuana legalization
- Prop 20: Anti-gerrymandering
- Prop 21: Charge car owners, use money to keep state parks open
- Prop 22: State can't appropriate local money
- Prop 23: Neuters air pollution control law
- Prop 24: Closes tax loopholes
- Prop 25: Pass laws with simple majority instead of 2/3 majority
- Prop 26: Require 2/3 majority for environmental fees/regulations
- Prop 27: Anti-anti-gerrymandering
The rest of this post explains how I voted and the reasoning behind my choices. If you can vote in California, please read this, and please don't forget to vote on Tuesday!
California, the ungovernable state, the state of perpetual budget crisis, the state of the ever-changing constitution. The state where it takes a 2/3 majority of the legislature to pass a budget, but only a simple majority of voters to modify the state constitution, overriding anything the legislature could do anyway. The predictable result is that we never have a functional budget, and we have a legal regime that lurches drunkenly about at the whims of an electorate asked to vote on an endless series of arcane and poorly-worded technical changes that it barely understands.
Well, at least this year there's a proposition for changing one of those things! (facepalm).
Yes on Prop 19 - Marijuana Legalization, for reasons I've already explained in great detail.
Yes on 20 and No on 27 - the redistricting propositions
These two propositions are so closely related - both have to do with redistricting - that it doesn't make sense to discuss them separately.
Redistricting is a hot topic right now because the 2010 census results are going to be used to redraw all the voting districts in California.
California is one of the most badly gerrymandered states, both for USA congressional districts and for state legislature districts. (I live in a district that doesn't include the next town over but does include random neighborhoods on the opposite side of a mountain range from us.) We have very few competitive elections; incumbents pick their voters to ensure their own safety. This is a big part of why nobody feels Sacramento is accountable.
In the last election we passed a ballot measure that established an independent body of 14 people to draw the district lines around areas of equal population, based on a set of criteria like compactness and preservation of community boundaries, for all the state legislative districts.
Prop 20 would expand the powers of this group to also draw the lines for USA congressional districts as well as state legislature districts. Prop 27, nearly the opposite, would undo the previous measure, disband the group, and give the line-drawing authority to the state legislature.
The Democratic campaign propaganda I got, if it took any position on propositions, was uniformly for 27 and against 20. This was where I had my biggest differences with them. California Democrats benefit a lot from uncompetitive, gerrymandered districts. So of course Democrats want preserve the status quo. The Republican campaign propaganda I got was also for 27 and against 20. Both parties benefit from having safe districts they don't have to compete for. But why should we let them?
I'm pretty sure Prop 27 is a bad idea. It would undo a reform before we have a chance to see whether the reform works or not. Maybe the independent body won't do a great job of creating competitive districts with non-joke boundaries, but it could hardly do a worse job, and I think it's worth giving it a shot. Besides, letting the legislature draw the boundaries for their own districts, as prop 27 would allow, is a pretty clear conflict of interest and a great way to let incumbents protect themselves from voters.
All of the "Yes on 27" arguments that I've gotten (they show up in my mailbox constantly) are very, very disingenuous. They don't spell out what the proposition actually does, because they know it would be a hard sell if they said "We want to let politicians keep drawing their own districts so they can be the ones deciding who will get to vote for them!" Instead the propoganda usually say "Stop wating our money on nonsense!". If you read further, the Prop. 27 supporters refer to the redistricting body as an "unelected bureaucracy", which sure sounds bad, and warns about the cost. But let's be clear: this is a bureaucracy of 14 people who would meet to do a single job once every 10 years. It's not a huge expansion of state government by any means. It's also funny how the yes on 27 website says the voters "grudgingly passed X by a bare 51-49 margin", as if to say "You voted for redistricting commission last time but you didn't really mean to, right?"
So I was very much opposed to 27, but somewhat undecided on 20. Maybe we should just try out the redistricting panel on the state legislature districts before we apply it to U.S. congress districts. I wiffled and waffled and eventually voted for it.
But after reading this article I kind of wished I hadn't. That article points out that buried in the language of prop 20 is a clause that requires a district to include areas with "similar living standards" and "similar work opportunities" which could be interpreted to actually force segregation by income level. That's a pretty bad idea.
Hm. Maybe I should have voted "no" on both 20 and 27. It's too late for me but it's not too late for you!
Yes on Prop 21: Increase car registration fee by $18, use the money to pay for keeping state parks open.
I voted yes for entirely selfish reasons: I love state parks and nature preserves, and I don't own a car. But if I did, I'd be happy to pay $18 to keep protecting awesome California nature spots like Muir Woods and the Big Sur. I think our state parks do important work for species conservation, for allowing scientists to study what unspoiled west-coast ecosystems were like, etc. And I don't see how we're going to keep them open without this funding.
On the other hand I do feel pretty selfish for voting in favor of a tax I'm not likely to have to pay myself. Hmm.
No on Prop. 22: Make it so the state can't raid money raised at the local level
I was waffling on this one, since I can see both sides, but Boriss gave me a link to this San Francisco Chronicle article, arguing for a No vote, which I found convincing enough. It's much the same logic as Yes on 25 - we're in a state budget crisis, we want our legislature to be able to pass balanced budgets on time, so we shouldn't be putting arbitrary restrictions on them, certainly not at a constitutional level, anyway.
No on Prop. 23: Suspends enforcement of air pollution law until unemployment decreases to a certain target
Specifically, Prop. 23 would suspend AB 32 (passed in 2006, set to take effect in 2012) until unemployment is down to 5.5% for four consecutive quarters.
OK, so I understand what supporters of prop 23 are trying to say -- "let's get jobs back before passing any environmental laws that might prevent factories from opening" -- but I don't agree with it and I don't like the implementation.
Tying it to a specific unemployment number is really arbitrary. (If we go down this road, what else are we going to make laws contingent on? Dow Jones? Sunspots? Superbowl scores?) And the target they chose is wildly optimistic. There have only been 3 times since 1976 that unemployment was down to 5.5% for an entire year. So it's not like prop 23's trigger is some kind of return-to-the-baseline-condition. It's an "only when the stars align" kind of condition.
Laws against air pollution are important. Air pollution kills! More people - over 3,800 - died from respiratory illness caused by particulate pollution in southern California in 2006 than died from car crashes.
I don't see pollution controls as some kind of odious governmental overreach nor do I see them as a "bonus law" that we should get to have only when "all the basics are taken care of". Pollution controls are an essential part of having a civilized society. We wouldn't be a civilized society if random people were allowed to steal my property, kick me in the face, or put poison in my breakfast cereal with impunity. Why should they be allowed to degrade the air I'm breathing?
In other words, I'm saying that unlike adult marijuana prohibition, I believe the state does in fact have a legitimate interest in preventing people from polluting each others' air. Let me say it again: Air pollution kills!
To let polluters go free essentially means that society is subsidizing the dirtiest possible business models, by letting the business reap all the benefits while spreading the cost across all the people who breathe air. I see it as a more level playing field for competition if the polluter has to pay for the effects of their pollution - with the pollution properly priced into the cost of running any industrial process, less polluting business models have a chance to compete and the market can determine the optimal balance.
Yes on Prop. 24: Close tax loopholes
Specifically, prop 24 closes a loophole that allows companies to use a loss in one year to write down their profits in a following year or a preceding year in order to pay less taxes. That's right, companies in California are allowed to retroactively reduce their taxes by making past years less profitable on paper than they really were.
That sounded really, really fishy to me. So I voted Yes on 24.
I'm starting to vaguely regret this vote, because it's another example of ballot-box budgeting, which I'm generally against. And because I don't have a lot of confidence in my own ability to evaluate corporate tax policy at more than a knee-jerk level. I keep imagining that some fairy accountant will appear and explain to me the reasons why retroactively writing down your profits is actually a completely legit and necessary part of doing business and that I've screwed us out of job creation for no reason.
Argh, too late, I voted Yes already.
Yes on 25 and No on 26 - the legislative majority propositions
The California legislature currently requires a 2/3 majority to pass a budget or to raise taxes. (The only state in the country to require such a large supermajority for both of these things.)
California may be a "blue" state, but it has enough conservative rural areas that neither party is realistically able to achieve a 2/3 majority in the legislature.
That explains why, since 1980, the Legislature has met its June 15 constitutional deadline for sending a budget to the Governor five times. Five times out of 30, did you know that? The other 25 times it's been late because of gridlock.
Prop. 25 would make it a simple majority requirement, instead of a 2/3 supermajority, to pass a budget (but still a 2/3 supermajority to raise taxes).
Prop. 26, a near opposite, would impose a 2/3 supermajority requirement for the legislature to do even more things, namely to impose environmental regulations and fees.
I'm for 25 and against 26 because I think the 2/3 requirement for CA to pass a budget is a pretty silly state of affairs. I mean, why 2/3? A simple majority is the default way of doing things in democratic systems. As far as I'm concerned, the burden of proof is on supporters of the 2/3 majority requirement to explain why it's a good thing. And the last 30 years of budget deadlock pretty clearly refutes the idea that it's working.
CA's budget situation is a huge mess, and we're asking our elected representatives to fix it with one hand tied behind their backs.
Basically I just don't think the supermajority requirement leads to better legislation in the US Senate and I especially don't think it leads to better budgets in California. It just leads to gridlock and forces the state to operate without a legally approved budget for months at a time. It means that the budget we end up with has a wider base of support in some sense, but in practice that probably means more counterproductive compromises and special interest giveaways had to be made to get those last few votes that were needed for 2/3. I mean, it's not like we're talking about votes to go to war here, or to take rights away from people, or other drastic decisions that I could see putting a higher threshold on. We're talking about budgets that have to be passed every year, one way or another. So it's hard to see the 2/3 requirement helps anybody.
I understand the purpose, of course - they're trying to force the legislature to cut spending instead of raising taxes. How's that worked out for us so far? Not very well, I think.
The typical arguments against going to simple majority voting, as made by the piles of propaganda pamphlets that have been showing up in my mailbox, are that it would make it easier to raise taxes and spending.
But, um, wouldn't simple majority voting also make it easier to lower taxes and spending? It would make it easier to do anything, good or bad. If you want lower taxes and spending, shouldn't you, um, elect politicians who are for lower taxes and spending, rather than hobbling the legislature or holding the budget process hostage or trying to run the budget from the ballot box?
I mean we all love to hate on politicians but we live in a system where we elect people (and pay them) to do a certain job, in this case passing budgets. Why not let them do their job? (And then vote them out if we don't like how they do it?)
Heck, imagine if prop 25 passed AND the redistricting thing turns out to be effective. A simple majority voting requirement combined with competitive districts? That would be almost like representative democracy or something.