Monday, October 29, 2012
On top of everything else, California voters will be voting on the usual baker's dozen of ballot propositions. When people talk about the structural problems in California governance, the state's very liberal approach to putting issues to a direct vote is often at or near the top of the list. They are the playthings of frustrated legislators, left-wing activist groups, and wealthy donors seeking to spend their millions to obtain a particular result. There isn't a single proposition on the ballot today (except maybe Prop. 32) that doesn't combine two qualities: (1) they could have been put to a vote in the legislature passed but (2) none of the brave worthies in the Assembly and State Senate actually want to vote on the tax increases and radical revisions of the state Constitution that they no doubt hope will pass. This year's propositions can be divided roughly into 4 categories:
1. Tax hikes
2. "Good governance"
3. Crime & Punishment
4. The Nanny State
I would not blame voters for taking the easy way out and voting "No" on all of these things, even the one or two that are backed by Republicans. In fact, I would actively encourage people to vote "No." There seems to be no immediate propect of reform in the proposition process, yet I would bet a majority of voters would vote to get rid of them entirely, if given the chance. They won't, so the next best thing would be to make sure propositions fail on a mass scale. If we can't get rid of them, we should at least send a message that anyone considering spending a couple million dollars should think twice. That might be all the "reform" we need.
THE NANNY STATE:
PROP. 33: Automobile Insurance Persistency Discounts
The promise is that passing Prop. 33 would allow auto insurers to set car insurance rates based on a person's history of insurance coverage. The proposition would allow insurers to offer discounts to new customers who can prove that they have had cintiuous insurance coverage the previous five years. We need to vote on this??? Apparently, yes, but that's what you get when you have a state where people love inveterate tinkering with the insurance industry. Offering "persistency discounts" is the sort of thing that would occur in a normally functioning competitive market, so of course state liberals are against it. They think passage of Prop. 33 will allow insurers to jack up their rates unconscionably. Spare me.
PROP. 37: Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food
Probably the dumbest proposition this year, and specifically designed - engineered if you will - to appear to the sort of neurotics who feel a chill when they hear phrases like "genetically modified food." The truth is that humans have been "genetically engineering" plants and animals for millenia. Does it really make a difference if the engineering is done in the lab versus over 50 generations of pea pods? Prop. 37 would also prevent GMO manufacturers from describing their products as "natural," another bugaboo of the organic compost crowd.
PROP. 31: Two-Year Budget Cycle
Officially, this is known as the "two year budget cycle" proposition, and would indeed seek to reform California's out of control budgeting by creating a Texas-style budget cycle. (Yes, that's why Texas is growing while CA is not: it's the budget process!) It would also make minor gestures towards "transparency" by requiring state budgets to be posted on-line for several days before any vote. But, this is a proposition where you have to read the whole thing to know what's really going on. If you do, you will find that it is literally incredible. Prop. 31 would amend or add no fewer than six provisions of the state constitution, and would amend a number of sections of the Government Code. It would give the governor broad powers to declare a fiscal emergency, and then amend the budget by executive fiat. It would also create regional governments that could collect and redistribute taxes from the suburbs to big cities (NRO's Stanley Kurtz was the first commentator to highlight this). Prop. 31 is the ultimate deceptive proposition, hiding a radical re-drafting of the state constitution behind a relatively minor change in the state's budgeting process.
Vote No, No, No.
PROP. 32: "Paycheck Protection"
Every year, there's one "conservative" proposition among the several left-wing props. Prop. 32 is 2012's right-wing initiative. It is advertised as a Scott Walker-style reform directed against unions. It would ban unions and (hisss) corporations from donating to state and local candidates. It would also prevent unions and corporations from deducting $$ from workers' paychecks for use in politics. Could someone please name one "corporation" that is deducting money from its employees' paychecks and then using that money to make political donations? This is the proposition being funded by Charles Munger Jr. and a couple other high profile conservatives. It has also inspired a furious counter-campaign, and both sides have already raised $120 million to pass or defeat Prop. 32. With all the money being spent, and at stake, this has been surprisingly under the radar. Much of the media coverage focuses on Charlies Munger and the supposed sibling rivalry with Prop. 38's Mollie Munger, so that a lot of people think Charlie is spending his $$ to oppose Jerry and Mollie's tax increases. But, no, he's trying to pass something of his own. Do I have to tell you how to vote on this?
Vote Yes, Yes, Yes; but get ready for it to be challenged in court like all of the other victorious right-wing propositions.
PROP. 40: Referendum on the State Senate Redistricting Plan
Try to follow this, if you can. Voters in 2008 passed a proposition that took the task of drawing state legislative districts out of the abusive hands of the Legislature, and turned it over to a citizens' panel. State Republicans had been campaigning for this for years, but then when the time came to pick citizen panelists, the panel was packed with leftists who drew Democrat-friendly districts. D'oh! Prop 40 is designed to object to the new lines, but its proponents (including Prop. 32's Charlie Munger) have withdrawn their support, and are now working against it. That's because the whole point was to seek a court injunction against the new lines for this year, but the state Supreme Court declined to stop elections under the new boundaries. That's the CA GOP for you. They'd rather f*** around with propositions, rather than do actual work like, say, show up at the meetings for the panels drawing new districts.
Kill me now.
CRIME & PUNISHMENT
PROP. 34: the End The Death Penalty Initiative
Gotta love the Left's way with a Long March. California has been a tough-on-crime state for decades, but that hasn't stopped state liberals from trying to undermine crime fighters and the state's punishment regime. Originally, liberals tried to eliminate the death penalty through judicial fiat, with the notorious Rose Bird Court overturning every death penalty case that came before them. Bird and two of her fellow justices were turned out of office, but their system of "review" lives on, leading to interminable appeals of death penalty verdicts with killers spending decades on death row. Even better, liberals convinced death penalty proponents to agree to switch from the gas chamber to lethal injection on the theory that this was the most compassionate way to dispatch unrepentent killers, and then turned around and convinced a federal judge that the drugs were cruel and unusual and punishment leading to the current mortatorium on executions. This proposition is supposed to turn the moratorium into a permanent ban. The most annoying thing about this is that Prop. 34's proponents are using the expense of the appellate process and the endless time on death row - both of which are directly the result of left-wing anti-death penalty agitating - as one of the "practical" reasons to pass this thing.
Vote No, early and often
PROP. 35: Ban on Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery
I'm pretty sure both of the above are already illegal, so we're not really "banning" anything. We're just increasing fines and prison terms. The arguments against this thing are pretty funny. Apparently there is some concern that the definition of "pimping" is so broad as to sweep "ordinary" prostitution between two consenting adults. Pretty sure that's already illegal, too. Interestingly, many advocates for victims of sex trafficking are also against Prop. 35, apparently because they don't think they get enough of a share of the fines and asset forfeitures set out in 35.
Vote Yes, what the hell.
PROP. 36: Changes in the 3-Strikes Law
Along with anti-death penalty agitation, California liberals have long railed against the state's three-strikes sentencing laws, which were put in place through an earlier proposition after state residents got tired of the revolving doors at the courthouses and the prisons. Prop. 36 would change three-strikes so that the third strike would only come into play if the bad guy commits a "serious or violent felony." Sorry, but if you can't keep yourself out of trouble - or get the hell out of the state altogether - after two felony convictions, prison is probably your natural habitat. Nice to see George Soros has donated $1 million to this dubious cause. Mind your own business.
PROP. 30: Jerry Brown's tax increases
This is the "headline" proposition. Jerry Brown claims that the only way to save the state's finances is through passing these "temporary" (hah!) tax increases. As an inducement, he is threatening to cut education, prisons, and first responders (i.e. the government services people actually want) while leaving intact every left-wing sinecure and pay-out. You know, "evil" Republicans like Pete Wilson and Ah-nold never made this sort of one-sided offer to the voters. Good thing Democrats are the "good" party!
PROP. 38: State Income Tax Increase To Support Education
This is the "other" tax increase proposition. Its proponent is Mollie Munger, usually described in the media as a "civil rights attorney." What she should be described as is "the multi-millionaire trust fund daughter of Warren Buffer's business partner." (that's certainly how her brother Charlie is portrayed in the media). She has donated $44 million to the cause. Mollie wants to increase taxes, and says all of the increases are earmarked for education, but if there's one thing CA knows how to waste, it's education money. Supposedly, people making as little as $17,000/yr will see a tax increase. Funnily, Mollie's fellow progressives are getting down on her because Prop. 38 is supposedly draining support from Prop. 30, but how does that make sense? If you're going to vote to raise taxes through one, why not the other? Munger at least has a point in saying that, if we are going to raise taxes, why not apply that money to something most voters consider an essential service?