Election year, so you know what that means! Well, a number of things... but a new version of Stefan's guide to props! This year we have 12 props, broken up into three parts:
Prop 14: Authorizes Bonds Continuing Stem Cell Research
Quick tangent: What is a bond? A bond is a personal loan that individuals give to the state by purchasing them. It is like investing in the state. You buy a CA bond with the promise that the State will pay you back in the future, with a return on investment. These are sold on the open market and therefore are subject to the general fluctuations of the investment market.
Longer explanation: https://www.treasurer.ca.gov/publications/bonds101.pdf
The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is a state-funded organization that gives out grant money to universities and other institutions to support stem cell research. This institute was created in 2004, after another proposition passed, and seeded the institute with 3 billion dollars. As of June 2020, the institution has spent nearly all of its initial $3 billion in funding, giving most of the money to University of California researchers, or private nonprofit universities and institutions, (Stanford received a large grant recently, for example).
This proposition would provide an addition $5.5 billion to the institute, for the same purpose, but it would allocate $1.5 billion of this to specifically look at brain and nervous system diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It would also do a number of other minor things, like allow the institute to hire more full time employees, to support patient access to treatment, or provide internships and educational support for students at CA community colleges and at the Cal State System.
The financial cost of this is estimated at $250 million per year, for 30 years. Much of this money would be made by selling bonds, but the repayment of the bonds and paying down the remainder makes up the most of the state cost. It is worth noting that $250 million per year is less than 1% of the states’ General Fund budget.
Because of the speculative nature of research, we don’t really know what exactly the outcome of this expenditure will be. Discovery of new treatments or therapies may cause major savings in Medi-Cal or in other health care programs. The state also gets a cut of any invention-related income resulting from the research. So if you are a researcher, and you invent a new thing using this grant money and then license or sell your invention, the state gets a cut of the profit. In the past the income from this has been negligible, but it could be different in the future.
Universities rely heavily on grant funding of this type, and it provides a good counter to privately funded investment and research done by large pharmaceutical corporations or other for-profit medical institutes. In addition, advances in healthcare usually provide a net financial benefit in the long term. Supporting research into major conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s also seems like a good idea.
Prop 15: Increases Funding Sources for Public Schools, Community Colleges, and Local Government Services by Changing Tax Assessment of Commercial and Industrial Property
This is one of two propositions that seek to modify how property taxes are assessed in CA.
Here’s a quick primer on property tax. Most of this info was distilled from this webpage (https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2012/tax/property-tax-primer-112912.aspx):
CA property tax is weird and INCREDIBLY complicated. When you buy a home (or business property), you pay a property tax of 1.1%. This then increases by 2% each year, regardless of the value of your home. So, if you buy a $100,000 home, your property tax is $1,100. Now if your property values go up and your home is now worth $150,000, your property tax does not go up proportionally. It just ticks up 2%. So the law treats the $150,000 home as if it was worth $102,000. Got it? Now, if you are over 55 or disabled, or were a victim of a natural disaster and you move into a LESS expensive home, your property taxes don’t go up. So if you are over 55 and you bought your house 30 years ago for $100,000, it might be worth $400,000 now. But if you move into a home worth $250,000, your property taxes won’t go up, they still use the calculation from your old house.
This property tax gets collected by the county government, who then allocates percentages of this back down to local governments who use it to fund things like schools. The counties themselves take a cut of this tax as well, to do county-wide projects. This means that the amount of property tax revenue given to cities and school districts varies widely. Some school districts and cities receive several times the amount as others. There are some examples of this, but they are about 10 years old, so I don’t know how relevant they are currently.
It is worth noting that school funding is based mostly on state income tax revenue, distributed to schools based on a complex formula that takes into account things like English-Language learning or other things to try to give more money to schools that serve under-served students.
Got all that? Great. Lets get to the actual prop.
What does this prop do? This changes the rules for some commercial property, not homes (that’s Prop 19!). Right now, commercial property is taxed at 1.1% at the time of purchase, and then increased by 2% every year thereafter. This rule changes it so that property is instead taxed based on actual value, rather than the 2% increase. Doing this is estimated to raise between $6.5 and $11.5 billion per year, given to local governments. It also lowers taxes on business equipment by $500,000. This means that some small businesses might actually see a tax savings.
Importantly, some businesses are exempt. It only applies to businesses with more than $3 million in property, exempting most small businesses. If you have 50 or fewer employees, AND more than $3 million in property, this doesn’t go into effect for you until 2025. It also doesn’t impact farm land, or housing (so landlords are exempt).
While this doesn’t fix CA’s exceptionally strange and convoluted property tax system, it is a move in the right direction. I like that exempts small businesses (so my favorite breweries won’t be harmed). I think exempting farms and housing is a mistake for a bunch reasons, but overall this is a move in the right direction, and I’m frankly surprised I haven’t seen much advertising from corporations opposing this prop.
Prop 16: Allows Diversity as a Factor in Public Employment, Education, and Contracting Decisions
In 1996, CA voters changed the California Constitution (Prop 209) to insert a section that banned consideration of “race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” in public employment, public education, or public contracting.
The important sentence is as follows:
“The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
In this, the important section is “grant preferential treatment to.”
This prevents the state government, hiring of contractors, and importantly state university (Cal States, UCs) admissions, from using race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin, in ANY way. This sets up what might be called “color-blind” policies.
This proposition would repeal this section outright. However, because both the California constitution and the US Constitution contain protections for equal protection, the main impact of this would be allowing the California government to use “race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” in the state government, hiring of contractors and state university admission.
This would not mandate any form of affirmative action, but would allow for its implementation if the institutions decided to change their practiced.
Some other context: Affirmative action has generally been upheld by the US Supreme Court, declaring that race is something that can be taken into account in university admissions. However, the use of strict quotas has been prohibited.
While there are some concerns with direct affirmative action, including the idea that it doesn’t fully account for the intersection of race and class when applied to elite university admissions, the use of “color-blind” policies is actively harmful, as it preserves a status quo under the guise of fairness. It also perpetuates a myth of meritocracy as an individual trait, and not something that is deeply rooted to historical and institutional legacies marred by racism, sexism and other forms of structural injustice.
Prop 17: Restores Right to Vote after Completion of Prison Term
This is one of three amendments (Props 20 & 25), dealing with California’s prison system.
California currently has a rather robust system of felon re-enfranchisement. It is actually easier to describe who cannot vote in California, than the opposite. If you are currently in State or Federal Prison, on parole from state prison (from a felony conviction), or in a form of transfer between these conditions, you cannot vote. Everyone else can vote. After you finish parole, your voting rights are fully restored. This is markedly different from some other states that either perpetually disenfranchise people with felony convictions, or have other restrictions.
This proposition would make it so that if you were out on parole, you would be able to vote. The only people who would be prevented from voting would be individuals who are actively in state or federal prison. Currently, California, and three other states (New York, and Connecticut) restrict voting rights for people on parole. This would move California in line with the 16 states that restrict voting only to individuals in prison (Maine and Vermont let everyone vote, even if they are in prison.) All state laws can be found here (https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/voter-restoration/felony-disenfranchisement-laws-map )
While California’s prison laws are not as bad as they used to be, especially after the repeal of the three strikes law, it is still worth pointing out the major problems of mass incarceration and its disproportionate effects it has on minority populations. There have been whole books written about California’s prison system, in particular (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Gulag-Opposition-Globalizing-California/dp/0520242017/). And if you want to talk about power structures entrenched in a system designed to warehouse human beings, please feel free (although I WILL bring up Foucault…) Enfranchisement is a minor aspect of this, and it would only effect 50,000 people in a state of 34 million. But it is still worth doing.