California Proposition Guide: Part 1
Proposition Guide 2016:
Welcome to another edition of my proposition guide. The goal of this guide is to try to explain the propositions that are on the California ballot in a way that isn’t excessively detailed, but also provides more information than some of the more concise guides that you see online. Also, if you are reading this, you probably know me personally, so it is a bit easier to take advice from someone you know rather than a random person on the internet. Also, this is like my job and stuff, so I better know what is going on.
Initial Question: What is a Proposition and why should I care?
A proposition (also called a referendum or an initiative) is California’s foray into the realm of direct democracy. Without getting too technical the basic idea is that in California we have this crazy idea that says that we can directly influence public policy. This can take three forms. We, the people of California, can either vote on a brand new law or amendment to the California Constitution, vote on a change to the California Constitution that was proposed by our state legislature, or veto a law that our state legislature passed. What this means in practice is that we get a direct say in the laws that are made in California. This is perhaps the most direct expression of democracy that you are going to get in a modern representational democratic system. If we vote on a proposition and it passes, it becomes a law. There are no additional restrictions. Propositions just become laws. This means there is no excuse to not vote in California! This is entirely removed from party politics, it goes against any sort of partisan bickering that goes on in Sacramento. It is your direct line to getting things done in California.
So let's get into it.
This year there are 17(!) propositions on the ballot. That can be a bit overwhelming, but stick with me. We can do this!
Proposition 51: SCHOOL BONDS. FUNDING FOR K–12 SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY COLLEGE FACILITIES. INITIATIVE STATUTE.
Proposition 51 is a law that provides funding for K-12 schools and Community Colleges. This law provides for selling $9 billion in bonds to pay for education. Most of this money would go to K-12 schools ($7 billion) for “new construction, modernization, career technical education facilities, and charter school facilities,” with most of the money going towards new construction and modernization. The additional $2 billion would go to community colleges for essentially facility improvements and construction.
The way that the State would fund this is through bonds. Bonds are essentially stock that you can buy in the government. As an individual, you buy a bond and then the government ensures that you get a rate of return on your bond. This rate fluctuates with the market but averages about a 5% rate of return. With this in mind, this measure would cost about $17.6 billion over 35 years. The state would pay 500 million a year, or .5% of current annual budget for this.
Personal Opinion: I will be voting YES on this proposition. Being an educator, and someone who is very tied to our community college system I think we are very due for some infrastructural spending in this area. Generally speaking, education spending usually has a very advantageous rate of return with every dollar spent on education being repaid many times over through increased production or increased wages. I think this is a good deal and should be approved. My only hesitation is the funding for charter schools, which I do not believe in. However they are almost an afterthought, receiving only 500 million total, so the benefits outweigh the costs in this case.
Proposition 52: MEDI‐CAL HOSPITAL FEE PROGRAM. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE.
This proposition essentially takes an existing law that is scheduled to expire on January 1st, and extends it in perpetuity. It is common for laws to be written with expiration dates, to be reviewed for effectiveness at a later date.
However, this is a bit confusing because it involves two separate aspects, one related to healthcare and one related to the proposition system as a whole.
In regards to healthcare: Currently private hospitals, which make up ⅔s of all the hospitals in the state, pay a fee to the State to help pay for the federal low income health care agency, known in CA as Medi-cal. Basically this law requires the private hospitals to chip in. This proposition makes this fee permanent.
But the state doesn’t use all of this money for Medi-Cal, some of this money is diverted for different things. What this bill also requires is that anytime the State wants to divert some of this fee money, they have to pass a proposition. The second half of this law is asking if you want to vote on more propositions.
So, if you want to have private hospitals keep paying these fees for Medi-Cal and you, directly, want control over the state diverting any of these funds, vote yes.
If you don’t want hospitals paying these fees and you don’t want control, vote no.
If you want a different combination of the two...um… well figure out which one is more important and vote that way.
Personal Opinion: While I am generally slightly cold on the proposition system (institutions are great ya’ll), I think the positives of this bill outweigh the negatives. I will be voting YES. Private hospitals benefit from Medi-Cal, so they should help pay for it. Voting on more propositions is inconvenient, but it is how we’ve decided to work in CA.
Proposition 53: REVENUE BONDS. STATEWIDE VOTER APPROVAL. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.
This brings up basically the same issue as the last prop. Do you want more propositions or less? This bill requires that any time the state wants to pass a bond measure over $2 billion, it requires a statewide vote.
In other words. If the state wants to sell more than $2 billion in bonds (see Prop 51 for what bonds are) then it has to pass a proposition.
So, if you want more propositions, vote yes.
If you want to let the state legislature figure that stuff out, vote no.
I generally think that the proposition system, especially with regards to budgetary matters, is problematic, so I will be voting NO. I’m not sure I trust the general mass of people more than the state legislature to figure out budget things.
Proposition 54: LEGISLATURE. LEGISLATION AND PROCEEDINGS. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE.
Now we are getting into the fun ones! This is the internet bill prop.
This prop would require the legislature to post any bill on the internet 72 hours before they vote on it. It would also require them to record all legislative proceedings and post those on the internet too. It would cost about $1 million a year.
While I get some of the opposition to this bill, that it might slow down legislation (often simple bills are voted on by “voice vote” where everyone just agrees, and this would make that harder) the $1 million is peanuts to a state like CA and I have heard arguments that it would make some political science research easier and I’m all about that. So I’m voting YES.
Proposition 55: TAX EXTENSION TO FUND EDUCATION AND HEALTHCARE. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.
So in 2012 we voted on a tax increase on high-income earners, or people who earned over $250,000 a year ( $500,000 for joint filing, $340,000 for head of household). This prop makes that increase permanent. Most of the money goes to schools, or Medi-cal, but that is not set in stone. This goes into the general budget where it is allocated. Basically we voted on a prop in 2012, and this is just continuing the thing we voted on in 2012.
So, if you think our current tax rate on high income earners works well, vote yes.
If you think the tax rate on high income earners should be reduced, vote no.
I am going to be voting YES on this proposition. This tax rate hasn’t drastically impacted California since 2012, so I see no reason why it shouldn’t be continued. In addition to this, my desire for more school funding means that I am opposed to any reduction in this budget.
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