Monday, November 01, 2004

Breakin' Down The Ballot: Okay, here's a breakdown of what all the issues are, and my recommendations.

I've got a San Bernardino County, CA ballot in front of me. Here we go.

1A: This measure would require that any money the local government makes has to stay with the local government. The Governor and two thirds of the legislature would have to okay any variance from this.

Pros: Most police and fire departments are locally funded, and leaving more money in the city coffers would be a big boost for them. Plus, it prevents local governments from being left in the lurch when the state has a fiscal crisis and pawns it off on the local communities by taking their money.

Cons: A lot of the services that are used locally are tied closely to the state--the state needs some degree of ability to reallocate funds as necessary. For instance, if a drug problem in Orange County is related to Meth Labs in the high desert, Orange County has an interest in paying to solve the problem.

My verdict: Vote Yes. I'm a big believer that the most effective level of government is the local level, and more power should be put there than in Washington. Think about it--who knows better that the park around the corner from you is falling apart? A congressman or a city councilman? Who should have more money and power to take care of things?

So anything that shifts money and power back to local governments is fine with me.

59: Would create an amendment to the state constitution to acknowledge the public's right to attend government meetings and read government papers. It doesn't repeal any of the existing exceptions--it just preserves the rights that are already there.

Pros: If this passes, then if someone was trying to sue to get access to government documents, they would have a definite constitutional right to do so. It's like the bill of rights--it acknowledges something the people are supposed to be able to do.

Cons: However, because it doesn't change anything from what's already in place, it seems kind of pointless.

My verdict: Yes. But I really feel like there's something I don't know here. Either somebody has made a challenge regarding certain documents, or someone is going to make a challenge regarding certain documents. Or meetings.

Either that, or it's just a token gesture on the part of the state government to offer us something that we already have. I have no idea which it is.

60: Would require that the top vote-getter in each party primary would end up on the final ballot.

Pros: This was put up in opposition to Prop 62, below. It would stop "open primary" elections.

Cons: But it doesn't go far enough. Critics say that while it looks like it's opposed to prop 62, it actually leaves the door open for prop 62-style primaries.

Verdict: Vote no. The system ain't perfect, but let's not mess with it.

60A: Would require the state, when it sells certain property, to pay off certain parts of its debt.

Pros: Would save us money as the debt was paid off quicker. Sometimes you have to force the state to do what it won't chose to do. Think of it as an automatic transfer from checking to savings on payday.

Cons: Any money made off these sales would be tied up, and would not be available to go to other causes.

Verdict: Vote no. Complicated restrictions on how the state is supposed to use money and where is part of what has dug us into the hole we're in. If you keep tying the government's hands, the less they'll be able to wiggle free, Houdini-like, from the bonds of debt.

Yeah, I know. This would require them to pay down debt--it's like requiring that Houdini start sawing through the box--but what if that money could go to other bonds, that are higher interest? What if we need to buy another property, that could house three or four government offices and save us money on the land?

There's lots of good ways to use money--why not decide as we go, based on what's good for this year?

61: Would sell $750 million in bonds to raise money to pay for children's hospitals.

Pros: Who doesn't want to help kids? Don't we want them to have the best care possible?

Cons: After 30 years, the $750 million would come out to be $1.5 billion after interest. That's about $50 million a year. And unless we spend more money, our newly-paid-for hospitals will then be 30 years outdated. Or will we just go into more debt then?

Verdict: Vote No. There's lots wrong with health care. I love kids. But better for us to cut other excess programs to pay for these things to dig ourselves further into this hole.

62: If this passes, then instead of voting for your own party in the primary, you'd be given one long list of all the candidates from every party. The two folks who got the most votes would go on to the election, even if they were from the same party.

Pros: If Republicans only vote for Republicans, you're going to end up with a middle-of-the-road Republican, but he'll be too far to the right for the moderates. Same for the Democrats. This will help us elect some nice, centrist, moderates who can reflect the views of all of California.

Cons: What it actually reflects is the views of the majority, to the exclusion of the minority. What about libertarians? What about the socialists? Don't they get a voice? Do voters have any right to decide what candidate should represent a party they don't belong to?

Verdict: Vote No. There's plenty wrong with the system, but this won't fix anything. It might mean your guy won't end up on the ballot at all, and does nothing to increase his chances, no matter which party you are. Forget about it.

63: Anybody who makes more than a million dollars a year pays a 1% tax to fund mental health services.

Pros: What's wrong with this? You don't have to pay it, and it helps people who really need it.

Cons: Critics say this is just a way of throwing money at a complicated problem.

Verdict: Vote no. We can't just force the rich people to solve all of our problems for us, first of all, and the insinuation they should is scary.

64: Would prohibit lawsuits against businesses that didn't actually do anything to anybody.

Pros: This is meant to stop "Shakedown lawsuits." Groups like the much ballyhooed Treavor Law Group have a habit of looking up obscure environmental and safety laws and then filing lawsuits on behalf of "consumer groups" that consisted of themselves and their spouses and friends. They'd usually settle out of court and keep all the money. It's a predatory practice, and this would bring an end to it--lawyers would be forced to represent a real person with a real complaint who would receive the actual money.

Cons: But if lawyer's don't have a financial interest in prosecuting environmental violations and other "victimless" crimes, won't those laws all get broken, with no punishment or consequence?

Verdict: Vote yes. Shakedown lawsuits are terrible, and government agencies can still prosecute for "victimless" crimes. This just means nobody gets any money out of it who wasn't actually hurt.

65 Just vote no. The people who put this up want 1A instead.

66 Would require that, in order to qualify for life sentences under "Three Strikes," the third strike would have to be violent. It also changes the definition of violent a little. It's also retroactive, so all the current prisoner's sentences would be reevaluated.

Pros: It's possible, under the current laws, that people can get life sentences for less serious crimes, if it's their third strike. There are stories about people who committed small crimes, like stealing aspirin, who ended up in jail for life because of this law. It's cruel and unusual punishment and needs to be fixed.

Cons: Opponents argue that most of those stories are false, or incomplete--a lot of those sentences were already overturned, because the current system allows for plenty of judicial discretion, which means a person with a brain makes these decisions, not just a law. On the other hand, the stories of the people who would be released under prop 66 would make your hair stand on end.

Verdict: Vote no. Three strikes is working. Crime is down. Bad guys are locked up. That proves that three strikes is a deterrent, and takes criminals off the streets. Please don't take the teeth out of the dog, or all you'll have left is barking.

67: Currently, the state requires hospital emergency rooms to help anyone who comes in, whether they have insurance or not. This proposition would establish a phone tax to help pay for some of the costs of those uninsured patients.

Pros: The state's already established it wants everybody to get medical help in an emergency. If they want it, they should have to pay for it--and this way is as good as any. It's just a small hike in the existing 911 tax on every phone, and those exempt from that tax for financial reasons would be exempt from this too.

Cons: There's no cap on it for cell phone users, there's no cap for small businesses, and it's a 400% increase in the existing tax.

Verdict: Vote no. If the tax hike is as small as they say it is, they can find the money somewhere else.

68: Would amend the state compacts so that the Indian casinos would either have to pay 25% of their winnings to the state or the state would get to allow 16 non-tribal casinos to be built, which would each give 33% of their winnings to the state.

Pros: California would finally be getting their "fair share" of the tribal money, or a third of the money from casinos built right here in CA, apart from the Indians and apart from Vegas. All the money would have to go to social programs.

Cons: This is a bizarre, upside down initiative. What it really does is open the door for legalized gambling in California--because that will be the result, unless a unanimous vote of the tribes says they want to give up a quarter of their profits. Opponents argue the threat of losing their monopoly will "force" the tribes to comply, but the vote has to be unanimous. Ergo, 16 new Vegas-style casinos will probably open.

Verdict: Vote no. We'll eventually negotiate something equitable with the tribes--it's inevitable. In the meantime, if people want to gamble, they can still go there, or they can go to Vegas. As for the asinine assertion that this will help social programs--They sold the state lottery as being anybody know a single employee of a school district who ever said, "Thank goodness for all that state lottery money!"

The sad fact is that lotteries and other state-permitted "games of chance" legalized to raise money for the state are an inversely scaled tax--a tax where the poor actually pay more than the rich!

69: Within the next five years, this would require anyone charged with a felony to submit to a DNA test. Their DNA would then become part of a searchable database.

Pros: This is a win all around. Felons with their DNA on file will be spared the embarrassment of false arrest because their DNA, already on file, will prove their innocence without the need for questioning. On the other hand, the guilty ones will have less chance to get away with crimes. Also, knowing their DNA is on file may deter criminals from committing sexual or other crimes.

Cons: Because the test happens upon arrest, innocent people will end up in the database--a type of "search" of very personal data. It's not clearly spelled out what steps an innocent person would take to get his name and DNA out of the database, once exonerated.

Verdict: Vote Yes. This is a tough one, for me. I'm all about personal civil liberties and privacy, and having a bid database of everybody's ID is creepy to me, in a big brother kind of way.

But you know, it really is just a high-tech fingerprint, and I have no problem with fingerprinting suspects to help in the quest to prove them guilty or innocent. And the idea that this will deter or help catch rapists, molesters, and murderers makes it really, really hard to vote against.

70: This one would provide that only Indian tribes can do gaming, that they'd pay the same rate as any other business, that their compacts would be written up in 99 year renewable terms, and they would have to have meetings and put up notices before they could expand.

Pros: Under this, the Indians would still get to make money off their gaming, no extra casinos would open, and they'd pay the same rate as anybody else.

Cons: This is an appeal to the voters to try to jump over some negotiations the Governator has already made with the tribes. Basically, opponents say to vote no because he got a better deal.

Verdict: Vote no. I don't like the money arguments of this--basically, I really do feel the Indians should be treated as sovereigns until they declare themselves otherwise, but they do use regular state services, like fire and police.

But that would make this the equivalent of international negotiations, and good negotiators never take the first offer. This would be a big, big win for the casinos, and they know it.

71: Would create $3 billion in bonds to pay for the "California Institute for Regenerative Medicine," which would give grants and loans and regulate the advancement of stem cell research.

Pros: If the research pays off, it will be great for everybody. Everyone talks about how much it could help the sick and afflicted. However, it would be great for the economy if all these advances happened here. California needs a new industry--the defense industry isn't what it was, and now that the dot com bubble burst, we need a new thing to spur on the state economy. From what we've heard, this is where it's at.

Cons: There's really no control over where this money will go. The wording of the law exempts this "Institute" from the type of public meetings and information release listed in prop 59, so they don't have accountability for their usage of the money. While stem cell advocates say there are means of harvesting stem cells that don't involve the destruction of fetuses, this law contains to safeguards against such action.

Verdict: Vote no. First, almost without regard to the issue, $3 billion is a whole lot to spend right now. And while I know the government often has a role in advancing research that may not seem immediately financially lucrative in the private sector, there's enough private interest in this topic I don't think there's a need to dip into it more.

72: Would require all business with more than 20 employees to pay for a minimum amount of health care coverage for all their employees.

Pro: Just like the minimum wage law makes sure everybody makes a certain amount of money, this would insure everyone would have a certain degree of health care coverage. This would reduce the number of people getting state coverage or using the emergency room without coverage. Plus, since this would allow people to get their regular check-ups, many problems can be fixed quickly and cheaply rather than progressing, undiagnosed, into big problems the state has to pay for when they go into the emergency rooms.

Con: First, this would hurt small businesses, like restaurants, that hire mostly part-time workers and have high overhead and low profit margins. Also, it would discourage other businesses from coming to California and bringing more jobs, since they know they could do the same thing cheaper in Nevada or Arizona.

Verdict: Vote no. Many part-time workers are covered by other forms of insurance, and many people, especially young people, consider health care coverage a luxury expense. Forcing it on them--when they'd have to pay 20% of the costs--is bad--forcing 80% on businesses is bad.

Yeah, if I had a business, I'd want coverage for all my employees. I work for a company that offers coverage to all it's employees. I encourage all employers to do the same. But we really shouldn't--we can't--force them.

County Ordinance:

Measure I: Would allow a half cent sales tax to continue for 30 years in order to fund road improvements on the 15, 215, and 10 freeways. An independent auditor would verify the funds went where they were supposed to.

Pro: Read the initiative! We'd have improved 15, 215, and 10 freeways. Who can argue with that? Have you seen the 15 north on a Friday night? Practically ever mayor, city councilman, and driver supports this one.

Con: We'd have to keep paying the extra half a cent in sales tax.

Verdict: Vote no, believe it or not. First, the way they've done this stinks. The 15 is a mess right now--the interchange from the 215 north to the 15 south has been closed for weeks, and the 15 southbound traffic is being diverted into lanes of the 15 northbound while they work on this.

In other words, they've put us knee-deep into this project right when they're voting for the funds to support it.

On top of that, Nevada should really be kicking in some of the money to pay for the northbound 15 improvements, since they're the primary beneficiaries of its travelers.

On top of that, if 1A passes, we should have more money left over locally anyway.

Look, it's going to pass anyway. They've spent about $150,000 of taxpayer money to send out fliers targeted at everybody from college kids to old people to get this to pass (I've received all of them). Just vote no in protest.

City Measure:

Measure G: Revises the city charter to allow for the creation of a "City Manager" to run things from day to day.

Verdict: What the heck. Let's give it a whirl.

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