Print Story California Special Election Endorsements
By aphrael (Fri May 15, 2009 at 11:55:51 AM EST) (all tags)
California is having a special election next week on a set of budget-related propositions. Turnout is expected to be low, but I will (of course) be voting. :)

I'm voting yes on 1A, 1D, and 1E; and no on 1B, 1C, and 1F.

Here's why.

Proposition 1A

The underlying premise behind Proposition 1A is that California's recurrent budget problems are, in part, caused by the Legislature's tendency to react to short-term, temporary upsurges in revenue by committing the revenue to long-term continuous spending, which then must be cut when revenue inevitably falters. In order to solve that problem, it proposes diverting "unexpected revnue" - which is to say, revenue that is (a) not the result of a newly imposed tax and (b) above the amount predicted by a ten-year trendline - into a rainy day fund and, once that has filled up, using it to either pay down debt or pay for short-term infrastructure projects that don't constitute long-term commitments. In addition, it suggests enlarging the rainy day fund and making it harder to divert money out of it.

All of these are eminently reasonable ideas. They're all eminently reasonable ideas even if you don't believe in the underlying premise; if the underlying premise is wrong, this is harmless at best, and saving more money for a rainy day seems like a wise move.

Yet, amazingly, conservatives and liberals have banded together to oppose it. Liberals are opposing it because they think it will result in severe cuts to existing programs. If you listen to their rhetoric, they've become convinced that the measure embodies a draconian spending cap ... but it actually does no such thing; as far as I can tell, the activists are just deluded.

Conservatives seem to be opposing it because the legislature passed a measure which would extend certain taxes for several years if proposition 1A passes. This measure is nothing more than a tax increase in disguise, the reasoning goes, so it should be voted down. But ... the tax increases aren't actually in the measure. And even if they were: they're a short-term continuation of taxes already enacted ... in exchange for a long-term change in the way the state does business which conservatives have been agitating for for years. It doesn't go as far as conservatives would like (it doesn't apply to newly enacted taxes, and it doesn't enact a spending cap), but surely half a loaf is better than none; as far as I can tell, conservative activist opposition to this measure is firmly in "cut off your nose to spite your face" territory.

Proposition 1A isn't a cure-all; but it's a rare good idea and deserves our support.

Proposition 1B

The underlying premise behind Proposition 1B is that an ambiguous provision of Proposition 98 was obviously intended to guarantee money to the schools.

Proposition 98 set up three ways to calculate the amount of money the public schools are required to get. One of them - heretofore only used in the first year after adoption - is a flat percentage of the state budget. The one normally used is the base year's school funding adjusted for inflation and population growth. The 'normal exception', used when revenue is less than expected, is the base year's funding adjusted for revenue growth and population growth ... and the provision allowing that requires that the difference between the two be considered, in effect, a loan from the schools, payable in some future year.

Proposition 98 was silent on whether, in years when the flat percentage is used, the difference between the flat percentage and the normal amount is to be considered a loan from the schools (there's a lawsuit pending which might answer the question in a year or five). I don't understand the rules for determining which amount is required to go to the schools in any year; but I know that the flat percentage is the amount required for both 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.

Proposition 1B simply declares that the difference between the amount the schools received in those fiscal years and the amount they would have received under the normal calculations is owed to the schools, and sets up a mechanism for repaying the money using the enlarged rainy day fund established by Proposition 1A. It does not answer the question about whether the schools are owed money if the flat percentage method of calculating school funding is used in the future, and it does <em>not</em> provide a mechanism for paying the owed money if Proposition 1A fails.

This is badly written law. It's badly written because it can theoretically create a debt that cannot be repaid (if Proposition 1A fails); it's badly written, also, because it answers a serious legal question just for this instance of the problem without even seeking to resolve the problem in general.

As badly written law, it deserves to be defeated.

Proposition 1C

The underlying premise behind proposition 1C is that it would be a great thing if we could securitize the lottery revenue stream, and sell it off for some large chunk of money which we could spend this year. I think this is crazy; it's effectively borrowing against future revenue, spending it on ongoing recurring expenses today. Once the influx of money we expect to come today is spent, how do we pay for those recurring expenses? Worse, since the measure is set up to have a neutral effect on the current recipients of lottery revenue, it increases long-term expenditures out of the general fund without providing any long-term revenue source to pay for them.

It might be reasonable if we were borrowing against future revenue to pay for recovery from a natural disaster, or to invest in something which would increase revenue in the future. But we're not. This is exactly the kind of borrowing which a wise steward of the public funds does not do.

The problem, of course, is that the legislature is not a wise steward of the public funds, and the 2009-2010 budget assumes that this will pass and depends on it to generate $5 billion which can be spent in that fiscal year. If this fails, the budget deficit automatically increases. Still ... that's not enough of a reason to vote for this bad idea; borrowing to pay for continuing expenses is almost always a dumb move.

Propositions 1D and 1E

The underlying premise behind propositions 1D and 1E is that special tax revenue should be confiscated and directed towards similar programs paid for out of the general fund.

California voters have adopted a plethora of special taxes, the revenue from which goes to programs specified in the initiatives which created the taxes and is excluded from the general fund. Some of these special funds have surpluses of unspent money. Some of them are funding programs which are similar to, but not quite the same as, programs which are paid for out of the general fund. Proposition 1D deals with a tobacco tax that pays for health care programs for children under the age of 5; it confiscates the surplus in the special fund and redirects roughly 1/3 of the tax revenue towards other health care programs for children under the age of 5 which are funded out of the general fund, thereby freeing up general fund revenue to do other things. Proposition 1E deals with a tax on incomes greater than $1 million that pays for mental health programs; it confiscates roughly 1/3 of that tax and directs it towards a different set of mental health programs which are paid for out of the general fund, thereby freeing money from the general fund to go towards other things.

I have a bias here: I think that special taxes are almost always a bad idea; they constrain the legislature and make it impossible for the legislature to make policy choices about what the state should pay for ... and thereby make the process of producing a budget much more difficult than it ought to be. So I'm greatly in favor of anything which redirects special tax money into the general fund.

That said, I can understand why people would vote against these if (a) they think the particular programs protected by them are really, really important or (b) they have a philosophical objection to passing a special tax and then converting it to a general tax (as an end-run around the voters); my husband is in the latter category.

Proposition 1F

The underlying premise behind Proposition 1F is that the legislature are a bunch of venial jerks whose incompetence is the primary cause of the budget crisis. Since their failure caused the problem, and self-interest might cause them to perform better, we should prohibit them from getting pay raises whenever there is a deficit.

This seems silly to me. I think the underlying cause of the state's budget problems is that the voters want both lower taxes and higher services (something which is borne out by poll after poll that show that the majority of voters want the budget problem solved without tax increases and object to any specific cuts that anyone proposes); the legislature is simply representing its constituents. The problem is aggravated by the state's direct democracy system, which encourages the voters to write into the state constitution things which, aggregated together, make the system unworkable. Punishing the legislators might make the voters feel good, but it doesn't solve the problem; it's an angry gesture that, at the end of the day, doesn't help at all.

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California Special Election Endorsements | 25 comments (25 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
at least you get it by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #1 Fri May 15, 2009 at 12:31:44 PM EST
everyone wants something, doesn't want to pay for it.

you'd think the gay marriage ban wouldn't be a problem with all that. Gay's don't have to go pay for the marriage license..

This whole post by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri May 15, 2009 at 01:16:31 PM EST
Shows the problems with the Proposition system, especially as enacted in California.

I've always felt, from the evidence, that Prop 13 was a large part of California's budgeting problems (among others). But the other propositions just make things worse.

Maybe a Proposition could be enacted to roll back all the propositions passed since, say, 1970?

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

I mostly agree by kwsNI (2.00 / 0) #3 Fri May 15, 2009 at 02:15:01 PM EST
Few minor things I disagree with mostly on a philosophical level. 

The real problem I have though is that I'd be surprised if 10% of the voters understood the social, political, legal or economical impacts at the level you presented. 

They'll vote based on what they might get out of it (regardless of who pays for it, even if they don't realize they're paying for it elsewhere) or what some politician they voted for said about it or even worse, based on the misleading and biased commercials all around.  I use a remote proxy at work that's apparently based in the LA area (we've got several offices there, not unlikely) and anywhere I go on Yahoo, there's little flash animations of Schwarzenegger with utterly ridiculous comments about 1A. 

We vote for legislatures that are theoretically competent to make the state run, the idea of leaving actual fiscal decisions to an apathetic voter pool where turnout wouldn't qualify as a quorum for any other forum and will be decided by which vocal minority does the best job mobilizing their base... it scares me. 

And I live 1000 miles from California.  :)

This is why I always vote NO on all propositions by MohammedNiyalSayeed (2.00 / 0) #8 Fri May 15, 2009 at 03:43:14 PM EST

When, in fact, I feel it's worth voting at all, which is seldom. If I elected you to legislate, and you pass the buck back to me, I can't help wondering why the fuck I'm paying you in the first place. Either do your jobs, legislators, or stop holding office immediately. There are more than enough people who'd be happy as a clam to do that job for free; it's obnoxious to slack when suckle at my every third dollar's teat.

You can build the most elegant fountain in the world, but eventually a winged rat will be using it as a drinking bowl.
[ Parent ]
in california's case by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #9 Fri May 15, 2009 at 03:51:35 PM EST
it's because the voters, in their wisdom, decided that questions like ... everything on the ballot this year ... could only be decided by the voters and not the legislature.

1A: change to the state constitution.
1B: change to the state constitution and to a previously adopted ballot initiative.
1C: change to the state constitution and to a previously adopted ballot initiative.
1D: change to the state constitution and to a previously adopted ballot initiative.
1E: change to the state constitution and to a previously adopted ballot initiative.
1F: change to the state constitution and to a previously adopted ballot initiative.

so ... the legislature can't make these changes. the voters have reserved that power to themselves.

If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.

[ Parent ]
I hate this system[nt] by R343L (2.00 / 0) #10 Fri May 15, 2009 at 04:41:02 PM EST

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot
[ Parent ]
So do I by fluffy (2.00 / 0) #19 Fri May 15, 2009 at 08:08:44 PM EST
Let's let a simple majority decide the rights of the persecuted minority! That'll make sure that everyone gets their way!

busy bees buzz | sockpuppet revolution
[ Parent ]
right. by aphrael (4.00 / 1) #20 Fri May 15, 2009 at 08:45:24 PM EST
and it isn't helped by the fact that even intelligent members of the community can't be bothered to read a couple of pages of analysis on each measure.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
[ Parent ]
Yes, I fully agree I'm part of the problem here by fluffy (2.00 / 0) #24 Sat May 16, 2009 at 08:34:51 PM EST
like most of the rest of the voting constituency.

busy bees buzz | sockpuppet revolution
[ Parent ]
I have to question by wumpus (2.00 / 0) #13 Fri May 15, 2009 at 05:42:19 PM EST
if you think "The real problem I have though is that I'd be surprised if 10% of the voters understood the social, political, legal or economical impacts at the level you presented." would still be true if the legislature got its hands on the issue.

I have to admit that this type of thing should probably be limited to general elections. I can't say I want to hear what the turnout will be.

Finally, I'd like to ask anyone who thinks the legislature would do a good job to consider their own representives' (I'm assuming more than one body) voting history. Normally I use this question for people who want everything pushed down to states and counties, but I'd like to know who really knows their state politicians.


[ Parent ]
Hey by kwsNI (2.00 / 0) #14 Fri May 15, 2009 at 05:55:13 PM EST
I said the legislature is "theoretically competent".  I doubt that really is the case either, but I'd rank them slightly better informed than the general population. 

[ Parent ]
general elections by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #15 Fri May 15, 2009 at 06:23:27 PM EST
the budget crisis has largely come up since the last general election and it can't wait until the next one.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
[ Parent ]
Not really by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #21 Fri May 15, 2009 at 10:58:55 PM EST
The budget has been in crisis for years.  Every legislature pushes the problem into the future.  Remember, Arnold was elected because of the screwed-up budget.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Why I voted for 1F by fluffy (2.00 / 0) #4 Fri May 15, 2009 at 02:36:34 PM EST
It wasn't to punish the legislators for failing to balance the budget, it was because we are in a recession and having a salary freeze would help, in some small part, by not having pay raises as part of the budget.

If they're unable to satisfy the revenue requirements for their annual budget, then pay raises shouldn't even be on the table, and for them to have pay raises as part of their balance when we're in a financial crisis is just ridiculous.

I do agree about the underlying cause of the budget problems and that it's a big problem, though, and really I think California's legal code needs to be burned to the ground and started anew, because it's a gigantic clusterfuck at this point.

busy bees buzz | sockpuppet revolution
the amount of money in question is irrelevant. by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #5 Fri May 15, 2009 at 03:12:58 PM EST
the legislature doesn't determine its salaries, it's determined by an independent commission.

If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
[ Parent ]
well maybe I'd have voted "no" by fluffy (2.00 / 0) #6 Fri May 15, 2009 at 03:28:30 PM EST
if the "against" position statement had said that instead of insulting me for even thinking of voting yes.

busy bees buzz | sockpuppet revolution
[ Parent ]
the position statements by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri May 15, 2009 at 03:35:05 PM EST
i never read them; the people who write them, on both sides, are usually more interested in inflaming emotional responses than they are in debating the issues.

the fact that an independent commission sets the salaries was, however, mentioned in the legislative analyst's analysis.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.

[ Parent ]
The legislative analysis is tl;dr (nt) by fluffy (2.00 / 0) #11 Fri May 15, 2009 at 05:03:37 PM EST
i don't understand. by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #12 Fri May 15, 2009 at 05:04:59 PM EST
Too long; didn't read. n/t by Captain Tenille (2.00 / 0) #16 Fri May 15, 2009 at 06:24:39 PM EST


/* You are not expected to understand this. */

[ Parent ]
wow. by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #17 Fri May 15, 2009 at 06:26:39 PM EST
1C 1F by duxup (2.00 / 0) #18 Fri May 15, 2009 at 07:03:53 PM EST
Yar both sound like bad ideas. 
Our governor here who is a strict "no taxes" dude but loves borrowing like a mad man proposed selling off the lottery and the future revenue too.  WTF?  You've got a nice reliable stream of revenue there and he wants to dump much of it for a couple of bucks up front.  Great idea, let's keep up the borrowing and selling off reliable revenue streams and then be in another hole when the economy is even doing mildly well...
1F seems terrible. You’re not saving any significant money and while I don’t know your state’s situation reps here in MN don’t make a lot last I checked. Holding down their salaries would IMO just mean folks who could afford it would run for office. For all I know that is the case now, but making it more so doesn’t seem like a good idea. Also even here in MN they play stupid games with the budget like “Hey it is balanced (except maybe for inflation, oh and…)”. That isn’t gong to help.
1A seems like a good idea although here in MN we ran into issues where one time gobs of cash were thrown at the department of transportation for various projects. Except over the years nobody bothered to up their maintenance budget... “New Road!” always looks sexier to a legislator than “Roads that cost less to maintain because we do regular maintenance.”  Even if you’re not funding long term projects you can sometimes still manage to dig yourself a hole.

Chicago's Mayor Daley by garlic (2.00 / 0) #22 Sat May 16, 2009 at 09:03:17 AM EST
is trying to sell / lease all the city owned assets (tollway, parking meters, airport) to pay for recurring costs. Blago loved the idea and was trying to do the same thing with the lottery. I hate it.

[ Parent ]
Is it tax decutable? by MartiniPhilosopher (2.00 / 0) #25 Sun May 17, 2009 at 03:13:05 PM EST
What about the tickets? Would I get part of the ticket if someone expired?

Because then I think I would love to go into the parking meter business. Buy up several thousand of the things and spend my days walking around collecting and ticketing.

Whenever I hear one of those aforementioned douche bags pontificate about how dangerous [...] videogames are I get a little stabby. --Wil Wheaton.

[ Parent ]
I oppose 1E by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #23 Sat May 16, 2009 at 02:39:13 PM EST
If you're going to punish me by taking even more of my money away, then for fuck's sake, apply it according to your original premise. To do otherwise is simply fraudulent.

My only exception to this philosophy is that I believe that forfeited assets should be disbursed generally, not reyained by the pigs. Just breeds corruption, I believe.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

California Special Election Endorsements | 25 comments (25 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback