Don’t protect polluters

In many ways Prop. 26 is as bad as Prop. 23—but nobody knows it

By now it’s widely known that out-of-state oil companies are financing Proposition 23 on the Nov. 2 ballot, hoping to scuttle California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). The oil companies don’t like AB 32 because it would force them to pollute less at their refineries.

But the oil industry, along with the liquor and tobacco industries, has put another self-serving initiative on the ballot, Proposition 26, aka the “Polluter Protection Act.” In many ways it’s as dangerous as Prop. 23—and it’s far less visible to the public.

Prop. 26 would redefine some types of “fees” as “taxes,” thereby requiring that at the state level they be approved by a two-thirds, rather than majority, vote of the Legislature. And it would require a vote of the people, rather than the governing body (city council, for example), at the local level.

The fees are primarily those that regulate, mitigate or otherwise hold businesses responsible for the environmental, health and other negative impacts of their activities. The businesses want to avoid having to pay for the “externalities” of their products—whether it’s air pollution, public inebriation or lung disease.

How extreme is Prop. 26? Consider this: It would also impose a two-thirds vote requirement for any “change in state statute which results in any taxpayer having to pay a higher tax.” This could apply to almost anything—an increase in the minimum wage, for example.

And, finally, because Prop. 26 is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010, it “would also blow a $1 billion hole in this and future years’ budgets by repealing a carefully crafted, revenue-neutral ‘fuel-tax swap’ approved by the Legislature earlier this year,” according to the California Budget Project.

Not only would Prop. 26 be a boon to polluters by shifting the costs of pollution to taxpayers, it would also produce fiscal gridlock at all levels of government. Voters defeated a similar measure in 2000, 48-52 percent. They should do the same this time around.