Indecent propositions

The gov’s special election package finally arrives; you might want to hold your nose if you vote

Here you go folks, eight propositions for your consideration, some brought to you by the governor, some coat-tailed on for convience and political expediency. You’ve seen the ads—cheesy, less than truthful and expensive as all get out, just like the California-style politics they push.

The state’s initiative process has grown into a corporate-contribution-fed monster in recent years, giving the wealthy and powerful unprecedented political leverage; the rest of us are paying the price.

Now it comes before us in an off-election year. We run down the substance of each proposition here, dripping with our own blatant bias. Some of the props, by themselves (Props. 79 and 80), are absolutely worthy causes while others (Props. 74 and 77) bring up legitimate concerns. But 79 and 80 (discount drugs and re-regulation of electricity) are somehow tainted by the company they keep on this ballot, while 74 and 77 (teacher tenure and political redistricting) explore valid issues, but don’t offer compelling alternatives.

So in the end for us, it’s sort of like what the cane-wielding old lady says in the pro-Prop. 75 TV ad: “You can just have the whole lot of ’em!”

Prop. 73
In a perfect world, the lines of communication between parents and their children, especially teenagers, would be open and free of complication. But in reality, not all families resemble the Cleavers and the Cosbys.

A yes vote on Proposition 73 would amend the California Constitution, requiring physicians to give an unmarried minor’s parent or legal guardian 48 hours’ notice before performing an abortion. We say, bad idea.

In what is already a scary and difficult situation, young teens would additionally find themselves tied up in court and face telling their parents about their decision to have an abortion. Add the fact that not all children come from ideal family situations and an already-bad situation gets worse.

According to the Campaign for Teen Safety, “Mandatory notification laws have resulted in teens—who for whatever reason can’t go to their parents—resorting to dangerous measures, like back-alley or self-induced abortions, instead of getting the medical help and counseling they need.” Prop. 73 may sound good in theory, but is it really the government’s job to impose open family communication?

Those in favor also say notification will reduce pregnancies and abortions among minors. Studies of similar laws in other states show that the measure’s effect on the birthrate among minors in California would be little-to-nothing. We say the state’s efforts should go toward educating teens about safe sex and preventing unwanted pregnancy before it happens.

Illustration By Steve Ferchaud

What proponents don’t tell you is that the law would force doctors to report abortion procedures to the government. Doctor-patient confidentiality should remain just that—confidential.

Another reason Prop. 73 is a bad idea is that it would also define abortion as “causing death of the unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born,” rather than “fetus” or “embryo.” This language could have broader implications down the line—including stem-cell research and the availability of abortions.

If Prop. 73 passes, minors would also have the option to seek to waive the notification requirements, tying up the courts even more. The state should put more money into education rather than an already-congested court system.

Being faced with having an abortion is difficult enough without adding additional steps that could ultimately lead to bad decisions.

The CN&R recommends a NO vote on Proposition 73.

Prop. 74
California schools are struggling, but attacking our teachers is not the answer.

Supporters of Proposition 74 want to lengthen the probationary period before California teachers become “permanent” employees from two to five years and make it easier to fire California teachers.

Only two states in the nation—Indiana and Missouri—require a lengthy five-year waiting period before teachers reach tenure, or permanent status. A majority of states follow a three-year policy—the same length that California required from 1927 to 1982 before we shortened the probationary period from three to the current two years in 1983.

California schools should not retain inadequate teachers. The current law already requires school districts to evaluate teachers at least once a year and dismiss unsatisfactory teachers, even those with “permanent” status. No California teachers have what Prop. 74 supporters refer to as “guaranteed” employment.

If Prop. 74 passes, changes would allow districts to fire teachers at the end of any of their first five years without offering specific reasons. Districts would not have to provide the documentation of poor performance necessary under the current law. Prop. 74 would also eliminate the current 90-day period allowing teachers a chance to improve their performance.

Illustration By Steve Ferchaud

Under Prop. 74, districts could unfairly replace higher-paid, more-experienced teachers nearing tenure with new, lower-paid teachers just to save money. Constantly replacing experienced teachers with less experienced ones might cut costs in a system with a tight budget, but ultimately the quality of education for children would suffer.

Prop. 74 would likewise increase job insecurity for teachers. Considering estimates that California will need around 100,000 new teachers in the next 10 years, Prop. 74 would damage the state’s ability to recruit and retain teachers. As a result, students here could face even larger class sizes and worse classroom conditions.

Good teachers evolve through mentoring, support and training, not punitive measures like Prop. 74. Prop. 74 does not reward good teachers as its supporters falsely claim. In fact, California used to have an incentive program for quality teachers, but Gov. Schwarzenegger cut its funding this year.

There is no evidence to suggest that lengthening the probationary period for new teachers to gain tenure improves the quality of education.

California needs to fix its broken school system, but Prop. 74 is not the answer. California teachers are a resource too valuable to scapegoat.

The CN&R recommends a NO vote on Proposition 74.

Prop .75
Supporters call it paycheck protection, but it should be called corporate political power protection. Right now corporations spend 25 times more than unions do on political causes.

The proponents of Prop. 75 say if passed it would only require unions to get individual members to approve spending their money in a political campaign. The fact is gaining that approval is in reality a bureaucratic hurdle designed to water down the financial and, by extension, the political clout unions have. That clout has deteriorated badly over the years, taking a considerable slide during the Reagan years.

This proposition is clearly one more attack by the governor on the state’s nurses, teachers and firefighters who have tried to stand up to his arrogance and power. Supporters of the proposition—the governor and his corporate sponsors—don’t care about protecting the paychecks of these people. They care about keeping balance of political power on their side.

Union members already have the right to opt out of a union if they are so appalled by their union leaders. The decisions on how to spend those collected union dues are made by union leaders, who in most cases are the very same nurses, teachers and fire fighters—people with the same concerns and cares—they represent. They are not corporate executives sequestered in plush board rooms, deciding how to spend stockholder money politically to best protect the corporation’s interests.

Illustration By Steve Ferchaud

If the individual union members must approve how their money is spent so, too, should the shareholders of corporations that try to influence political races and legislation like this. Those giving money to Prop. 75 include both the California and U.S. chambers of commerce, real estate industry interests, conservative Christians and Richard Gilder, a one-time co-owner of the Texas Rangers with President Bush with hopes of silencing teachers to help push through school vouchers.

This is a disengenious and mean effort to further smother working men and women and remove what little control they still have over their lives.

We strongly urge a NO vote on Proposition 75.

Prop. 76
Proposition 76 is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s convoluted attempt to rein in spending, gathering what should have been three or four ill-advised measures into one ballot-line of egotism that gives the governor the power to singlehandedly “terminate” state spending of his choosing.

If the governor determines the state is in fiscal crisis, he could cut off spending to certain programs such as Medi-Cal or CalWorks, which could stagger along for 10 or 11 months of the year only to leave patients and recipients completely uncovered once the already-released money runs out.

That leaves local governments, such as counties, on the hook to provide services to an extent that can’t even fully be known unless the measure passes and goes into effect.

In creating a new way to establish state spending limits, the proposal also guts Proposition 98 and its guaranteed funding levels to K-14 schools, suspending minimum funding amounts slated annually for schools in times of fiscal crisis, thus ratcheting down the base amount while eliminating the requirement that the state pay back money it shorts schools. As Jean Ross, executive director of the nonprofit California Budget Project, explained it, “It’s like a one-time bonus versus a permanent increase in your base salary.”

The end result will be decreased revenues not only to schools, which will lose $3.8 billion a year, but to health-related programs, public safety and other services, in part because the measure would also cap spending from the state tobacco tax and other voter-approved revenue sources.

All around, the proposition has earned Schwarzenegger the picket sign-toting wrath of K-12 teachers, college professors and nurses.

Even the impartial state Legislative Analyst’s report says the proposition’s methodology, replacing a 1979 formula for base spending, is inherently flawed: Since the formula is based on an average rate of the last three years of “tax growth,” the spending limit would “grow more slowly than actual revenues when the economy is accelerating, and grow faster than actual revenues when the economy is in recession.” The result: smoothing out spending over time, but only if the state were successful in socking enough away during boom times.

Illustration By Steve Ferchaud

Prop. 76 would turn the state’s budget process upside down, sucking much-needed funds from education and health care while at the same time giving California’s governor more power than his counterparts across the nation.

This is not reform, it is heavy-handed lunacy, and we recommend a NO vote on Proposition 76.

Prop. 77
Every 10 years the state Legislature redraws the political boundaries from which public officials are elected. The adjustments are made after the federal census and are supposed to reflect changes in populations and make the districts reasonably equal. The new map is included in legislation and becomes law when signed by the governor. If the governor can’t agree with the Legislature, the state Supreme Court steps in to settle the matter.

While this process looks good on paper, it’s been abused by the mutual, and concerted, efforts of both the Republican and Democratic parties to make safe districts for each. As a result, the elected representatives in these respective districts are becoming more politically extreme. Winners are determined in the primaries—the more conservative candidate gets elected in a Republican district, the more liberal in a Democratic district. In not one of the last 155 state and congressional contests for office has the seat up for election changed parties.

Prop. 77 offers an alternative that at first blush sounds like a reasonable way out of this predicament. Three retired judges would be appointed by legislative leaders.

But the fact is, the timing of this proposition—if passed it would rework the district lines five years early—is an effort by Republicans to gain seats in the House of Representatives. Currently Demos hold 33 of California’s 53 seats in the house. Pushing the boundary lines a bit, ala Texas a year or so ago, could result in gains for Repubs. And the new lines would be in place before the next primary—which is next March. Too fast. The proposition is supported by the gov and most state Republican lawmakers from California. That right there makes us shy away from 77 as the way to redesign the redistricting game as played here.

The CN&R says vote NO on Proposition 77.

Prop. 79 and Prop. 78
Access to health care is one of the most hotly debated issues in the state. Currently, 6.6 million Californians are uninsured, including almost 430,000 children, according to UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research. Medical costs for labor, high-tech treatments, and prescription drugs have risen dramatically in recent years, with no relief in sight. Medical emergencies constituted the most oft-cited reason for family bankruptcy last year, at a time when insured California families spent an average of $10,013 a year on health coverage.

So, on the surface, any program that would help bring health care costs down might seem to be a good idea. Competing Propositions 78 and 79 both promise to do just that, by providing discounts on prescription drugs to low- and moderate-income Californians. Prop. 78 is a voluntary discount program backed by drug companies. Prop. 79, backed by labor and consumer groups, would allow the state department of health services to negotiate discounts with drug companies and provides a means for enforcing those negotiated discounts.

So which one’s better? As always, it depends on who you believe.

Illustration By Steve Ferchaud

Both sides in the debate have spent an ungodly amount of money trying to influence voters. The pharmaceutical companies backing 78 have poured some $80 million into their effort, funds which mostly went into creating confusing and, some would say misleading, ads attacking Prop. 79. With the more than $10 million that unions and consumer groups have spent doing basically the same thing to oppose 78, the two initiatives have broken all-time U.S. spending records for ballot initiatives.

Both propositions have similarities. Each would provide unquantified discounts on drugs to low-income, uninsured state residents, who would present a state-issued card to their pharmacist in order to get the discount.

Neither side can say how much cheaper drugs would be under their favored regime. Both would cost tens of millions in state general fund dollars to implement.

But the major difference between the initiatives is that, while Prop. 79 would force the drug companies to discount drugs by cutting them out of Medi-Cal contracts if they did not negotiate lower prices, 78 is a voluntary program. Under 78, drug companies would have no incentive—and would be under no obligation—to discount their products.

Free-market types, such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, back 78 because they feel that forcing companies to discount their products is unfair. While such arguments carry a lot of weight in our current pro-business, anti-tax political climate, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the top seven U.S. drug manufacturers made a combined $20 billion last year, raking in a whopping 18.6 percent profit margin, making them the envy of the corporate world. They don’t make that kind of dough by selling drugs at a discount, and they aren’t about to change that without a fight.

In fact, one of the industry’s main arguments against Prop. 79 is that, according to the official argument published by the California Secretary of State, the law “will result in years of legal challenges and ultimately never go into effect.” If that proves to be the case, it won’t be because the Prop. 79 is unworkable. It will be because the pharmaceutical industry will hire legions of lawyers and file dozens of lawsuits to make sure it never goes into effect.

This leaves the already confused and abused voter with no clear choice, and sadly, with no remedy to the very real problem of overpriced pharmaceuticals. A vote for 78 is a vote for the status quo, and a vote for 79 is a recipe for an expensive set of lawsuits. For this reason, as well as for the reason that this whole stupid election should never have been forced down our throats in the first place, we recommend voting NO on both propositions.

Prop. 80
If you hated rolling blackouts and the fact that the jerks at Enron had California over a barrel during the state’s 2000-2001 energy crisis, then you understand what the motivations are behind the creation of Prop. 80. The big issue for those in favor of 80 is Public Utility Commission oversight of the Direct Access Electric Service Providers (ESPs) that were born of the deregulation of California’s electricity in 1996. Regulating the ESPs, as the Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs, like PG&E) are currently, is supposed to keep evil private opportunists from sweeping in and taking advantage again.

The thing is, even though PUC doesn’t regulate the ESPs, it still has enacted rules that require both types of electricity providers to demonstrate that they have enough energy to meet consumer demands, which negates much of the fear of the possibility of future rolling blackouts. Plus, the five members of PUC, the agency that would be granted greater oversight if the measure became law, is unanimously opposed to 80.

The thing is, for an initiative that props itself up as a response to that sweeping deregulation, Prop. 80 has steered itself sharply into pot-calling-kettle-black territory. The so-called Repeal of Deregulation and Blackout Prevention Act is sponsored by the Utility Reform Network, a consumer group that is trying to lock in energy reform via public policy that, if it turns out to not be the answer, can only be reversed through another ballot measure. The initiative’s language even states that, “The Legislature may amend this act only to achieve its purposes and intent, by legislation receiving at leas a two-thirds vote,” making it a very black-and-white response to a public utilities issue that is anything but.

The measure does tack on the tantalizing nugget of speeding up requiring 20 percent renewable energy generation by both IOUs and ESPs from its current 2017 target to 2010, but in the current shaky marketplace that’s the kind of sweeping additional requirement that doesn’t do anything to encourage future investment in power plants.

The CN&R says NO to Proposition 80.