The high-stakes propositions
Forget the presidential race in California. This is where the statewide action is
Among statewide races on the Nov. 6 ballot, the two that involve actual candidates are non-contests: Barack Obama is a lock to defeat Mitt Romney, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein is certain to defeat her largely unknown Republican challenger, Elizabeth Emken.
No, the serious elections this year involve the propositions. There are 11 of them, and how voters respond to them will have profound impacts on the state, beginning with Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure, Proposition 30.
Here’s a rundown:
• Proposition 30: temporary taxes to fund education, guarantee local public-safety funding.
This initiative would increase the tax rate on income over $250,000 for seven years and the sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years. The additional revenue would prevent $6 billion in cuts to California’s education system during 2012-13. Those in favor maintain the tax increase for the state’s wealthiest people is a small price to better secure the budget and higher-education funding. Opponents believe Brown is downplaying the sales-tax aspect of the measure, which also won’t address education reform or cut waste and bureaucracy.
• Proposition 31: state budget, state and local government.
At its core, this measure seeks to revamp how California handles its budget. Prop 31 would set a two-year state budget (rather than one year) to encourage lawmakers to plan ahead and establish guidelines for balancing new expenditures and governing budget cuts in fiscal emergencies. A “yes” vote would prevent legislators from adding spending or making tax cuts without outlining how the changes would be offset. Additionally, all bills would have to be publicly available for three days before going to a vote, and local governments would be able to develop their own strategies for administering state programs. Proponents argue the bill would increase visibility and accountability in Sacramento, while opponents believe Prop 31 is badly flawed and will result in confusion and lawsuits.
• Proposition 32: political contributions by payroll deduction, contributions to candidates.
A “yes” vote on Prop 32 would prevent unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes like campaign contributions, effectively eliminating the organizations’ political clout. Supporters maintain the measure would cut ties between special-interest groups and politicians and make all employee political contributions voluntary. Opponents of the initiative point to exemptions for Super PACs and thousands of big businesses and claim the measure won’t remove money from politics and would only hinder the primary beneficiaries of union political contributions—mostly Democratic candidates.
• Proposition 33: auto-insurance companies set prices based on driver’s history of insurance coverage.
If this measure passes, auto insurance companies would be allowed to set premium prices based on the number of years in the previous five drivers were insured. Proponents point to the potential discount for drivers who are switching insurance companies, while opponents believe the measure is a guise for insurance companies to raise premiums on people who weren’t driving recently for legitimate reasons.
• Proposition 34: death penalty.
This measure would repeal the death penalty, which was reinstated in 1978, and replace it with life without parole. The repeal would apply retroactively to all state inmates who have been sentenced to death. Prop 34 would also direct $100 million to investigations of homicide and rape cases and save the state about $130 million annually within a few years. Supporters maintain the repeal would prevent innocent people from state-mandated execution and would make killers and rapists work to pay court-ordered restitution to victims and their families. Opponents decry allocating roughly $50,000 annually in taxpayer money to support offenders for the rest of their lives.
• Proposition 35: human trafficking penalties.
If approved, this initiative would impose harsher prison sentences and fines on those convicted of human trafficking and require human-trafficking convicts to register as sex offenders. Additionally, Prop 35 would require registered sex offenders to disclose Internet activities and identities. Those in favor claim the measure would be instrumental in the fight against human trafficking, while opponents contend it reaches too far, is misdirected and is an issue best tackled by the legislative process.
• Proposition 36: three strikes law, repeat felony offenders.
This measure would revise California’s repeat-felony-offender law to impose life sentences only when the third felony conviction is serious or violent. The law would apply retroactively to inmates serving life sentences whose third strike was nonviolent, allowing them to be re-sentenced for a shorter prison term. Proponents argue the law would still be tough on crime, as nonviolent offenders would get twice the ordinary prison sentence for their third strike, while rapists, murderers and other serious criminals would stay in prison for life. Opponents claim Prop 36 will release many dangerous criminals who were previously sentenced to life in prison for long histories of crime.
• Proposition 37: genetically engineered-foods labeling.
Prop 37 would require all food containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled as such and would prevent companies from labeling food containing GMOs—or other processed foods—as “natural.” Pro-labeling advocates argue consumers have the right to choose between food containing GMOs and truly natural products, while opponents of the measure believe it contains loophole exemptions, will create more unwieldy bureaucracy and increase grocery bills for consumers.
• Proposition 38: tax to fund education and early childhood programs.
This initiative would increase state tax revenue by roughly $10 billion annually in initial years—through higher taxes on earnings, based on a sliding scale—with funds allocated to K-12 schools, early childhood programs and repaying state debt. Proponents champion funding for local public schools and potential improved academic results, all while preventing legislators from using the funding elsewhere. Opponents decry the additional tax burden for those earning at least $7,316 annually and no requirements for improved student performance.
Against: no website
• Proposition 39: tax treatment for multi-state businesses, clean energy and energy-efficiency funding.
Prop 39 would take roughly $1 billion in income tax revenue from multi-state businesses (based on percentage of their sales in California) and allocate the funding to clean-energy projects for five years. Such businesses would no longer be allowed to choose the most favorable method for determining their state taxable income. Supporters say Prop 39 would close a loophole allowing out-of-state corporations to avoid taxes, while opponents believe it will unduly burden job creators.
• Proposition 40: redistricting state Senate.
A “yes” vote would uphold state Senate lines created by the voter-approved independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which gave citizens the power to draw district lines four years ago. Politicians made an attempt to regain districting authority with 2010’s similar Prop 27, which was defeated. No one is currently campaigning against Prop 40.