Tuesday, October 17, 2006

California General Election, November 7th, 2006

Hey gang! It’s nearly election time! That means it’s time for our irregular feature…


We start simply..

Statewide Partisan Offices: I’m voting the straight Democratic ticket – yeah, I’m kind of in a rut that way. I don’t expect Angelides will beat Schwarzenegger at this point, since Ahnold has done a good job of running back to the center after taking his licking in the special election, and Angelides hasn’t had a lot to say campaign-wise other than “Ahnold likes Bush! Ahnold likes Bush!” Which just ain’t much of a state plan.

I am amused, however, at the way the Democrats have reacted to the term limit laws, by shuffling portfolios around. Bustamante and Garamendi propose to trade jobs, while Lockyear moves from Attorney General to Teasurer, and John Chiang hops from State Board of Equalization to Controller. Yeah, those term limits sure eliminated the “professional politicians,” didn’t they?

Anyhow, to be specific: That’s’ Angelides for Governor, Garamendi for Lt. Governor, Bowen for Secretary of State, Chiang for Controller, Lockyear for Treasurer, Jerry Brown for Attorney General, Bustamante for Insurance Commissioner, and Christian-Heising for Board of Equalization (3rd District).

Legislative Offices: Again, going Democratic here. I should emphasize I think it’s particularly crucial to vote Democrat at the Federal level, to try to recapture at least one house of Congress so that we might have some oversight and put a few checks on the power of President Bush. (If you don’t think he needs any, then I can’t imagine why you’d be interested in my political recommendations, except perhaps to report me to Homeland Security.)

For me it’s: US Senate – Dianne Feinstein; House of Representatives, 53rd District – Susan Davis; State Assembly, 76th District – Lori Saldana.

Statewide Judicial Offices: So far I can’t find much information on the various California Supreme and Appellate court nominees. I’m open to opinions...

Assorted Local Offices: I’ve cribbed recommendations here from assorted sources; I’m open to comment/persuasion.

Superior Court, Office #36: Rod Shelton
SD Community College Board, District A: Maria Nieto Senour
SD Community College Board, District C: Rich Grosch
SD Community College Board, District E: Peter Zschiesche
SD Unified School Board, District B: Katherine Nakamura
SD Unified School Board, District C: John DeBeck

State Ballot Propositions: Now we get long-winded...

Prop 1A: This would limit conditions under which the state could borrow from gasoline tax revenues (which are earmarked for transportation uses) for other purposes, and require any loans that do occur to be repaid, with interest, within three years. As matters stand, the state has to repay any money borrowed from these funds with interest, which already discourages (or should) doing so unless there’s a budget crisis. This seems to be a move to further limit the budget options of the Legislature, something we’ve already done too much of. I say NO.

Prop 1B: Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security funding. A pretty big bond issue -- $20 billion (about $38 billion to repay, over 30 years). But good, necessary causes, I think. YES.

Prop 1C: Bonds for housing assistance of various kinds. YES.

Prop 1D: Bonds for public education. The usual education bonds, the usual answer from us damn liberals: YES.

Prop 1E: Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention bonds. I love the bit in the “argument against” where the author first complains that too much of the money goes to local community projects that should be paid for by local districts, not state funds – then in the very next paragraph, says we should demand more federal funds. Oy. YES.

Prop 83: “Jessica’s Law” – oh no, if I vote against this, I hate children, right? *sigh*. GPS monitoring of “sexual predators” for LIFE? A requirement that all registered sex offenders live at least 2,000 feet away from schools and parks, which might force many of them out of urban areas altogether? (And of course, neither of those provisions helps in the least against those whose victims are their own relatives…) I expect this will almost certainly pass, but where do we draw the line? If sex offenders are so dangerous they have to be monitored 24/7, why aren’t we just keeping them in prison for life anyway? (Don’t worry, that will be on the 2008 ballot…) Sorry, Jessica, but NO.

Prop 84: Water Quality bonds. Have I mentioned, by the way, how tired I am of the arguments for and against these bond issues on the subject of taxes? The arguments against always scream that the measure will increase taxes, while the arguments against insist they can provide services without raising taxes. Both sides are, IMO, being somewhat misleading. The “for” people make it sound like free money, which it isn’t. But neither does passing a bond measure make a tax increase inevitable, as long as over-all debt is held down to a reasonable level that the budget can cope with.

Anyway, I kind of like clean water, so YES.

Prop 85: Parental notification before abortions are performed for minors. Didn’t we vote on this already? Well, yes, we did, actually, but the anti-choice folks don’t give up that easily. While I admit to some qualms about minors getting medical treatments without their parents being notified, these are easily trumped by my feeling that no one, adult of minor, should be forced to have a child they don’t want to have. Please vote NO again. Thanks.

Prop 86: A new tobacco tax, this one a whopping 13 cents per cigarette -- $2.60 per pack. My informal research shows that cigarettes currently go for about $3-5 per pack, so that’s a pretty substantial price increase. I am very much an anti-smoker. I have voted for higher cigarette taxes in the past. And I really dislike voting the way the tobacco companies want me to. But I have some hesitation about this one. Since tobacco use rates tend to be higher amongst minorities and the poor, this amounts to a huge and very regressive tax. Someone who smokes a pack a day ends up paying $950 a year in extra taxes. For someone who makes a couple of hundred thousand dollars, that may seem trivial, but for someone making, say, $15-20,000, that’s a pretty big chunk of their income. Sure, it’s easy to say they can avoid it merely by giving up smoking. But that’s not so easy. I’ve never smoked, so I don’t really know how difficult it is – but I find my own bad habits pretty hard to break, even without the factor of being physically addictive. Raising taxes on these people makes me feel a little bit like a heroin dealer who doubles the price on his customers once they’re hooked.


Proponents claim that studies show the tax will reduce and prevent smoking; that half a million Californians who smoke will quit; that hundreds of thousands of kids who haven’t yet started, won’t; that those who do smoke will smoke less. I’m not sure I believe all their numbers – but even if you cut them in half, that’s still one hell of an incentive to vote for this. Plus the money goes to some good places that need it badly.

(As an aside, I’m trying to not be overly influenced by the horrendous piece of mathematical manipulation the opponents have been using. Under current state law, you see, 40% of any new tax revenue must go to education. But this proposition, expected to raise about $2 billion, exempts itself from that requirement. So, the opponents say, passing it will TAKE $800 MILLION AWAY FROM THE SCHOOLS!!!! …never mind that it’s money that won’t exist unless the proposition is passed. I laughed out loud when I first read that one, but I wonder how many people will buy it.)

I’m still a bit torn. But I think I have to vote YES.

Prop 87: A tax on oil production, from 1.5-6.0%, depending on the market price per barrel, with the funds going to assorted alternative energy projects. The ads from the opponents on this one make it sound like it will be applied directly at the pump, which it will not. On the other hand, I have to shake my head at the law’s provision that the tax can’t be passed along to consumers – the way gas prices go up and down for no apparent reason, how the hell would they ever prove it? However, the legislative analyst points out it may be self-administering, since if the tax pushes the price of California-produced oil higher than other sources, refineries will just buy the oil from elsewhere.

In any case, even if it *were* being applied at the pump, I’d pay a few extra cents per gallon for alternative energy programs. And I drive a lot. I’m voting YES.

Prop 88: An extra property tax of $50 per parcel, set to go to education funding. Interestingly, the local Democratic party is recommending a no vote on this one, calling it “the wrong solution.” I do think it’s a sort of inadequate attempt to make up for the under-taxation on property created by Prop 13. Maybe some money is better than none, but I’m inclined to go NO unless someone persuades me otherwise.

Prop 89: An interesting one; a small tax on corporations (0.2%) to provide public campaign funding. I’ve come to believe that public financing of election campaigns is a good idea. It won’t eliminate all corruption or the influence of moneyed special interest in politics, no – but nothing will. It’s a step in the right direction. True, candidates don’t have to accept the public financing, and assorted restrictions it places on them. However, for those who don’t, the measure introduces stricter donation limits, including on donations directly from political parties; and it provides that the publicly financed candidates get funding that matches theirs, dollar for dollar, up to a pretty generous limit. That means that every dollar any moneyed interest pours into a race assists both sides equally – creating a built-in disincentive for spending too much.

I don’t think the measure is perfect. Funding it from corporate taxes seems a bit arbitrary. I’d rather it was financed by individual taxes, but then it probably would never pass – even though it seems very likely that it will save taxpayers a great deal of money in the long run, through “payoffs” from politicians to donors that would never happen. And I’m not so sure about the way it tries to limit spending on ballot measures, as opposed to candidates; and I’m not convinced it’s necessarily constitutional.

However, I think I’m willing to vote YES on it anyhow, and let the chips fall.

Prop 90: They’re trying to sell this one as a measure to stop the abuse of the eminent domain law – something I’m not convinced is that substantial a problem. But they threw in a bit that requires government to “pay property owners for substantial economic losses resulting from some new laws and rules,” which seems to me to be opening the door for God only knows how many lawsuits. NO.

Local Measures: for me, that’s San Diego County and City.

SD County Prop A: An advisory vote, asking if the airport authority should work to try to obtain some use of land at MCAS Miramar for a commercial airport. Almost certainly pointless, as the Marines have made it pretty clear they’re not moving and are not interested in a joint-use proposal. I will probably vote YES anyway because I think it makes by far the most sense as a location for a bigger airport. But maybe it would be better to tell them to forget it so they can go about finding another solution.

City Prop B: Would require the voters to approve increases in city employee’s retirement benefits (other than for cost of living). I am trying to imagine voters ever actually doing that, no matter how well merited. Considering we already underpay some of our city employees (police, for instance) this strikes me as a bad idea. NO.

City Prop C: Would allow for some services currently provided by city employees to be contracted out, if doing so is more economical and maintains at least equal quality of service. I’m apprehensive (so often, private companies appear to offer cheaper and better services, but in the long run do not; and of course it opens the doors for assorted kinds of abuse), and inclined to vote NO, but I’m not sure I’m right.

SD Community College District, Prop N: a local bond measure for assorted upgrades to local community colleges. I’d have been inclined to support this anyway, but when I read the argument against, I came across the sentence, “There is no reason for community colleges to be so much cheaper than state colleges such as SDSU.” If people who think that way are the only ones they could find to oppose the measure, it must be good. YES.

And that would seem to be that for my sample ballot. Let the debate begin!