|Sensible opinions on the California ballot propositions since 1980 by Pete Stahl|
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Prop. 68 - SOON
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Pete Rates the Propositions
Proposition 181: $1 Billion Rail Bonds – YES
Here's my semi-biennial lecture on bonds. When California wants to finance a large project, it asks the voters for permission to take out a loan. Prop 181 is just such a request. If the voters approve, the legislature may take out a loan to build rail transit systems by selling general obligation bonds, which are paid back with interest over 20 to 30 years. The bond payments come out of the state's main budget. the General Fund. So when we vote on the bonds, we are really voting on whether the project in question ought to be added to the state's budget.
"Wait a minute!" I hear you cry. "What about those interest payments? Won't we end up paying more for interest than for the bonds themselves?" This used to be the case, but in the current financial climate each dollar of bond money will cost only nineteen cents in interest, accounting for inflation. (See page 62 of your first ballot pamphlet for details.)
"Okay," you admit, "but loans are still more expensive than pay-as-you-go." It's true, they are. But you've got to have loans to buy a house, or a car, or anything else that you need immediately but can't pay for yet. It's worth paying the premium of interest to get the funding now.
"Well and good," you continue, "but there are a billion dollars in bonds in Prop 181. Isn't that too much to borrow?" For you, yes, but the State of California can handle it. Current bond payments total about 5.3% of the General Fund. Prop 181 would raise it to just 5.6%, still within reasonable limits.
Prop 181 will fund only long-lived, tangible acquisitions, like land, tracks and trains. It's sensible to make extended payments for items that will be used far into the future. Remember, too, that California's population continues to skyrocket at the rate of half a million people a year. Borrowing makes particular sense if you know your income will go up in the future. As the state grows and the economy recovers, the General Fund will certainly grow too.
End of bond lecture. So what’s Prop 181 about? Prop 181 will raise $1 billion to improve rail transit in California. The money will be used to acquire rights-of-way and rail cars, and to build and improve passenger rail lines, overpasses and terminals. The specific projects are listed on p. 63 of your first Proposition Fun Book. They range from the 400-mile, Los Angeles-to-Oakland Amtrak line to the cute little trolley connecting the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk with the nearby UC campus. Prop 181 is the third of three billion-dollar bonds in the state's 1989 long-range transportation plan. (The first was 1990's Prop 108, which passed; the second was 1992's Prop 156, which failed.)
If you've read the less-inflammatory-than-usual argument against 181 in the ballot pamphlet, you may have doubts about this measure. The argument goes that rail transit cannot work in California because our population density is insufficient and travel corridors aren't well-defined; that's why ridership levels are so low. This argument is very shortsighted. We might not have the density for rail today, but with our explosive population growth it won't take long for us to reach it. Once the rail lines are there, new residential and industrial developments will spring up to take advantage of them, just as they did with the freeways. If you doubt it, just ask any resident of Walnut Creek or Concord, thriving cities that barely existed when the BART rail system first reached them in the '70s. Prop 181 will build up the rail infrastructure so the California lifestyle can gradually turn away from the private automobile, and we'll all benefit from that.
Proposition 182 does not exist.
Proposition 183: Combining Recall Elections with General Elections – YES
In your state Assembly district, in the state of California,
Proposition 184: Preventing Amendment of the ''Three Strikes, You're Out" Law – NO
In March Governor Wilson signed the "Three Strikes, You're Out" law, greatly lengthening the sentences for felons with prior convictions for violent or serious felonies. As it now stands, "Three Strikes" is an ordinary statute, and thus may be amended by the state legislature with a simple majority vote and the governor's assent. Prop 184 will protect the "Three Strikes" law by requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a vote of the people to change it.
I'll skip any argument on the merits of "Three Strikes" itself. That's not at issue here. If 184 fails, "Three Strikes" will still be the law in California. If you dislike "Three Strikes," you can file a protest "no" vote on 184, but I doubt anyone in Sacramento will notice, given today's political climate of hysterical anti-crime posturing. "Three Strikes" remains an enormously popular law. The protections 184 adds are totally unnecessary, I assure you.
The reason I oppose Prop 184 is that it limits the government's flexibility. Maybe "Three Strikes" is a good idea, but it's too soon to be certain. Who's to say that, five years from now, we won' t find there's an even better way of dealing with violent felons? If we discover, say, that solitary conferment for the second violent offense is a more effective deterrent to violent crime, Prop 184 will make it harder for us to enact that strategy. Or if ''Three Strikes" proves to cost too much or have unintended side effects, 184 will make it much more difficult to adjust the law. Because this law is so new and sweeping, it's only sensible to see how it well it works before we carve it in stone.
Proposition 185: 4% Gasoline Tax for Mass Transit – YES
Prop 185 will increase gasoline taxes about five cents a gallon, creating a new transportation fund worth more than $600 million a year. About a quarter of this will fund improvements in existing transportation systems, mostly earthquake reinforcement of highways and bridges. This is important funding, as we learned in January's Northridge quake. The failure of Prop 1A in June didn't help; this will. Other improvements include synchronization of traffic signals, bike paths, pedestrian bridges, and railroad bridges/underpasses to avoid dangerous street-level railroad crossings.
Abut half of Prop 185's proceeds will fund new rail projects. This is similar to Prop 181, but the two measures can complement each other. (See the last two paragraphs of Prop 181 above for my position on rail transit.) Prop 185's pet rail project is a 150-miles-per-bour coastal rail link from San Francisco to Los Angeles, via San Jose, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. This particular line might be a bit of a boondoggle, but the other rail improvements offered by 185—extensions to BART and CalTrain, improvements for the San Diego-to-Los Angeles corridor, and a Long Beach-to-Los Angeles freight line that would take traffic off L.A. County freeways—are enough to make me forgive it.
Lastly, Prop 185 allocates a quarter of the money it collects for the operations of transit systems throughout the state. This will allow systems to initiate or continue services which are crucial but may not be cost-effective, such as paratransit services for the elderly and disabled. Operating funds are not available from bonds like Prop 181, but 185's sales taxes are a dandy source of operations revenue.
These are fine ideas, I'm sure you'll agree, but is it worth jacking up the tax on gasoline? Well, let me put it to you this way: Twenty years from now, when our state's population has grown 50%, from 30 million to 45 million, chances are your city will have no more freeways than it does now. That's reality. If you find the prospect of a 50% increase in traffic somehow distasteful, you'd better start paying for some palatable transportation alternatives now. To do otherwise would simply be hiding your head in the sand.
Proposition 186: Single Payer Health Insurance – YES
If you're like me, you're appalled and disgusted with the negativism of this election. Campaigns for high office degenerate into petty name-calling. Ballot measures propose to lock people in prison or deny them public services. Discouraged voters struggle to understand it all, just so they can pick the lesser of two evils. It’s a sorry state. Prop 186 is different. Prop 186 gives you the opportunity to do something positive and good: to insure the health of every person in California.
Prop 186 will transform our health insurance system from today's incomprehensible patchwork quilt covering only 80% of Californians into a single agency covering one and all. A single payer for health care. The single payer will supplant Medicare, Medi-Cal, and private insurance companies. It will be funded by the same sources that currently pay for health care: the federal and state governments, employers, and citizens like you and me. As far as we're concerned, the major differences between the current system and life under Single-Payer will be:
Prop 186 is not socialized medicine. It's not even close. 186 covers only the insurance side. Those involved with health care delivery—your doctor, your local hospital, clinics and HMOs—are unaffected by Prop 186. They will simply send their bills to (or collect their salaries from) the new agency instead of Prudential, Kaiser, Medi-Cal, or wherever they currently do. And you and I will probably have more freedom to choose caregivers under 186 than we do now. This is a far cry from socialized medicine like the British system.
What other objections to Prop 186 have you heard? That it will cost too much? I doubt it. Prop 186 continues total statewide spending on health services at its present level, but reduces the amount of money we need to pay for it. How? Consider: Of every dollar you or your employer now pays in private health insurance premiums, over 25 cents is gobbled up by sales commissions, advertising, corporate profits and administration. Existing single-payer systems, however, hold administration costs to under five percent. The savings in overhead alone is estimated at over $20 billion annually.
Six million Californians currently have no health insurance. Does that mean they don' t receive any medical care? No, it means they don' t get any regular care, but wait until their condition worsens to the point that they require expensive emergency care, which is paid for by the government. Since Prop 186 covers much more cost-effective preventive care for everybody, the single payer will probably cause huge savings in reduced emergency-room costs.
Maybe you've heard that Prop 186 will cause rationing of health care services. Not so. The single payer agency will act exactly as your insurance company does now, negotiating fees with doctors and hospitals, holding costs down so it can provide the greatest amount of service for the money. If there are any limitations on what treatments the single payer will pay for, they will probably be no worse than what your insurance company or HMO bas now.
Perhaps you've wondered whether Prop 186 will act as a magnet, drawing huge throngs of icky sick people to our state just for the free medical care. That ain't the case. 186 allows the Legislature to define residency requirements for those receiving single-payer benefits. You can be sure they’ll be as xenophobic as the public demands, egged on by those currently supporting Prop 187. They'll slam the door hard on outsiders wanting a free slice of our pie.
Or maybe you've heard that Prop 186 will impose unreasonable burdens on small businesses. Untrue. The only businesses who will see their costs go up significantly are those not now providing health insurance benefits to their employees. These businesses are shirking their responsibility under the current system; Prop 186 simply makes sure they pay their fair share. Most businesses will actually see their health care expenditures reduced by 186, especially in the area of workers compensation (since they will no longer have to pay separately for the health-care component).
If you can, read the first page of Prop 186, on p. 75 of the black ballot pamphlet. Written by Vishnavath Lingappa of UCSF, it's the most readable bill I've ever seen. (Any bill containing the word "hodgepodge" can't be all bad!) Our current scheme of health insurance only for the healthy, the wealthy and the employed doesn’t make sense, ethically or economically. Prop 186 does. Prop 186 will free unhappy souls from being locked into their jobs just for the insurance. It will free families from worrying about financial ruin due to a catastrophic illness. And it will free all of us from having our policies suddenly canceled by a self-interested private insurance industry. 186 is a genuinely good thing to do. It's an oasis on your ballot. Vote for it.
Proposition 187: Denial of Public Services to Illegal Aliens ("Save Our State") – NO
Prop 187 seeks to address the problem of California's one to two million illegal immigrants by denying them state-funded public services. Exactly what "problem" 187 is supposed to solve evades me, though. Because for the problems I can see, Prop 187 will actually make things worse.
Under 187, illegal aliens will be denied all publicly-funded health care except for emergencies. Furthermore, anyone who seems like an illegal alien must be reported to the INS and the state Attorney General's office. What problem will this solve? That California spends over $100 million a year on indigent health, prenatal and elderly care for illegals. But it costs much less to provide preventive care early than to treat emergencies later. Denying cheap prenatal care to an expectant illegal immigrant could cost the state thousands of dollars later for the hospital care of her premature infant. This is called penny-wise, pound-foolish, and I don' t think it solves any "problems."
Worse yet, by requiring clinics and hospitals to breach the confidentiality of patients' records by reporting "suspected" illegal aliens, California stands to lose over $9 billion in federal matching funds for Medi-Cal. Let's see: save maybe $200 million, lose $9 billion ... seems to solve the "problem" ... not.
This is to say nothing of the public health nightmare that will result from epidemics of preventable diseases, like cholera and dysentery, that will spread from the migrant farm workers' camps because public health agencies will be unable to prevent them under Prop 187. Even if you think these poor souls deserve all the agony these diseases will bring, remember that they will have touched the fruit and vegetables you put on your dinner table. Do you still think it's worth the risk? Pardon the alarming tone, but my point is that denial of basic health care to these people may affect us all.
Under 187, illegal aliens will be denied Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). As with health care, welfare workers will be required to report suspected illegals to INS and the Attorney General. What problem will this solve? That state and local governments now spend over $50 million a year on social services for illegal aliens. But, once again, Prop 187’s reporting requirements violate federal regulations on confidentiality, so the state would lose $3 billion in federal funds for the AFDC program. I doubt this would solve any "problem."
Under 187, illegal aliens will be denied places in California's public schools. And. yes, any children the schools cannot verify as legal must be reported to the authorities. This is cold-hearted and cruel—surely these schoolchildren haven' t knowingly and willfully violated the U. S. immigration laws. But it solves the problem of the $1.2 billion spent in this state each year educating illegal alien children. Or does it? The U. S. Supreme Court has already ruled (Plyler v. Doe) that excluding illegal immigrant children from public schools is unconstitutional. So we won't save the $1.2 billion, but we will spend millions appealing this provision through the courts, and we will spend $100 million verifying the citizenship/legal status of all 5,300,000 California schoolchildren. Once again, hardly a good solution to a problem.
You may have heard that Prop 187 aims to solve the problem of the 125,000 new illegal aliens arriving here annually by making California less attractive to illegals. I'm afraid it will take more than denial of free school, medical care and welfare to accomplish this. Think about it: in places like El Salvador, people don't worry about free education and health care: they worry about avoiding being massacred by the army, finding potable water and getting a job for a dollar a day. They must work hard just to survive: becoming comfortable is out of the question. To these people, California is a dreamland of hope and boundless opportunity. Even if they fail in California, life would be sweeter than it is at home. Prop 187’s restrictions mean nothing to them, just as our immigration laws mean nothing. It's ludicrous to believe Prop 187 will stop people from flocking to this state illegally.
At its core, Prop 187 is not about stopping illegal immigration. Instead, Prop 187 is about money. Pete Wilson and the other 187-backers want the federal government to pick up the tab for the services California provides to illegal aliens, thus easing the annual state budget crises that have now become routine. But Prop 187 puts our stale government into a game of "chicken" with the federal government. And it's a game we will lose, because Sacramento is driving a Volkswagen while Washington's in a steamroller. There is no indication that the feds will back down from the requirements outlined above, and the state will have to forfeit over $10 billion, with disastrous results. I won' t even go into the racist connotations of 187, or the new layers of expensive citizenship-verification bureaucracies it will spawn, or the distraction it will cause law-enforcement agencies from dealing with more serious crimes. Suffice it to say that Prop 187 won't make any problems better in California; it will just make a lot of things worse.
Proposition 188: Weakening Anti-Smoking Laws – NO
Yes means no and no means yes. Passage of Prop 188 will weaken existing smoking laws in California, repeal stricter local ordinances, and prevent the legislature from enacting more anti-smoking laws. If you want to limit smoking, you must vote "no" on 188 to retain the current laws and allow stronger ones in the future.
If, on the other hand, you view smoking as a personal choice and a matter of liberty, follow me here. I'm all for protecting our civil liberties, and if smoking were "victimless," I might even oppose attempts to regulate it (public health funding issues aside). But second-hand smoke has now been conclusively shown to be harmful; no one except tobacco companies disputes this any more. So even if smokers do have the right to kill themselves slowly with tobacco smoke, clearly they do not have right to impose their toxic smoke on others. That would be tantamount to saying that it's all right to kill yourself by blowing yourself up in a crowded supermarket.
Prop 188 discards protections for non-smokers that Governor Wilson signed into law earlier this year, substituting weaker guidelines that would take two-thirds of the Legislature to change. 188 relaxes the ventilation standards for workplaces that allow smoking, and overrides the statewide ban on smoking in restaurants that’s scheduled to take effect next year. Prop 188 repeals the Indoor Clean Air Act of 1976. If the rights of life (as in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) include the right not to have one's body involuntarily damaged by another’s cigarette smoke, then Prop 188 is no civil libertarian's friend.
Proposition 189: Denial of Bail to Suspects Charged with Sexual Assault – YES
Part of the crime package passed by Congress this year is the federal Violence Against Women Act, which includes special funding to states for the prosecution of sexual criminals, as well as services (such as counseling) for their victims. The catch is that in order for California to receive this money, our laws must conform to federal guidelines allowing courts to deny bail to those accused of felony sexual assault. Prop 189 does just that, adding sexual assault to the list of crimes for which judges may deny bail when the evidence appears clear and the likelihood of further harm is great.
There's no question that sexual assault is under-reported and thus under-prosecuted. One of the main reasons for this is that victims fear further harassment while the perpetrators are out on bail awaiting trial. Prop 189 will help eliminate that fear, and thus increase the likelihood that an assault or rape victim will come forward. The availability of victim services funded by the Violence Against Women Act may also encourage victims to come forward. Sexual assault is a crime of violence equal in severity with the other crimes for which bail can currently be denied. Prop 189 recognizes that fact, and may lead to more prosecutions in such cases.
Proposition 190: Judicial Commission Reform – YES
Judge Wapner signed the ballot argument against Prop 190. What more do you want to know?
Okay, maybe you want to know this: Last year about a thousand misconduct complaints were filed against California judges. These complaints are heard by the state Commission on Judicial Performance. The Commission meets in private, rules on the complaints in private, and when it finds misconduct or dereliction of duty, usually issues reprimands in private. Prop 190 will open the Commission's proceedings to the public. I can see that airing dirty judicial robes might decrease the respect we have for the courts in general and the guilty judges in particular, And it might give certain sleazeballs the chance to smear a judge by falsely accusing him or her of some sensational wrongdoing. But on balance, opening the process to the public seems reasonable, considering that it's the public that must vote to confirm judges. We publics can use all the information we can get.
The Commission currently does not have the power to do more than slap a judge's wrists. Serious cases of judicial misconduct must be referred to the state Supreme Court, which can censure or fire misbehaving judges. Prop 190 transfers all disciplinary authority to the Commission (although findings may be appealed to the Supreme Court). Some feel the current scheme of "judges judging judges" may be akin to the inmates running the asylum. I'm not so sure; in cases of serious infraction, I think we can probably trust judges to be impartial, even with their peers. But I'd rather see the Commission, which specializes in judicial misconduct, handle the cases, and let the Supreme Court, which lacks the time, interest and expertise in such matters, concentrate on other issues.
Prop 190 will change the composition of the Commission, reducing the number of members appointed by the Supreme Court and increasing those appointed by the Governor and Legislature. Once again, the intent is to lessen the amount of self-policing by the judiciary: instead of a majority of judges, the Commission will now have mostly members of the public. I can't say this makes much difference to me, but if you think there may be an old-boy network among the state's judges that prevents judicial infractions from being punished appropriately, consider this just another reason to vote for Prop 190.
Proposition 191: Conversion of Justice Courts to Municipal Courts – YES
California has a five-tiered court system: the state Supreme Court, courts of appeal, superior courts, municipal courts and justice courts. Prop 191 will eliminate the bottom tier, converting all 37 justice courts to municipal courts. Since the passage of Prop 91 in 1988, justice courts have been virtually identical to municipal courts, and no one bas complained. There seems to be no reason to perpetuate what has become largely a historical distinction, so rule in favor of 191 and award it your vote.