Inside the nine ballot propositions

Capitol Journal

Nine state propositions are on Tuesday’s ballot — all of them important, most of them wonky and sleep-inducing.

All are initiatives given life by voter signatures, collected mostly by special interests.

None is the progeny of the Legislature, although you’d never know that by the deceitful TV ads being run for and against some of the measures. (Examples: for Prop. 26; against Prop. 25.) The commercials conveniently attack California’s favorite target: " Sacramento politicians.”

Legislators are mostly just bystanders in these battles, with one notable exception: redistricting reform. Democratic lawmakers are cynically trying to kill it.


Half of you probably already have voted by mail. But for the remainder, here’s my Voters Guide, not to be confused with those slick home mailers for which political campaigns pay some phony group — “Democratic Republicans for Honest Politicians and Puppy Training” — to endorse their cause.

In numerical order, sort of:

• Prop. 19 is being sold as a measure to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

But although it would legalize use and limited possession of pot, there is no specific regulation or taxation included in the initiative. It would be up to 536 cities and counties to impose their own separate rules.


It’s already legal in California to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Backers say Prop. 19 would end the wasteful “war on drugs.” But there is no war on pot smoking in this state. Punishment is treated like a traffic fine, and cops basically don’t bother.

The drug cartels still would peddle heroin and meth.

And weed would continue to be outlawed by the feds.

Even if you favor the measure’s goals, Prop. 19 misses the mark. Instead, it would create more local bureaucracies to administer a chaotic hodgepodge of different dope regs.

• Props. 20 and 27 are about the same political life-and-death subject: redistricting. Prop. 20 would expand redistricting reform. Prop. 27 would blow it up.

Californians passed Prop. 11 in 2008 to strip from legislators the power to draw their own districts — meaning choose their own voters. The task was handed to an independent citizens commission. Prop. 20 would expand the reform to include congressional districts. Prop. 27 would scuttle the commission entirely and return self-interest gerrymandering to the Legislature.

Led by Rep. Howard Berman of Valley Village, Democratic House members want their legislative buddies to continue skewing districts in their favor because they fear reelection competition.


To continue reform, vote “yes” on Prop 20 and “no” on Prop. 27.

• Prop. 21 would impose an $18 surcharge on vehicle registration to boost annual funding for state parks and wildlife programs by at least $250 million. In return, the vehicles could enter state parks free.

This is “ballot box budgeting,” but not at its worst. It does generate a new revenue source to pay for the increased spending. And the parks are sick, suffering from $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance. The Legislature has been incapable of raising money to save parks. So voters now have the opportunity.

• Prop. 22 would halt state “raids” on local transportation and redevelopment funding. But it would cost the state billions of dollars. That would mean further cuts in education programs, among others.

What’s really needed is a comprehensive realignment of the roles and revenues of state and local governments. Prop. 22 would make that goal harder to reach.

• Prop. 23 would suspend indefinitely California’s landmark effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate global warming.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger argues that the state program will create “green” jobs in alternative energy and inspire a national fight against global warming. The other side contends that the California program will cost more jobs than it creates, but the research has been suspect.

Prop. 23 is largely bankrolled by two Texas oil companies, and that has a strong stench. Californians should tell them to butt out.


• Prop. 24 would repeal corporate tax breaks passed by the Legislature as parts of budget compromises.

Backers — mainly public employee unions — contend the state can’t afford the $1.3-billion tax “give away.” And they’re right.

But the politicians did cut a deal. They committed the state. And some corporations presumably believed them in sizing up California’s business climate. Should the state now renege even if the policy is bad?

Sure. Voters already last year unraveled most of the budget deal: the tax increases. California’s whole tax system needs to be overhauled. That’s when any tax breaks should be considered.

• Prop. 25 would reduce the legislative vote requirement for budget passage to a simple majority, while retaining the two-thirds vote needed for tax increases. It also would strip legislators of their pay for each day a budget was late.

The two-thirds requirement has increasingly led to budget gridlock as legislators — mainly Republicans — peddle their votes for pork and other goodies, including corporate tax breaks. Only two other states erect such a Herculean hurdle for budget passage.

Prop. 25’s opponents — mainly big business interests — aren’t publicly arguing about the budget vote. They’re trying to scare voters into believing the measure also would allow a majority vote for tax increases. It wouldn’t. And an appellate court has ruled that it wouldn’t.

• Prop. 26 — sponsored by the same lobby that opposes Prop. 25 — would redefine some current “fees” as “taxes.” Then they’d require a two-thirds majority vote to pass the Legislature or, if local fees, a vote of the people rather than elected officials.

This would mainly affect regulatory fees, stifling environmental protection and health safety programs. Moreover, the measure would make it virtually impossible to restructure state taxes. It’s the opposite of reform.

For details, read the secretary of state’s Official Voter Information Guide. Dump most of the other political mail.