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Cutting Through The Noise On California's Propositions

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"The realities of the initiative process today are that if you don't have money, you won't be able to get a statute or a constitutional amendment through"
- Professor Mary-Beth Moylan

At the turn of the last century, the California government was controlled by the Southern Pacific Railroad. "Bribery was the accepted method of doing business in the state capitol." As part of the movement to fight back and regain control, reformers ran for election and pushed through the changes that were needed. These included amending the state constitution in 1911 to allow initiatives, referendums, and recalls. The first significant statewide initiative in California abolished the poll tax in 1914.

In 2020, the experiment in citizen democracy has largely failed. Today's modern-day equivalents of the railroad industry have taken over the initiative process and poured money into trying to influence results. With the 2020 election still weeks away, "more than half a billion dollars has been spent on the 12 statewide propositions that voters will decide on this year." Of this, $200 million has been spent on "Proposition 22, a ballot initiative bankrolled by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and the like to override a new state law that requires their ride-hailing and delivery drivers to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors."

Trying to cut through the deceptive advertising and scare tactics, I looked at each of these propositions. This is what I found and how I decided to vote. Your results may vary.

PROP 14 Stem Cell Research
Authorizes bonds continuing stem cell research.

(Image by Carl J. Petersen)   Details   DMCA
I have two criteria that I use in considering the support of bond measures. The first is the appropriateness of the debt; is the measure the municipal version of credit card debt, which should be avoided whenever possible, or is it more like a mortgage, which is necessary to cover the cost of purchasing a long-term asset? Prop 14 clearly falls into the mortgage-like category as the benefits of this spending will last long after the funding has been repaid. The use of long-term funding is further bolstered by the fact that the measure also includes the possibility that the projects it funds may result in future revenue for the state.

Having passed that hurdle, the next consideration is the soundness of the investment. If we had a well functioning federal government, this proposition would not be necessary. As the opponents point out in the official voter pamphlet: "The National Institute of Health provides $1.5 billion a year to grants to fund the same type of research." Unfortunately, this funding is under constant attack due to the fact that stem cell research has been sucked into the never-ending battle over abortion rights. Just last year the Trump administration drastically slashed funding for this type of research. Therefore, this proposition is needed to ensure that California continues to be a leader in innovation.

PROP 15 Schools and Communities First Funding Measure

Increases funding sources for public schools, community colleges, and local government services by changing tax assessment of commercial and industrial property.

(Image by Carl J. Petersen)   Details   DMCA
This proposition would restore balance to property taxes that are paid by large corporations. It is a much-needed update to PROP 13 that would eliminate loopholes that favor the top 10% of the state's commercial properties while keeping in place protections for all residential properties, including those that provide rental income. The resulting revenues will help increase educational funding so that California is no longer ranked "at or near the bottom" of education spending when compared to other states. "California funds education at a level of about 72% of the national average, and less than half that of New York."

PROP-15: You shouldn't pay more in property taxes for your castle than Disney pays for theirs.
PROP-15: You shouldn't pay more in property taxes for your castle than Disney pays for theirs.
(Image by Carl J. Petersen)
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The argument against passing this measure is so weak that the official opposing statements in the Voter Information Guide resorted to disjointed fear-mongering. It is logically inconsistent to claim that the initiative will force "businesses that are barely surviving now to lay off employees and raise prices" while also complaining that "most funding won't arrive until 2025", but they did so anyway. They also argue that "PROP-15 hurts family farmers and [that] we all will end up paying higher costs for groceries including milk, eggs, and meat" when the wording of the measure specifically states that it "makes no change to existing laws affecting the taxation or preservation of agricultural land." The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association warns that "Prop 15 is a direct threat to homeowners" when the actual text makes clear that "all residential property is exempt so homeowners and renters will not be affected in any way by this measure."

PROP 16 Affirmative Action

Allows diversity as a factor in public employment, education, and contracting decisions.

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In a perfect society, we would all be judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin, the nationality of our ancestors, or by our religion or lack of one. The events of 2020 have reminded us that we are not perfect and that the "all men are created equal" promised by our founding parents remains aspirational. PROP-16 would bring our union closer to being "more perfect" by allowing our public institutions to ensure that they reflect the diversity of our state.

PROP 17 Voting Rights For Parolees

Restores the right to vote after completion of a prison term.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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