By Adrian T. Moore, Ph.D
15 October 2012
Executive SummaryIt is election season and that means Californians once again face a daunting package of ballot questions on difficult public policy issues. This year’s initiatives cover a wide range of topics including taxes, campaign contributions, criminal justice, budget reform, food labeling and much more. As has been the case in years past, the ballot measures are not always as straightforward as they first appear. Some are grounded on questionable assumptions and value judgments. Others, despite admirable motivations, would nevertheless lead to unintended or unforeseeable adverse consequences. Some of these initiatives would empower the government to restrict individual freedom and choice in the name of uncertain benefits. And several would further burden California taxpayers by dramatically expanding the size and scope of state government.
California’s unemployment rate is at 10.7 percent (as of July data), and the current state budget is already billions in the red due to shortfalls in tax collections. Voters are going to have to look seriously at the choices these initiatives represent.
The nonprofit and nonpartisan Reason Foundation evaluated the 11 initiatives on this year’s ballot. We provide a "plain English" summary of the arguments for and against each proposition, some information on supporters and opponents and funding of the campaigns, and some discussion of what Reason judges voters should think about when deciding on each proposition.
Here, in brief, is the 'free minds and free markets' perspective on each proposition.
Proposition 30: Governor Brown's Temporary Sales and Income Tax IncreaseA constitutional amendment that increases the state sales tax increase to 7.5% for 4 years and raises income taxes on the wealthy for 7 years to bring in an additional $6 to $9 billion each year.
- It does not guarantee more education funding. While Prop. 30 funds are dedicated to education, all the other funds in the education budget are not, so Sacramento can, as it has before, shift other money out of the education budget to displace incoming Prop. 30 funds.
- The 2012-2013 California budget is a record breaking $142.4 billion. Why, with record spending overall, is Sacramento cutting school funding? Sacramento doesn't need more money; they need to prioritize.
- Few things could be more harmful to the economy than raising taxes on millions of small businesses, as Prop. 30 does. When businesses have to pay more taxes, they hire fewer people and/or raise prices. California already has among the highest taxes in the nation.
- Why put more money into a system that doesn't use the money it has well? Less than 50% of K-12 funding goes into the classroom, the rest to administration and overhead. And at the University of California, in recent years while faculty grew by 33%, senior managers increased by 194% percent! If we give them more money, more money will go to administration and bureaucracy, not into classrooms.
Proposition 31: State Budget and Funding ReformsA bundle of budget and spending reforms, notably including shifting to a two-year budget instead of an annual budget, requiring cuts or new funds to balance any new spending, letting the governor make spending cuts in a fiscal emergency, requiring performance reviews and measures for state and local budgets, and publication of all bills at least 3 days prior to a vote.
- California does have a big problem with lack of oversight of spending programs, and hence with a lack of results. This would give the legislature the opportunity to conduct more oversight.
- Performance measures and reviews for budgets does bring new transparency to the process and makes it easier for voters, media, and watchdogs to understand where money is going and what is being done with it.
Proposition 32: Restrictions on Union and Corporate Campaign Contributions and Payroll Deductions for Political FundingProhibits unions, corporations and government contractors from contributing to candidates and their committees and from automatically deducting money from worker's paychecks to use for political purposes.
- Contribution restrictions are not best way to solve the problem of special interest politics, but they can have some effect.
- This initiative will likely not reduce spending on campaigns, but will shift much of it to indirect expenditures, which candidates do not control.
- This will force unions to convince members to donate to political efforts, rather than rely on default giving, so unions may have fewer resources to spend on politics.
- It will severely restrict the "pay to play" practice of government contractors giving to campaigns of officials who decide on contracts.
Proposition 33: Auto Insurance Based on Driver's History of Insurance Coverage
Allows insurance companies to offer customers switching from other companies a type of good customer discount for continuous coverage.
- It is ridiculous that the state decides what discounts an insurance company can and cannot offer. This is a step in the right direction of giving that discretion back to the companies.
- This will allow responsible people to pay lower rates. It may mean irresponsible people or those who chose not to insure to pay higher rates. That seems fair.
Proposition 34: Replace Death Penalty with Life in PrisonReplaces death penalty with life without parole. Applies retroactively. Requires murderers to work and pay restitution. Creates a new $100 million fund for unsolved homicide and rape cases.
• California’s death penalty is not working well. The average stay on death row is 20 years. It costs $90k more per year for each death row inmate than for ordinary inmates.
• 140 people on death row have been exonerated. We know the system is imperfect and sometimes condemns innocent people. Death is permanent; life in prison offers a chance.
• The money saved by not having to hold people in very expensive death row conditions is better used elsewhere.
Proposition 35: Increased Punishment for Human TraffickingIncreases punishments for people convicted of human trafficking. Makes sex traffickers register as sex offenders and requires registered sex offenders to disclose their Internet accounts.
- This does address a gap in the law around kidnapping and sex with minors that can allow traffickers to avoid prosecution.
- Making prostitution legal would substantially decrease incentives to traffic, and would free up lots of police resources for human trafficking.
- Unfortunately, since this bill could easily include consensual adult prostitution, it would undermine the usefulness of the sex offender registry.
Proposition 36: Reform of Three Strikes LawChanges Three Strikes so that criminals get a life sentence only when the third strike is "serious or violent" or is a certain kind of sex, drug or firearm offense. Allows resentencing some three-strikers whose third strike was not serious or violent, unless one of their strikes was for rape, murder or child molestation. Non-violent third-strikes would be punished with double the normal sentence for the crime committed.
- This initiative still punishes repeat offenders much more than first-time offenders. Three strikes appears to have reduced crime; will heavier sentences do as well?
- Life sentences do cost a lot. So does crime by recidivists.
- Things would be different if California did not have a 75% recidivism rate. California needs to focus on that more than how to lock more people up. Learn from other states that have much lower recidivism.
Proposition 37: Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods
Requires labeling of foods with GMOs. Prohibits labeling or advertising such food as "natural." Exempts labeling foods that are "certified organic," even if they do contain GMOs.
- GMOs are safe. Without exception, serious studies find GMOs do no harm, including reports by the International Council for Science, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.
- The many and bizarre exemptions to the labeling rule show this is not really about providing consumers with information, but rather about forcing some selected food producers to label their foods with a frightening label.
- The FDA argues that there is no scientifically valid process for determining if food contains GMOs or not, so it is unclear how this bill could be implemented.
Proposition 38: Tax Increase for School FundingIncreases income taxes on most Californians for 12 years to raise about $10 billion a year earmarked for schools and early childhood development.
• It does not guarantee more education funding. While Prop. 38 funds are dedicated to education, all the other funds in the education budget are not, so Sacramento can, as it has before, shift other money out of the education budget to displace incoming Prop. 38 funds.
- The 2012-2013 California budget is a record breaking $142.4 bn. Why, with record spending overall, is Sacramento cutting school funding? Sacramento doesn't need more money, they need to prioritize.
- Few things could be more harmful to the economy than raising taxes on millions of small businesses, as Prop. 38 does. When businesses have to pay more taxes, they hire fewer people and/or raise prices. California already has among the highest taxes in the nation.
- Why put more money into a system that doesn't use the money it has well? Less than 50% of K-12 funding goes into the classroom, the rest to administration and overhead. And at the University of California, in recent years while faculty grew by 33%, senior managers increased by 194% percent! If we give them more money, it will go to administration, not into classrooms.
Proposition 39: Tax Increase on Multistate Businesses and Funding Clean EnergyRequires multistate businesses to pay about $1 billion per year more taxes in California by removing a current loophole. Half of revenues go to green energy programs.
- Taxing business has a direct effect on job creation. This tax will reduce jobs.
- Taking money from companies that are producing jobs and growth and giving it to ones that require subsidies to grow does not create jobs.
- Did we learn nothing from Solyndra?
Proposition 40: Redistricting State Senate DistrictsA yes vote confirms the Citizens Redistricting Commission boundaries. A no vote overturns them and sends to courts to redraw.
- The people who wanted voters to vote NO on this withdrew. All parties want a YES vote on this initiative.
For a more detailed discussion of these Propositions, and their funding sources and supporter lists for pro and con, see California Voters' Guide: November 2012 Ballot Propositions at the Reason Foundation.