2018 Vote #3: Greg’s Choices on the Blasted PROPOSITIONS


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[Read more, as usual, on Ballotpedia’s entries on these propositions!]

The ballot question regarding how much space should be allowed to egg-laying chickens is among the … wait … I’m being told that this photo applies to a different proposition. I can’t see the image from here, but I’m guessing … maybe rent control? No? Housing bond?  Daylight savings time?

The main reason that my ballot hasn’t been mailed in yet, despite Gil Cisneros’s team of excited volunteers reminding me twice a day that I have to vote , is because of the blasted, which this year are particularly confusing and often close calls.  I’m still not entirely confident in my conclusion on them, although I will offer them, but I feel pretty good about my analysis of them — and maybe this will help to clarify your thinking as readers.  We’ll start with the bond measures, Propositions 1-4.

OVERVIEW OF THE BOND MEASURES

But first, this prologue:

You can skip this section if you want to cut to the chase, but I think it’s useful for voters to understand. Here are two opposing views, both of which are true:

Bonds are a rotten way for the state to raise money.  A 30-year bond will roughly double the money eventually spent on whatever is being built. The main driver for major bond measures (that is, not so much school bonds) is that investors want opportunities to invest money safely and tax-free.

If the state wants to raise money, it has to use bonds because anti-tax zealots imposed supermajority vote requirements  to close off almost every other avenue to do so.   First, anti-tax zealots want to require as many revenue measures as possible go to the ballot, which generally now means November (though sometimes June) of even-numbered years.  Second, Prop 13 requires a 2/3 votes on new taxes imposed by the legislature.  Third, a later proposition closed a loophole that Democrats used under former Senate Majority Leader Darrel Steinberg by requiring that increases in fees would also require a 2/3 vote.  The main remaining avenues for the state to raise money that come to mind are fines (a favorite of cities) and selling off property, which one may recall was what Gov. Schwarzenegger tried to do in the waning days of his administration.  Selling off property — not just in this case, but in bankruptcy, is a very popular choice among the wealthy because guess who has the money to buy off public assets at fire sale prices?

My conservative colleagues and commenters here who have already begun mentally composing their rebuttals of me will be quick to point out that the state has another way to increase its amounts of money for projects: don’t spend so much money!   That’s true, but there are three problem with this:

  1. Not spending money — say, on maintenance and repair — can cost us more in the long run
  2. Identification of “wasted” money in the state budget is often vague, ill-informed, and spurious
  3. This inevitably has a conservative tilt, with money still being spent on causes such as beefing up police and prosecution and jails, but not on liberal causes such as taking care of the vulnerable and aggregating money for large expenditures that would save members of the public money.

The way that “‘John Chiang’ or ‘green eyeshades’ progressives,” for lack of a better term — basically ones who value both frugal efficiency where possible and ambitious spending where appropriate — is to call for us to do a better job with addressing the second problem.  Hand-waving dismissals of government programs and inherently wasteful and bogus, with “let them eat cake” suggestions that the government can just shuffle around its priorities in ways that everyone knows will not happen, do not impressive.  BUT, closely examining spending and riding herd on politicians to make sure that government does not become a path to enrich elected officials and their donors IS good and necessary — and is, in fact, where most writers and commenters here on OJB, from across and up and down the ideological spectrums, find common ground.  So with that in mind, here are the bond proposals.

One other preliminary observation: debates over revenue generally involve apportioning burdens and benefits among past, present, and future residents.  Voters or legislators in the past have identified various projects as being worth investments of previous taxpayers (as well as, when they pass bonds, present and future ones) — to what extent do we feel bound by their will?  But the biggest fight is between present and future — the very issue that, under the first Brown Administration, led to the Prop 13 movement in the first place when he tried to build up the state’s reserves so that it would not need to tax future residents as heavily in the (then-)future.  The purest example of the bias towards rewarding the present (which to my mind typifies conservative thinking from fiscal policy to climate change) is to take a surplus of funds and rebate it to taxpayers now — because “we paid too much” — regardless of whether that means that future taxpayers will end up paying a whole lot more due to our failure to provide for the future.

Putting it bluntly: if we think that the state should do XYZ with its money, should it be paid for by present taxpayers or all or in part by future taxpayers?  (Or “fee” or “fine” payers, as discussed above.)  That’s what you’re really asking yourself when we consider a bond payment — bearing in mind that unless there is a 2/3 supermajority in both houses in the state legislature for an expenditure, making the choice not to shove it onto future   OK, let’s take on those bond measures now:

PROPOSITION 1 — YES

$4 billion to build or renovate affordable housing for low-income Californians, veterans, and farmworkers.

Is it going to happen without this bond measure?  Probably not to the same degree.

Is it worthwhile?  Yes, although limiting it solely to these groups is a bit skeevy.  Why not “low-income” period?

Is it a fair apportionment of burdens between present and future?   Housing lasts for quite a while, so I’d say it is.

The argument against here would be that it allows for profiteering by developers.  That is a serious issue, and it demands watching how the money is spent closely and banging on excess profiteering.

PROPOSITION 2 — YES

$2 billion to build or renovate housing for homeless Californians with mental illness

Same thing, different sympathetic group.  Most of us seem to agree that we need more housing; we are not likely to get what we need without some priming of the pump.  I don’t like it either, but: yes.

PROPOSITION 3 — NO

$8.8 billion to fund water and environmental projects.

I had thought that I’d support this — I tend to be more sympathetic than many environmentalists for Republican plans for greater water storage, though the arguments that there are better alternatives to big reservoirs has merit — but lots of environmentalists have read the fine print and decided that it is likely to do more harm than good.  If so, let’s not borrow this money.  It’s unclear to me (and seems to be disputed) whether this is a sneaky way of pushing through the Governor’s pet “twin tunnels” plan to bring water south from the Sacramento delta area — if it is, that makes me oppose it more.  If it isn’t, proponents should have made that more clear.

PROPOSITION 4 — YES

$1.5 billion to construct, expand, renovate, and equip children’s hospitals.

To a great extent this seems to involve earthquake retrofitting, which to me is a very appropriate use of bonds.  I expect that the only reasons that this is a ballot proposition rather than being paid for out of general funds are that (1) it is a bit unfair to make present taxpayers cover the full cost of something that will largely benefit future taxpayers and (2) legislators expect this very sympathetic measure to pass.

ON BEYOND THE BOND MEASURES

PROPOSITION 5 — NO

Lets homeowners over 55 transfer their current property tax discount when they purchase a more expensive home as many times as they do so.  Estimated to cost schools, cities, and counties $2 billion a year in funding

I had expected to favor this until I read discussions pointing out two things: (1) they can already keep this benefit once, when they downsize after the kids leave and such, and (2) do we really need to help out people who are “downsizing” into more expensive homes?  Beyond that is (3) all this does is put them on the same footing as anyone else who moves — and is that so bad?  Realtors are apparently big on this because it would lead to more home sales and thus more commissions — but I don’t think we should pass new laws taking away tax money from government just to make Realtors happy.

PROPOSITION 6 — NO

Overturns 2017 transportation funding law, eliminating $5 billion a year in funding for local road repairs, state highways, and public transit.  Prevents legislators from raising revenue from gas taxes and vehicle fees.

One could have a reasonable argument about whether we should take away the SB1 funding for road repairs and such.  I don’t like the notion of it going to skeevy transportation projects like a Harbor Blvd. trolley, or even to possibly worthy but highly expensive and not-well-supported projects like High-Speed Rail (which is not where I expect the current funding to go anyway, especially with Brown leaving office.)  But we don’t have to have that argument because reading that last sentence is what should kills this proposition dead.  It’s an obscene overreach from people who would be perfectly happy to see the state’s economy collapse.

PROPOSITION 7 — YES

State legislature authorized to adopt permanent daylight savings time with a two-thirds vote, but only if Congress approves.

Gee, should we authorize a future state legislature to take an actions that it considers wise if (1) Congress ever authorizes them to do it and (2) they can muster a supermajority to do so?  Somehow, this prospect doesn’t much scare me.

PROPOSITION 8 — YES

Limits amount outpatient dialysis clinics may charge for patient care and prohibits clinics from refusing to treat patients based on how they pay.

I’ve gone back and forth on this one, but I’m now a stable yes, and not just because the “NO on 8” ads make me puke.  Pure profits at these centers — profits after capital, payroll, utility, tax, &c. expenses — would be capped at 15%.  That’s pretty fair — especially for an industry that is bound to keep growing with the increased need for such centers.

So far as I can tell, the horror stories that patients are telling about conditions at these centers are (at least too often) true.  They can also be addressed by increases in staffing and other business expenditures — spending on which actually increases the amount that the owners can earn, because for each dollar spent they can charge an additional $1.15.  That puts the incentives where they should be.

But what about the horrific threats of closing down dialysis centers?  I’ve thought this through — and I believe that it’s an empty threat.  But let’s say that it did happen — would the state just let people die?  No — I think that what the state would do is to set up its own dialysis centers to serve them.  (This, by the way, is called “socialized medicine” — and this is a great example of how and where it makes clearest sense.)

The problem in our system is that we tend to have socialization of losses accompanied by privatization of gains — in other words, as with mail delivery and education, private interests will skim off the profitable portions of a market and leave the state to handle the rest, without the subsidy it would get from those more profitable sectors — so what this means is that rather than just taking over dialysis centers in the poorest communities, the state would be better off just taking over the whole industry.  (This need not put private entrepreneurs out of business: they could still contract with the state to provide services if that would save the state money, as it might well do.)

So I’m voting for this not only because it seems like reasonable patient and consumer protection, but also because this seems like an area where the state should get into the business of providing the service anyway.  I hadn’t really considered this possibility before, but I have now.  That’s what you get for fear-mongering that your clinics were going to close, dialysis industry!

PROPOSITION 9 — INSUFFICIENT!

Three Californias?  How about 300 of them!  We’d totally dominate the U.S. Senate!  What?  It’s off of the ballot?  Damn!

PROPOSITION 10 — YES

The theory behind rent control is pretty much the theory behind Prop 13: a state or locality has a right to prioritize things besides “who can afford to pay enough to live there.”  In both cases, the public decides that it wants to allow elevate “time spent in a dwelling” over “ability to pay” to some limited extent, in order to benefit the people favored by the policy and the maintain the stability of neighborhoods.

We can argue whether rent control is good policy — my own position is that many of the drawbacks identified are legitimate, but that they may in some cases be outweighed by the benefits in a given circumstance — but that’s not what this proposition is about.  It’s about who gets the choose the policy?  That the state insists on a “one size fits all” approach by prohibiting ALL local rent control measures is obscene — and testifies to the power of special interests in lawmaking.

PROPOSITION 11 — LEANING YES

Eliminates labor laws giving private-sector emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics uninterrupted paid meal and rest breaks.

I’m a plaintiff’s employment lawyer and (in the vast majority of cases) a supporter of labor.  So you’d think that that I’d be a definite “NO” on this union-supported proposal to weaken a labor law, right?  Not so fast.

The best argument against this proposal is the camel’s-nose-in-the-tent theory that it could open the way to future vitiation of the Labor Code that I wouldn’t support.  I am not marking my ballot yet but: I think that I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  While I support worker protection and unionization, any successful movement can eventually lead to overreach — and I think that that is what is happening here.

As an initial observation, note that this applies to private-sector EMTs and paramedics.  Why is that?  It’s because public-sector EMTs and paramedics are already exempt from the code.  Cities can choose to run these services in-house or to outsource them.  While I generally don’t support outsourcing, this is an area that doesn’t seem so central to the city’s functioning that contracting out for the service is beyond reason.

The application of the Labor Code to outsourced, but not in-house, break time for these workers weighs slightly towards keeping this in-house by making running a private company a little more expensive, in that they have to keep an extra staff member around to fill-in for workers on meal or rest breaks.  (One other thing that this policy does that I don’t like is to force employees to stagger their breaks to minimize the people unavailable at any one time.  I’ll bet that employees don’t like it either.)

I’d rather just acknowledge that, in some professions or jobs, one simply can’t depend on uninterrupted break time.  It sucks (somewhat), but it comes with the job.  An employee who is called off of a break should be able to take that break over — the entire break, so far as I’m concerned, though so far as I know that’s not required — but the company shouldn’t be forced to undergo an expensive inefficiency, due to redundant staffing, for a relatively minor and rare occurrence.

There are times when requiring staffing redundancy is appropriate — even essential.  Having an extra driver on a long-distance bus, for example, is probably a reasonable safety measure.  I’m still open to hear contrary views until Election Day, but this doesn’t strike me as one of them.

PROPOSITION 12 — LEANING NO

Requires that all eggs sold in the state be cage-free and that all pork and veal sold in the state be produced without restrictive.

Again, this is one where I was sure I would be voting “YES” — until news came in that many animal rights groups (not just PETA) oppose it.  Here are some anti-12 newspaper clippings collected on Ballotpedia:

“[Opponents in the Animal Rights movement] claim they were sold out by the Humane Society of the United States, which has teamed up with California egg producers to push back on caging requirements in exchange for expanding the sales prohibition and using the ballot measure for fundraising.”

“California voters took the lead in protecting egg-laying hens a decade ago. Farmers responded by investing in new cages to comply with the new law, and they are responding to consumer preferences and demands of their clients in the food service industry by increasing production of cage-free eggs. There’s no need for another new set of rules, or to have one deadline for retailers and an accelerated one for farmers.”

“Animal-rights advocates say this means chickens should be allowed to stretch their wings — which requires at least 2 square feet. State regulators have not accepted this standard. But the Humane Farming Association, a San Rafael organization that lobbies for improved conditions for farm animals, says Proposition 12 amounts to “a step backward” for chickens. Because of this flaw — and because of ample signs that consumer pressure is leading grocers and farmers to care much more about the health of farm animals.”

““It keeps hens in cages until 2022 and then leaves them in crammed warehouses with one square foot of space thereafter. We think we can do more and we should do more,” PETA spokesman Ben Williamson told The Los Angeles Times. That’s concerning. Animal welfare groups need to stop fighting, join forces and at least attempt to write a measure that has their broad support.”

I’m really surprised to find myself inclining against this measure, and I’m hoping that my announcing that tentative may elicit further discussion from opponents of animal cruelty — but if you’ve got to complete your ballot Sunday or Monday that is where I currently stand.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)