California’s Ballot Initiatives: A Top Ten List Too Boring for Letterman or Buzzfeed

So what’s on the ballot for California residents come November? Lots of stuff! Lots of awkwardly written stuff designed to look and sound as reasonable as possible but hiding all sorts of little secret incentives and surprises! So for Californians, here’s a guide to what every commercial you will be watching in October that isn’t about President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be about:

Who Doesn’t Love Reading About Tax Initiatives?

Political insiders are watching the battles between Prop. 30 and Prop. 38, "competing” tax measures (scare quotes because both could pass and both could fail). Proposition 30 is Jerry Brown’s well-publicized baby, temporarily (should I have used scare quotes there, too?) raising sales taxes and income taxes over $250,000 to make up the billions of education funding that will be cut if Prop. 30 isn’t passed.

Proposition 38, by California civil rights lawyer Molly Munger, would raise income taxes on anybody earning more than $7,300 a year for 12 years. The actual rate slides based on income, starting at .4 percent and maxing out at 2.2 percent for those earning more than $2.5 million to pay for education and reduce the state’s debt.

Brown supporters have started a committee to oppose Munger’s plan, called Stop the Middle Class Tax Hike -- No on Prop. 38, which is funny because Prop. 30 has a sales tax increase. According to The Sacramento Bee, Brown’s proposition is currently polling better than Munger’s, likely because of the difference in who is affected by the income tax increases.

Getting much less attention is Proposition 39, the “Clean Energy Jobs Act” (scare quotes because … well, you can figure it out). The bill would change how companies in California who have presences in other states calculate their tax burdens. The changes would benefit companies who are based primarily in California but do business in other states, but would penalize businesses based outside California that do business within the state. Its proponents seem to think the initiative would encourage more businesses to locate within the state rather than encourage more businesses to just stop doing business with California altogether.

The bill gets its name because it would also dedicate half a billion dollars from the money the tax change raises to fund green energy projects and would create a state bureaucracy to oversee the distribution of the money. The promise of yet more bureaucracy is what killed the proposed cigarette tax increase in June (though there’s now a recount going on), so we’ll see how that goes.

Getting Untough on Crime, Except for Sex Offenders, Of Course

Proposition 34 would eliminate the death penalty in California, replacing death sentences with life in prison without parole. Executions were suspended in California in 2006 by a judge who determined the lethal injection execution method could result in cruel and unusual punishment during the process (not due to the result, mind you).  The proposition also creates a $100 million bribe to not fight this fund for law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.

Proposition 36 would change the state’s three-strikes law so that a life sentence would only be handed down if the third felony is serious or violent. It also authorizes the resentencing of anybody currently serving a life sentence under the law if their third strike falls under these categories.  The state’s independent analysis indicates the change could save the state more than $100 million a year in the long term but would temporarily increase costs to counties and cities in the short term for monitoring the influx of new releases.

Proposition 35 increases human-trafficking penalties and requires those convicted to register as sex offenders. The proposition also requires convicted sex offenders to provide information to police about all of their online identities and e-mail addresses, which is an almost comically unenforceable demand. It’s a feel-good regulation that won’t actually make anybody safer.

And All the Rest …

Proposition 31 creates a two-year budget cycle and would prohibit expenditures by the legislature of $25 million or more unless sources for the money could be identified. It would also allow the governor to cut the budget during fiscal emergencies if the legislature fails to act. The group California Forward is behind the initiative. They supported both the 2010 amendment that eliminates the 2/3 vote requirement to raise taxes and the new “top two” primary system the pretty much eliminates third parties (and sometimes second parties) from the November ballots.

I’ve already written about Proposition 32, which will prohibit the use of payroll deductions for political purposes. It would technically apply to both public and private employers, but of course it really only affects union employees. Public sector unions are expected to provide at least $28 million trying to defeat the bill. Democratic former Senate leader Gloria Romero, who is also a big supporter of charter schools (and therefore has tangled with teachers' unions before) endorsed the proposition this week.

Proposition 33 is an auto-insurance industry bill offering a benefit in the hopes of disguising a penalty. It would allow drivers to change insurers but keep discounts for having continuous coverage for at least five years. But those whose auto insurance had lapsed would see surcharges. Yes, this is something to be voted on rather than letting market forces do their job. A similar initiative failed in 2010, but the surcharge wording has been changed so that it no longer applies to military or to those who have been unemployed for 18 months.

Proposition 37 mandates the labeling of genetically modified foods. Well, certain genetically modified foods. It is full of all sorts of exemptions like food that is “certified organic,” food from animals that are injected with stuff, food served in restaurants, and of course, alcoholic beverages. (Really, it’s clear at this point that the fastest way to legalize marijuana in the U.S. would be for MillerCoors to start growing hemp.) The mandate is pointless fearmongering but it’s California, so it will be a surprise if it doesn't pass.

And finally, Proposition 40 is technically the eleventh proposition, but it doesn't really count. It would put the results of state Senate redistricting (which, despite the creation of an allegedly independent citizens commission, seems to favor Democrats) to a public vote. However, the original proponents in the state’s Republican Party have abandoned the measure following a court ruling that put the new boundaries into place for the November election. It will nevertheless appear on the ballot with its former proponents encouraging voters to reject it.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Public sector unions are expected to provide at least $28 million trying to defeat the bill.

    They sure do seem to have a lot of money. What exactly does one spend that kind of scratch on to defeat a bill, anyway?

  • ||

    They could bribe every voter in the state with about a dollar each.

  • juris imprudent||

    Two yes votes and the rest no. I'm surprised I could come up with two. (Three if I vote yes on 40 just to screw with 'em).

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    The proposition also creates a $100 million bribe to not fight this fund for law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.

    Alternatively, I view getting rid of the death penalty as a bribe to vote more money to cops. Very tempting and I'll probably take the bribe, but still, ugh. They somehow found a way to make voting away the death penalty feel icky.

  • Mumu Bobby||

    What happened to the cloudy day tax rebate proposition? If you're going to stick it to us on taxes we need weather guarantees.

  • 16th amendment||

    I'm glad both tax increases are on the ballot, because it increases the possibility that neither will get more than 50%.

    I don't understand prop 39 about the taxing of companies. I don't see how eliminating employees and area in the calculation, and just considering sales, helps in-state businesses. But as it creates a new handout, I'm recommending a no-vote on it.

    Prop 32 for union dues is good but it does not go far enough. We need to make California a right-to-work state. And then eliminate that requirement for the government to listen to government unions (that's one thing I like about FDR), and eliminate the NLRB and the labor act, and the department of labor.

    Prop 37 for labeling is useless. If food is organic and such food makers should label it as such. If this label is missing we can assume it is not organic, because food makers would not miss this selling point.

    Where's the proposition to repeal SB400? Just go back to the pensions in place before SB400. SB400 made sense when we were raking in big bucks during the dot com era.

  • eric711||

    Scott are you going to do another article about how great the expo line is doing now that ridership is at over 16,000 a day and looks like hitting that 27,000 by 2013, or 2015 is going to happen? Have you got what it takes to admit when you're wrong?

  • blackjack||

    I'm shooting down the death penalty "reprieve." I'd rather waste the money not killing people than waste it trying to find more people to not kill.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    So here's some propositions that I'd like to see someday.

    1) Require a public vote of approval for all public employee union contracts.

    2) Eliminate the coastal commission.

    3) Make all the leaders of all executive branch departments and agencies appointees of the governor.

    4) Change the legislature to a part time unicameral body.

    5) Eliminate the prohibition on party participation in local elections.

    6) Grandfather ever law, so that it has an automatic expiration date and must be affirmatively re enacted to prevent expiration.

    7) Ban public employees from contributing to political candidates.

    8)Make all state and local government agencies right to work and ban collective bargaining for public employees.

    9) Remove immunity from district attorneys and police.

    10) Prohibit swat tactics for everything except hostage situations.

    11) Prohibit state and local agencies from participating in asset forfeiture actions.

    12) Tort reform: cap pain suffering awards, tax punitive damage awards at 100%, cap tax excessive contingent lawyer fees, limit lawyer fees in class action suits to no more than 10% of the total amount awarded.

  • 16th amendment||

    And (13) If you are registered democrat then you pay an additional 3% of AGI tax.

    (4) One house will make it easier to pass new taxes. We should instead make it tricameral.

  • Brandybuck||

    Why is it when conservative Charles Munger Jr. funds an initiative, the media takes great pains to point out that he's a billionaire, but when his liberal *sister* funds an initiative to raise our taxes, the media doesn't mention her wealth? Instead she's a civil rights lawyer Even Reason gets sucked into this bias. Sigh.

  • dan bloom||

    Political insiders are watching the battles between Prop. 30 and Prop. 38, "competing” tax measures (scare quotes because both could pass and both could fail).

  • dan bloom||

    YOU DO NOT EVN KNOW WHAT A SCARE UOTE means OR IS re Political insiders are watching the battles between Prop. 30 and Prop. 38, "competing” tax measures (scare quotes because both could pass and both could fail).

  • dan bloom||

    TIM Cavanaugh your editor know better than to keep using the term SCARE QUOTES in print when it is in fact meaningless and ill-coined drivel! re YOU DO NOT EVeN KNOW WHAT A SCARE qUOTE means OR IS re ''Political insiders are watching the battles between Prop. 30 and Prop. 38, "competing” tax measures (scare quotes because both could pass and both could fail). ''

  • dan bloom||

    TIM Cavanaugh your editor know better than to keep using the term SCARE QUOTES in print when it is in fact meaningless and ill-coined drivel! re YOU DO NOT EVeN KNOW WHAT A SCARE qUOTE means OR IS re ''Political insiders are watching the battles between Prop. 30 and Prop. 38, "competing” tax measures (scare quotes because both could pass and both could fail). ''

  • Raymond Luxury Yach-t||

    you're "smart"

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Sounds like Dan Bloom got into the bath salts again.

  • dan bloom||

    VGZ, more like ''smelling salts''. Smile. But I take your point.


    "Amusingly, advertising studies show that most Americans are more likely to believe that something put in quotes is true rather than false, which might be why many stores put things in quotes in their print ads like “The Best 'X' in Town”. So ''scare quotes'' may actually ''promote'' instead of ''scare.''

    That might be why scare quotes (sic) -- [I refuse to call them scare quotes anymore, as part of my PR campaign to eradicate the term] -- are used so often in store signs and office signs and even on business cards to emphaszie something, Maureen, so yes they are NOT really scare quotes (sic again) but more like promotion and emphasis quotes. One grammar guy calls them "shout quotes".

    But that's advertising and signage culture. For newspaper headlines and oped articles, we are going down a slippery slope if we do not find a "cure'' (poke quotes mine) for this epidemic that TC has so well archived here with his SCK posts on this issue. But until the New York Times Style Desk (Phil Corbett is the guy there) or the Associated Press Style Book editors (Ted Anthony is one of the guys there) clean this mess up with some directives for newspaper and website editors to follow, we will remain in a scary mess and it will only get worse. This "epidemic" (emphasis quotes mine) is slowly killing the culture and "the written word" (scare quotes sic mine).

  • CBernstien||

    The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those ground. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com.
    See also: http://waiting4justice.org/

  • Moravecglobal||

    Prop 30, Prop 38 levy significant taxes on each one of us. The wounds that Prop 30, 38 are to heal have been self inflicted largely by our elected Sacramento politicians who simply do not say no to any influential interest group be they, University of California (29% increase in salaries last 6 years), public employees, business, teachers, or other unions or lobbyists.
    And now Prop 30, 38 are used by Sacramento politicians and lobbyists to blackmail us.

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