California

It's Rational To Be Ignorant About Plethora of California Initiatives

Flooding the zone.

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You've got to wonder whether voters, many of whom don't know the names of their own legislators, should determine whether revenue bonds for major infrastructure projects should be subject to a statewide vote (Proposition 53). Or whether certain state agencies should have the price of prescription drugs they buy tied to the lowest prices paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Proposition 61).

With many initiatives, one has to read the text multiple times to get their gist. Many are downright confusing. For instance, Proposition 67 asks voters to decide whether to ban stores from handing out "single-use" plastic bags to take home groceries. It's a referendum rather than an initiative, which means the public is voting whether to uphold or overturn an already approved statute. A "yes" keeps the law and a "no" overturns it. (By the way, people do use these "single-use" bags multiple times—often to pick up doggie poo or line trash cans.)

To make matters less clear, there's a related—and wonderfully mischievous—measure called Proposition 65. The plastic-bag industry was annoyed that the grocery industry ultimately backed the bag ban. Under the final compromise, stores may not give away those light plastic bags, but they must charge for other types of bags. They keep the money. This initiative would redirect the estimated $300 million in proceeds from the stores to a state environmental fund—but only if voters approve Proposition 67.

My critique of voters isn't meant to be rude. There's a term in economics called "rational ignorance." When it comes to, say, purchasing a new car, Americans are a diligent bunch. It's rational to spend lots of time doing research to avoid making a costly mistake. But it's not rational to spend hours learning about candidates or initiatives, because the chance our vote will affect the outcome is nil.

Voters can be rational in this way: The more initiatives on the ballot, the likelier they vote "no" on all of them. That might be good news this year, given that many are bad ideas. For instance, Proposition 51 would spend billions of dollars on school bonds without reforming the current system. Proposition 55 would extend some "temporary" tax hikes that voters approved in Proposition 30.

Proposition 56 is a tax increase dressed up as a humane social policy. Supporters claim higher tobacco taxes reduce smoking rates. Fair enough, by why does Prop. 56 also include a massive tax hike on e-cigarettes when prominent studies show that vaping is 95 percent safer than cigarettes, and smokers use them as a cessation device? And why does only a small portion of the funds go to tobacco-cessation programs?

Some of the others are pretty clear, concept-wise. But the devil is always in the details.

Proposition 62 would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole. No one has been put to death in California for a decade, and backers argue it would save money and provide better closure for victims' families to end the facade. Death-penalty supporters offer Proposition 66, which attempts to fast-track executions by imposing appeal deadlines, although some of the specific reforms of the appeals process are matters of controversy.

Proposition 64 would legalize recreational uses of marijuana and could wipe clean the arrest records of people convicted of marijuana-related offenses. Both ideas are a welcome change from a costly and unjust drug war. But some supporters of legal marijuana fear the new legalization regime could be more restrictive than the current situation, which allows for medical marijuana. Only the rare voter will understand the nuances.

Proposition 58 would let local school districts reinstate bilingual education programs. Backers say the measure would promote the use of multiple languages. But "bilingual education" was the practice of teaching kids almost entirely in their native language, thus often slowing their entry into the mainstream.

Some initiatives are straightforward. Proposition 60 requires porn actors to use condoms (although opponents fear the expansion of lawsuits). Proposition 57 would expand parole for nonviolent offenders. Others seem pointless. There's an advisory vote on a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Proposition 59) and a redundant gun-control package that's basically an election platform for an ambitious lieutenant governor (Proposition 63).

Proposition 54 sounds like a yawner (it requires the final version of any bill to be in print for 72 hours before legislators vote on it), but is arguably the most significant measure on the ballot. It could put the kibosh on those last-minute gut-and-amend measures that are snuck through the Legislature at session's end. This measure should never have needed an initiative, but the Legislature has refused to act on it myriad times.

In an ideal world, few of these measures would be placed before voters. Suffice it to say that Sacramento is not an ideal world, so voters will just have to muddle through. At least there's plenty of voter information for those irrational enough to read it.

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  1. Thanks this is helpful. Though a chart would be nice.

    1. Before you wade into the 222-page official voter guide (how much did it cost to print these monsters?), here you go: http://ca.lp.org/measures/

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  2. You could argue that Prop 54 is the most significant one, but on the other hand, Prop 67 would ban fucking grocery bags. That is 100% madness.

    1. >> Prop 67 would ban fucking grocery bags.

      Actually, if someone (in the privacy of his home) wants to stick his private parts into a grocery bag, I don’t think this proposition would prevent that.

      1. It would. You don’t want to do that more than once per bag, but it would eliminate single-use bags. Reusable bags often carry STDs.

  3. “Suffice it to say that Sacramento is not an ideal world.

    Most dysfunctional state government in the country–only good at being awful.

    1. New York is trying damned hard to take that title back…

      1. IL has more ex-guvs in jail. And it gave us Obama. CA and NY are pikers.

        1. Good old fashioned corruption is preferable to the legislative insanity of CAs state government.

    2. Where Colorado, the state that seems to vote on the “craziest” state Constitutional amendments through a very open system of adding them to the ballot leads the nation in lots of ways. To hear teams red and blue tell it, Colorado was supposed to turn into a lawless Somalia complete with warlords and wailing orphans and gnashing of teeth when it chose to legalize weed. Apparently their governor, and a bunch of former governors are still either very anti-cannabis or “skeptical” despite having seen nothing interesting happen whatsoever. Now the rest of the nation is starting to look at all those tax revenues they’re collecting and wondering if they should jump on the bandwagon.

      California, of course, wants batshit regulation that virtually guarantees that legal weed will still be more expensive than contraband, and you just know that the enforcement arm against contraband producers is ready to do some pounding, because that’s how California rolls. The inmates run the asylum. What causes it? Too much sun exposure?

  4. Is it just me, or do states with lots of ballot initiatives show why democracy is not as good as it is cracked up to be. Seems like the more things the people are asked to decide, the shittier the state gets.

    Which is why the Framers considered democracy to be a pejorative, and instead created a republic.

    1. Yep, nothing says libertarian like deferring to top men.

    2. What’s the difference between voting on ballot initiatives in a democracy, & voting on ballot initiatives in a republic?

      The strongest correlation is between ballot initiatives and date of (re)organiz’n of the state gov’t. Mostly the further west you go, the more likely to have voter initiatives.

      However, there might be a correlation of the type you think, caused by the state’s causing so much tsooris that the voters seek ways to ameliorate them. So the shittier the state is, the more voters ask for the power to adjust it, or to act on that power if they already have it.

      1. Democracy is merely tyranny of the majority. A republic is supposed to soften that a bit by putting a layer between the people and legislation.

      2. The difference is you can’t bribe the people. But you can dupe them with TV commercials a lot. Still I trust my mostly liberal California neighbors to vote on this stuff more than the California Assembly.

        1. “The difference is you can’t bribe the people”

          Our massive entitlement programs say different

    1. I guess it could be worse – you could have said there’s an inconceivable! number of ballot initiatives.

  5. It’s ok if voters decide to vote no down the line.

    But they won’t. They’ll vote yes for everything.

    Personally, my own heuristic is this”

    Is it asking for money? Vote no.
    Is it to build something? Vote no.
    Is infrastructure, schools, police, or emergency services mentioned? Vote no.

    1. I imagine then that you, like me, can accurately predict the outcome of an election by taking the inverse of your ballot.

    2. You forgot one: are police, firefighters, teachers or other government employees backing it? Vote no.

  6. You’ve got to wonder whether voters, many of whom don’t know the names of their own legislators, should determine whether revenue bonds for major infrastructure projects should be subject to a statewide vote (Proposition 53).

    Hell, no! Complex issues with profound, essentially irreversible repercussions should be determined solely by those unknown legislators, whose main expertise is the ability to, with the probable assistance of a corrupt political machine, get elected.

  7. It’s California; who would care, except for the awful tendency of other liberals to use it as an example?
    If you look behind most, if not all initiatives, there is a major special interest group, not “citizens” it the democracy sense. It is becoming cheaper to fool the voters than to bribe the politicians.

  8. “”””For instance, Proposition 67 asks voters to decide whether to ban stores from handing out “single-use” plastic bags to take home groceries”””

    Single Use???? These people lack imagination.

    You can make a A Hat, A Broach, A Pterodactyl out of it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8oAQOvOEXY

  9. I will gladly study a couple of dozen initiatives every two years if it means I get to vote on them instead of my representative in Sacramento.

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