CA Voter Guide

On June 8 California will hold a primary election that also feature 5 ballot propositions, here’s my take on the initiatives.

Prop 13:

How I Will Vote: YES

This is actually an amendment to CA’s famed Prop 13 property tax initiative. I read the text carefully because any time a politician proposes a change to Prop 13 that is supposed to help us you want to make sure it doesn’t have any back door provision that help the government instead.

The proposed amendment addresses an inequity in the original law that deals with how seismic retrofitting is dealt with by county tax assessors. The change will standardize what retrofits to specific kinds of structures qualify for property tax increases and what structures qualify for exclusions. It’s a technical amendment that deals with a very narrow issue that affects Californians disproportionately depending on where they live.

Prop 14: Open Primaries

How I Will Vote: NO

This is billed as the open primary initiative but its impact goes well beyond the primaries alone. Basically what this measure does is change the way we vote in CA from a closed primary where you declare your party affiliation in order to vote for the candidates representing your party to a system where candidates can conceal their party affiliation in order to advance to the general election.

The initiative will institutionalize a 2 party system in California because under it only the top 2 vote getters will advance to the general election. No third party candidates or write in candidates will be allowed in the general election and not only is that unfair it is outright undemocratic.

What really bothers me about initiatives like this is that the supporters use the most corrosive kind of political cynicism to enact something that benefits Sacramento insiders who perpetuate the very thing that they say is not working. The supporters say Sacramento is broken, which it clearly is, and in order to fix it the primary system needs to be opened up but I say the primary system is the least of our worries and it is the gerrymandering of political districts and the lack of political accountability that is more insidious. Open primaries are anything but open, what they do (only 2 states use them) is allow well funded candidates to hoodwink voters by eliminating choice and perverting the original intent of primary elections.

Prop 15: Public Funding of Political Campaigns

How I Will Vote: NO

There is a lot to like on paper about the idea of public funding for political campaigns but history should teach us conclusively that public funding of campaigns neither reduces the amount of money in politics nor reduces the influence of special interests. As many libertarians point out, the only way to reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics is to reduce the footprint of government in our daily lives thereby reducing the opportunity for corruption.

The thing that concerns me about Prop 15 is that it opens the door for politicians to expand something they are expressly prohibited from doing today, which is spending public funds on candidates and causes. Let’s go beyond candidates and consider the effects of government funding elections for public policy issues that make the ballot, like repealing property tax limits? The creeping effect of government financed elections is corrosive and we should simply keep that door welded shut.

Prop 16: Voter Approval Required for Publicly Owned Utilities

How I Will Vote: YES

PG&E, it has been widely reported, is the primary funder for this initiative, which would require municipalities to put before voters their plans for entering the utility business. The fact that PG&E is supporting this is enough of a reason to vote no on it, however there is something more fundamental at work here that should be considered.

If you believe that government should be required to put to voters any long terms plans that will require public financing then this should be a no brainer, whether it be a football stadium, a major infrastructure project, or a utility. Such a requirement forces government to justify their big plans with reasonable business cases, and when it comes to the complexity of unwinding something like a utility the requirement for strategic plans to be well conceived and anchored in sound business planning is all the more important.

If municipalities believe that their plans for launching a utility service are well grounded and defensible then they should not be opposed to going in front of the very voters whose tax funds will be invested into the plans.

Prop 17: Insurance Pricing

How I Will Vote: YES

This measure is sponsored by Mercury Insurance, which is enough of a reason to oppose it but in this case the measure should be considered on the basis of what it provides to CA drivers who maintain insurance coverage, which is to give them a continuous coverage discount even when they change providers.

The arguments against this are pretty narrow, primarily focusing on a surcharge people will pay to resume coverage if they let it lapse. I don’t see this as enough of a concern to torpedo the measure, and it certainly does not overwhelm the benefit that consumers will receive by a marketplace that allows competitors to offer continuous coverage discounts to new customers based on their previous provider coverage. I like this idea and see how it will benefit me directly.