State ballot measures
TEMPORARY TAX INCREASE
Why are we voting on — and watching the various interests spend about $30 million on — a simple tax increase that in most sane places would be vetted and approved by the state Legislature? Two reasons: California has an archaic and insane rule mandating a two-thirds vote of both houses for a tax hike, which is impossible as long as a few Republicans are still in Sacramento — and our crabby old oddball of a governor, Jerry Brown, insisted in his last campaign that he'd never raise taxes without a vote of the people.
Prop. 30 is an amalgam, a mixture of what Brown first wanted and what the more liberal supporters of a tax on millionaires were proposing. The guv had to come the table when it looked like the millionaire tax might have enough support to compete with his plan; he made a few concessions, and everyone signed off on this plan. It raises taxes on people with incomes of more than $250,000 (good) and hikes the sales tax by a quarter-cent (not so good) and would bring in $6 billion a year until it expires in 2019.
A bit of perspective: When former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger whacked the vehicle license fee his first day in office, he cost the state about $4 billion a year, with the stroke of a pen.
And in a state with more billionaires than any other place in America, a fabulously rich place with the world's eighth-largest economy, the notion that we have to argue about raising $6 billion in taxes is farcical.
Nevertheless, it's crucial to pass Prop. 30. The money will prevent catastrophic cuts to education and social services. Prop. 30 won't move California a single step forward — but it will keep us all a few inches away from the abyss.
Brown has gambled his governorship on this — and if he loses, he'll take a good part of the state's future with him. We live in strange and unpleasant times; vote Yes on 30.
STATE BUDGET AND LEGISLATIVE REFORMS
There are no easy solutions to the fiscal and political mess that is California, 2012, and voters should beware of self-proclaimed reformers claiming to wield silver-bullet fixes. Just the fact that this Prop. 31 tries to enshrine so many complex legislative reforms into one measure should give us pause. And it's almost always a bad idea to use the initiative process to micromanage complex relationships between state and local governments and between the legislative and executive branches of state government.
Some of what this measure would do is good, such as requiring the state to do two-year budgets, a reform that San Francisco recently adopted. The idea of giving local governments more money and authority also has merit, although that's a tricky proposition that could undermine environmental and worker safety protections.
We're also disturbed by the idea of giving governors unilateral authority to make cuts during years with big budget deficits, and with a requirement that new state programs must be tied to specific funding sources. Again, many of these ideas sound good at first glance, but placing new restrictions on Legislators will only hinder their ability to respond to problems and popular will. And giving the governor that much power is just dangerous. Vote no on 31.
BANNING SOME POLITICAL SPENDING
NO, NO, NO
This is by far the most dangerous and deceptive measure on the ballot, one that threatens to cripple the ability of labor unions to engage meaningfully in the political process, giving big corporations and wealthy individuals even more control over our lives. Yet this insidious measure disingenuously purports to do just opposite, tapping into widespread concerns over corporate power and trying to fool people into voting against their best interests.