Viewpoint - May 26, 2010

Editorial: Important issues on the June ballot

Voters will consider five propositions on June 8, including two that are largely financed and promoted by special interests that would benefit greatly if they passed. The other three include one that would close a tax loophole in Proposition 13 so that buildings undergoing seismic retrofitting for safety reasons will not be reassessed for a new, presumably higher, property tax value. Proposition 14 would end partisan June primary elections by placing everyone who is running on a single ballot, and Proposition 15 seeks approval to test the use of public funds during the 2014 and 2018 campaigns for California secretary of state.

The propositions generating the most interest are 16 and 17, which are both dressed up in language designed to appeal to consumer interests, when in fact they will greatly benefit the sponsors — PG&E for Proposition 16 and Mercury Insurance for Proposition 17.

The framers of California's initiative process would never recognize how easy it is today for wealthy individuals or corporations to place virtually any self-serving measure they want before voters by paying millions of dollars to companies whose only job is gathering signatures for the ballot.

Here are more details on the propositions 16 and 17, and why we strongly recommend a vote against them on June 8.

Proposition 16

Pacific Gas & Electric has bankrolled this proposition, which, if approved, would force a public agency to obtain a two-thirds vote of the electorate before it could enter the retail power business. Without obtaining approval, cities could not form municipal utilities or community-wide clean electricity districts called community choice aggregators, which could be used to sell energy generated by wind or photo voltaic systems.

At this time, no city in The Almanac's circulation area has shown any interest in forming its own utility to sell power. But in our view, if municipalities wish to sell clean energy, and their constituents are willing to pay for it, they should not be stopped by an initiative that will tie their hands.

Small municipalities that might go into the power business are hardly a threat to PG&E. Nevertheless, the giant utility has spent millions of dollars on generally misleading advertising to promote its passage.

We urge voters to defeat this special interest initiative that would do nothing to lower energy prices for consumers while giving PG&E a major tool to control competition from local utilities.

Proposition 17

A vote for this proposition is a vote for Mercury Insurance, the company that has spent more than $10 million to skirt a provision of Proposition 103, the landmark consumer initiative passed in 1988 that rolled back California insurance rates and set strict guidelines on factors insurance companies could use to set auto insurance costs for consumers.

Under current law in California, an insurance company can offer longtime policy holders a persistency discount to its own customers, but under the terms of Proposition 103, auto insurers can't offer that same discount to new customers who had continuous coverage for some period of time but from a different auto insurance company. Proposition 17 would give insurance companies the right to offer such discounts to customers of other insurers who have not let their policies lapse for more than 90 days in the previous five-year period.

But opponents of the measure fear that the roughly 20 percent of all drivers in the state who do not qualify for persistency discounts — those who have been out of the market or who temporarily lost coverage — will be forced to pay a substantial surcharge when they come back into the market.

This measure's prime sponsor, Mercury Insurance, is no favorite of state regulators. In fact last month, a story in USNewswire said: "The California Department of Insurance (CDI) [on April 12] said that Mercury Insurance Company, the sponsor of Proposition 17, has overcharged and discriminated against California customers for over 15 years, including failing to deliver discounts required by state law and imposing unlawful surcharges."

That's enough for us. We believe consumers were well-served by Proposition 103, which should not be muddied by changes proposed by Mercury or other insurance companies. Please vote no on Proposition 17.

Proposition 13

This is largely a housekeeping measure that will simply allow owners of buildings being seismically retrofitted to avoid a reassessment for tax purposes.

We urge a yes vote on this measure.

Proposition 14

This measure would end partisan primary elections and place all candidates on the June ballot. Only the top two winners, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the November election. Supporters say it would promote moderation and take power away from strident party officials, but in two states which have tried it, it had little effect on promoting moderation. Another likely impact: third party candidates would rarely make it to the November runoff, which could severely hamper their ability to campaign, debate and take on major party candidates.

We think such a major change in the electoral system needs more study, and urge a no vote on Proposition 14.

Proposition 15

Dubbed the California Fair Elections Act, this proposition would test public funding of political campaigns in races for Secretary of State in 2014 and 2018. The funds used would be raised from fees assessed on lobbyists and from voluntary contributions to the candidates during the campaign.

It is time to assess public funding of election campaigns. We urge voters to support Proposition 15, which will provide a good test of this process.


Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 26, 2010 at 9:25 am

Gail Slocum and Tom Gibboney at odds on proposition 16. If she has the courage, I would love to read her rebuttal to Gibboney's stance on propostion 16. I am sure other Almanac readers would love to read it as well.

Posted by Diana, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 26, 2010 at 10:17 am

Hank, Has Slocum stated support for Prop 16, or is this a (typical) assumption on your part?

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 26, 2010 at 1:43 pm

What are both you and Gail afraid of? I am not the only one in Menlo Park who wants her to state her position. We shall see whether she has the courage of her convictions.

Posted by Diana, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Hank, In answer to your question, I'm not afraid of anything pertaining to this issue. Now, would you mind answering my earlier question? Has Slocum stated support for Prop 16, or is this a (typical) assumption on your part?

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 27, 2010 at 7:02 am

My contention is the Gail Slocum supports proposition 16. If she does not then all she has to do is send in a letter to the Almanac editor explaining why she does not support proposition 16. If she does so then I will be proven wrong. Then, with great humility I will submit an electronic letter to the Almanac apologizing for questioning Gail's position on Proposition 16 which I am sure Tom Gibboney will print with great gusto.

[Portion removed; see terms of use] The ball is in Gail's court. We shall see whether she has the courage to inform her vast legions of adoring fans of her position on Proposition 16.

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