Viewpoint - October 27, 2010

Editorial: Good, bad in state propositions

The Almanac analyzed selected state propositions that will be on the Nov. 2 ballot and has taken these positions.

Proposition 20: Vote Yes

Removes elected representatives from establishment of congressional districts and gives that authority to a bipartisan 14-member redistricting commission.

Proposition 27: Vote No

Eliminates 14-member state redistricting commission and returns redistricting authority to elected representatives.

Propositions 20 and 27 are about how voting districts for the state Legislature and U.S. House of Representatives should be drawn up — by a bipartisan independent panel, or by incumbent politicians. Voting districts are redrawn after every 10-year census.

In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 11, which took the redistricting of the state Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization out of the hands of the Legislature and gave the authority to a 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission. Established once every 10 years, the commission — with five Democrats, five Republicans, and four others — redraws the districts based on the latest census, while keeping the integrity of geographic boundaries and respecting city, county and neighborhood limits.

Proposition 11 didn't affect congressional district lines. Proposition 20 seeks to bring those under the purview of the redistricting commission.

Proposition 27, meanwhile, is a proposal to throw out the Citizens Redistricting Commission altogether and stick with the old ways for both the state Legislature and U.S. congressional districting.

It's no act of brilliant political insight to suggest that it's probably not the best idea to have legislators influencing their own district boundaries — or those of their fellow party members.

Proposition 21: Vote Yes

Establishes $18 annual vehicle license fee to help fund state parks and wildlife programs.

California's state parks are the frequent target of funding cuts — and last year park-goers felt it in a big way, as 150 of our 246 state-operated parks suffered deep reductions in services and hours of operation. This $18 vehicle registration "surcharge" would create about $500 million in revenue for the parks. Of that amount, 85 percent would go to park operations and most of the rest toward wildlife protection programs. In return, all registered vehicles would receive free daytime parking at all state parks.

Proposition 22: Vote Yes

Prohibits the state from diverting funds intended for transportation, redevelopment or local government projects.

In its farcical triage of annual budget-balancing decisions, the state often shifts funds away from their intended local targets to help pay for things the state deems more pressing. For instance, cities' transportation and redevelopment funds have been unilaterally raided during fiscal crises to help pay for other state budget needs. Proposition 22, among other things, would eliminate the state's ability to use fuel-tax revenue for non-transportation purposes, and prohibit the state from borrowing local property tax funds to pay for schools. While we don't like the trend toward protecting an ever-growing list of services from cuts through ballot initiatives, we also object to the Legislature seizing local funds instead of legitimately balancing the state budget through tax increases or reduced expenses.

Proposition 23: Vote No

Suspends air-pollution-control law AB-32 until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent for full year.

What do the companies Valero Energy, Occidental Petroleum, Tesoro Corp., Tower Energy Group and World Oil Corporation all have in common?

They're all big oil companies based in Texas.

And they've all donated more than $100,000 to put California's Proposition 23 on the ballot.

The oil companies are calling it the "California jobs initiative," but Proposition 23 should more accurately be called the "kill AB 32 initiative," — suspending that 2006 legislation until the state unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent, which would likely keep the global warming bill in limbo for years, if not decades.

AB 32, or the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, establishes the target of reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, through stiffer rules and regulations for the energy industry. California is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, and AB 32 is estimated to reduce our GHG in the next decade by 30 percent.

That Valero Energy, the initiative's biggest funder, has one of the worst environmental records in the state should come as no surprise. Cleaning up its act by 2020 will not be easy on its bottom line. Proponents of Proposition 23 argue that such regulations as those called for by AB 32 would drive industry out of the state — resulting in lost jobs. Opponents counter that the evidence suggests the opposite: that not only is the job loss exaggerated, but the gain in green jobs would more than make up the difference.

To us, such a negligible short-term move could have disastrous long-term consequences to California's environment and the health of its citizens — as well as its economic future in green technology, a particular interest of Silicon Valley.

Proposition 24: Vote Yes

Repeals recent legislation that would allow businesses to lower their tax liability.

The Tax Fairness Act, as it's called by its supporters, is a response to a deal cut during the 2008-09 budget impasse in order to win enough Republican votes to pass a state budget. The deal did three things: it increased the flexibility with which companies can use net-operating losses to reduce taxes; it allowed for multi-state businesses to determine their California taxes based solely on sales in the state (previously, sales, payroll and property value were all factors); and it allowed unitary groups to transfer tax credits among the separate businesses within the group.

Essentially, all three provisions result in lower taxes for large companies operating in the state — all to the tune, according to the legislative analysis, of $1.3 billion a year when the new rules are fully implemented in 2012.

Proposition 24 proponents argue that the deal should never have taken place to begin with and that by repealing the legislation, that $1.3 billion would go back into the state's general fund (and under Proposition 98 guidelines, a significant part of that would go toward education).

Opponents of a repeal of the tax breaks say there would be significant job losses if multi-state businesses went back to being taxed according to payroll (meaning there would be an incentive not to have a lot of employees in California).

Proposition 24 will meaningfully affect, according to supporters, less than 2 percent of the wealthiest multi-state corporations operating in California. It doesn't call for new or higher taxes on these companies; it calls for a repeal of so-called "loopholes" that haven't even fully gone into effect.

Proposition 25: Vote Yes

Changes legislative vote requirement to pass budget and budget-related legislation from two-thirds to a simple majority.

Only Arkansas, Rhode Island and California ask for a two-thirds vote by state legislatures to pass budgets — all other 47 states require simple majorities.

Currently, a two-thirds vote is needed to pass the state budget, and to raise taxes. Proposition 25 would change the budget requirement to 50 percent plus one; it would not change the two-thirds needed to raise taxes.

A two-thirds vote is an arbitrary number to weigh so heavily on the workings of any state. Why not 57 percent? Why not 61 percent? It tends to be high enough to make sure small minorities can keep practically anything from getting done.

There's an argument that a simple majority gives too much power to the political party in the majority — perhaps 55 percent is a better number that would require an inkling of bipartisan support. Maybe. What we do know is that any majority below two-thirds would be an improvement at this point.


Posted by Sounds logical, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm

From what I've read to date, the Almanac opinions sound fair and I agree. (judgement completely reserved til I read up more this weekend!)

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