Should we get rid of state propositions on the ballot? | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |

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By Diana Diamond

Should we get rid of state propositions on the ballot?

Uploaded: Oct 17, 2018

It’s that time of year again -- our biennial political happening – voting! This year we have some 11 state propositions on our ballots (#9 of 12 was removed), as well as four Palo Alto measures, contested city council and school board races, state and congressional races, and a gubernatorial challenge to boot.

Voting is extremely important to me. But I am becoming more and more disillusioned with all the state propositions always on the ballot – frequently put there by special interest groups and financed by PACs and other partisans. Moreover many of these propositions are devious in what they will accomplish and how all the money they will get if the measure passes will really be spent. Sometimes a “no” vote can mean, “yes,” if the measure is deliberately worded to mislead the voter. And that oftentimes happens.

We’ve now only less than three weeks before the election, so this is the time some of us pull out our absentee mail-in ballots and stare at the propositions. We grab for the state’s voter election guide and start with Prop 1, read the pros and cons, and then put a question mark in the handbook margin. On to #2, #3, etc.

Still confused, they see what local newspapers recommend, check their online site and then maybe pick up the League of Women Voters election handbook.

This year we are being asked to approve of millions of dollars of expenditures in California; the first four are bond measures, which means that interest payments will automatically occur if the bonds are approved (e.g. an $8-billion bond measure, will then include another $8 billion or so in interest.

Some people, I suspect, look at their ballots a day ahead of time and perhaps may consider Prop 1 – $4 billion in bonds for housing assistance programs. “Yeah, that sounds good,” they may think.
Prop 2 --$2 billion in bonds for individuals with mental illness. “Well, I’m not sure but I guess it’s okay.”
Prop 3 -- $8.9 billion for projects for water supply and quality, a fish and wildlife habitat and watershed land improvements. “I’m not positive what all that means but I sure do care for those fishes. So I’ll vote yes.”
Prop 4 -- $1.5 billion for funding construction at children’s hospitals and healthcare. “Yes! Children are important.”

Good. But do they realize they’ve just okayed $18.4 billion plus interest ($36.8 BILLION total -- $36,800,000,000) that we taxpayers are going to have to pay over the next decade or two?

My point is not whether the bond measures should or should not be approved, but rather look how fast voters just spent $36 billion– and this happens every time there are propositions on the ballot. That amount of money could, for example, provide a lot of new public transportation or whatever in this state.

Some other propositions are just plain misleading. For example in San Mateo County, Measure W promises that if we agree to a half-cent increase in sales tax, the money will provide for road improvements, less traffic, add express lanes, fix potholes, improve Caltrain, etc. There’s no hint of how they are going to accomplish all this. And the measure fails to state that half of the money will go to SamTrans salaries. Measure W is just a way to help out SamTrans, not get rid of congestion.

Measure F in Palo Alto – which claims it will bring high health care costs under control by capping what doctors and hospitals can charge is another big lie. It wants this city to monitor the bills accrued by each patient for each year – forever. Hospitals and clinics will have to cut services. The annual cost to Palo Alto, which has absolutely no expertise in health care costs, will be a couple of million dollars.

One of my blog readers says he never votes on the propositions because he doesn’t trust them and he’s worried about what they are really about. I can understand, but that, to me, is not quite the answer. They are on the ballot and if he doesn’t vote, he’s letting others decide for him.

The initiative and referendum process, which was adopted by California in 1911, was a great idea – bringing new form of direct democracy. If the legislature doesn’t do something people want, let us put a measure we want on the ballot.

The concept was great but the execution has been corroded in recent years. Big money is taking over; crazy notions can get on the ballot (like dividing California into three states).

Has the referendum process been damaged? Do we want to continue deciding state measures this way? If not, do we – and can we – change things? What would be better?

Let’s discuss. Tell me what you think.