There are some ballot measures where you need more than the usual two choices.
Take Prop. 29 on the June ballot, for example. That’s the one that would put a new $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes, raising about $735 million a year for cancer research and anti-smoking programs.
Vote yes, says the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association. It will save lives, stop kids from smoking and end tobacco use as we know it.
Vote no, says taxpayer groups, educators and the deafening voice of more than $13 million of tobacco company money. It creates a huge bureaucracy, doesn’t promote California jobs and shortchanges state schools.
Welcome to another wonderful election in California, where voters are again asked how best to spend other people’s money.
It’s ballot box budgeting at its finest, with the anti-smoking groups trumpeting the justice of their cause and looking for the state to collect the cash some unelected board will spend.
And then there are the opponents, pretending that the only problem with Prop. 29 is that the money’s going to the wrong place when everyone in the state knows that tobacco companies bankrolling them wouldn’t back a penny in new taxes, even if it went toward taking widows and orphans off bread lines.
So how do you vote?
A “yes” vote lets the special interests (and yes, the anti-smoking types are a special interest) bypass the Legislature and decide where state-collected money must be spent, which has been a recipe for disaster in the past.
Or vote “no” and remind the tobacco companies and every other special interest in the state that if you spend enough money you can block anything.
It’s a dilemma with no good answer.
In one of those dueling viewpoint pieces newspapers love to run before elections, the San Francisco Chronicle gave David Veneziano of the American Cancer Society a chance to say how the $735 million will “be used to fund life-saving research” and not to worry because it only gouges smokers.
The paper also gave some space to Tom Bogetich, former executive director of the state Board of Education, who argued first that ballot box budgeting has been a disaster for the state and then complains because Prop. 29 doesn’t earmark any of that $735 million for schools.
Cancer is a terrible disease that affects millions of Californians and the state should do something about it.
The state’s public schools are in a world of financial hurt, affecting millions of Californians and the state should do something about that, too.
Fact is, California has plenty of problems and we elect legislators to deal with them. And then we can elect different ones if we decide the guys in office aren’t doing their job.
What the state doesn’t need are unelected groups anxious to use government as their bagman, using its muscle to grab the money they want from California residents.
If the state is going to be collecting money, California and its elected representatives should decide how it’s going to be spent.
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.