11 Awesome Props: Proposition 39

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Editor’s Note: Frequent Fox and Hounds contributor, Joe Mathews, will give his unique perspective on all eleven November ballot measures over the course of the next month. He will take them in the order they appear on the ballot.

Proposition 39 is all about a very rare and good thing: the reversal of a policy mistake.

Prop 39 is a response to a backroom deal that ended up giving $1 billion or so to big California companies in 2009 via changes in corporate taxation.

Now comes Prop 39 to right that wrong and punish those California companies – by changing the corporate tax formula to punish out-of-state corporations.

This is the harshest punishment one could imagine. Yes, it would be bad if Prop 39 actually clawed back money from the California companies themselves. But that doesn’t approach the pain those companies will feel as they watch their corporate brothers around the country and the world pay for their sins. The guilt. The anguish. How will they live with themselves, knowing that others will pay for their sins.

We might have to put Genentech on suicide watch.

But it’s not merely the justice and appropriate pain in Prop 39 that make this initiative so awesome. It’s the infusion of money for the state budget, which is the most important thing.

The state budget is such a priority that a mere $500 million of the $1 billion in new revenue Prop 39 is estimated to produce would be diverted to a new green-energy program. And that diversion of money would last for only the next five years, when the budget probably won’t be under any greater pressure than it is now. (After those five years, all the money goes to the general fund. )

It sure is great that the sponsors of Prop 39 saw fit to do this. They had to, of course, because the legislature couldn’t act. And the legislature couldn’t act because, despite majority support in the legislature for removing this tax break, there’s a two-thirds requirement for raising revenues. That two-thirds requirement was put in place by the voters, which of course makes it the legislature’s fault.

How awesome is that?

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