Handy-Dandy Guide to California’s Crazy 17 Ballot Propositions, Part 1

John Seiler
Former Editorial Writer at the Orange County Register

With folks filling out absentee ballots, now’s a good time to tee up all the ballot propositions. This is Part 1.

Voters are burdened with 17 propositions this year thanks to a 2011 law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that dumped all initiatives circulated by mere citizens on November ballots. Legislators, being our Platonic guardians, still can put initiatives on the June ballot. They consider themselves better than us, which is why they impose nearly 1,000 new laws every year.

Proposition 51 is $9 billion in school bonds. Cost, with interest: $18 billion. For decades I’ve called bonds “delayed tax increases.” Because when the bills come due and there’s a deficit, taxes usually go up, as with Proposition 30 in 2012. Supposedly the money will go only for school “facilities,” but all government money is fungible, so it’s really to pay for teacher pay, perks and pensions.

Proposition 52 is voter approval to divert hospital fees to Medi-Cal. It’s medic vs. medic sticking one another with needles. Support comes from hospitals and the California Democratic Party; opposition from the health-care workers’ union, usually allied with Dems. It’s a really bad case of “ballot-box budgeting,” preventing the fees from going to the general fund. Despite the Legislature’s absurdities, especially on budgets, ballot-box budgeting is even worse because it puts further constraints on budgets, leading to tax increases.

Proposition 53 is voter approval for revenue bonds above $2 billion. Although school and other bonds require voter approval (see Prop. 51, above), revenue bonds don’t. These are bonds, such as toll roads, that have their own revenue source. Except that if the revenue isn’t adequate to pay down the project, taxpayers are on the hook. Ballot-box budgeting? No, anti-tax budgeting.

Proposition 54 requires the Legislature be given at least 72 hours to review bill language before a bill is passed. We just suffered another Anguished August of gut-and-amend bills, in which the language of a bill is changed at the last minute, often to a subject totally unrelated. Legislators commonly vote on bills they haven’t read. This would give them at least a chance to glance.

Proposition 55 is a massive tax increase of about $7 billion. Reads the biased title from Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, who is running for U.S. Senate, “Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare.” Oh, wow! It’s, like, so good, like, we can’t turn it down! In reality, it imposes, anew – that is, it’s new – the income tax part of Prop. 30 from 2012. This one’s gonna sting during the next recession and kill hundreds of thousands of jobs as rich people move elsewhere – and take their investment money with them.

Proposition 56 is a massive, $2-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes, which will slam poor people especially hard, as I recently wrote on this site. The general idea is to kill them with taxes before the Big C does.

Proposition 57 would release more non-violent inmates from prison. Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing it and one of the pro-57 groups, raising $4 million so far, is Gov. Brown’s Ballot Measure Committee. Although previous efforts to release California inmates, such as 2014’s Proposition 47, have been followed by crime increases, crime is up across the whole country, including in places with no extra leniency. These things tend to run in cycles. The 1990s saw the draconian Three Strikes Initiative pass in 1994. The 2010s have seen Prop. 47 and “realignment,” which sent a lot of non-violent criminals from state prisons to county jails.

Law enforcement is the main opposition to Prop. 57, much as the prison guards were the main proponents of locking up more people with Three Strikes. But the police brutality cases across the country might lessen the cops’ clout.

Proposition 58 would bring back with a vengeance the bilingual-ed scam. It was ended (mostly) in 1998 with Ron Unz’ great Proposition 227, the English for the Children initiative, which mandated classes be taught in our national language. After passage, immigrant test scores jumped sharply. The overall election shows how this state has a lot of problems with ethnic tensions, as does the country. But at least we’re discussing them in the same language, unlike ex-Yugoslavia, thanks to the Unz Initiative.

Let me add a personal perspective. About 30 years ago I worked in Washington, D.C. and attended a political conference at a D.C. hotel. During a break, I wandered around the hotel to another conference. It was a ritzy shindig for bilingual ed teachers. They were living it up on our tax dollars! It always was a racket.

Longtime California columnist John Seiler’s email is: [email protected]

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