I recently asked Assembly Speaker Karen Bass to respond to the argument against the special election ballot measures that I most often hear from people on the left. In its essence, that argument is: these measures were produced by a bad deal that was forced upon Democrats by Republicans using the leverage of the two-thirds vote requirement for passing taxes and the budget. So we should vote down these measures and use the crisis to push for reforms, like replacing the two-thirds requirement with a majority vote.

Bass responded to my question quickly and fiercely: “The house is on fire! The house is on fire!” she repeated. She went on to say that she’s for eliminating the two-thirds requirement too, and for other bigger structural reforms. But those will take time. Right now, the state is in a crisis. When your house is on fire, she argued, you have to put the fire out.

One could argue with Bass’ stance, but I think she’s 100 percent right in her choice of metaphor. The choice facing voters in the special election boils down to as much a question of strategy as ideology: when your house is burning, what do you do?

That the house of California is on fire is beyond arguing. Whatever the results of the election, this state has profound budget and economic problems. And each of the budget measures has flaws and defects. As Loren Kaye, a supporter of 1A, put it at a New America Foundation panel earlier this week in San Jose, these measures have something for everyone to hate. No one likes watching their house burn.

For all the talk about rainy day funds and lottery borrowing and temporary redirection of health program funds, the argument for the yes side boils down to a strategic choice. When the house is burning down, you don’t wait for a perfect option. You try to put out the fire and save as much of the house as you can. The water in this case is represented by the upfront revenue infusion from Prop 1C’s lottery borrowing and the temporary budget relief from early childhood and mental health programs provided by Prop 1D and 1E.

The other measures, Prop 1A and 1B, constitute your plan for rebuilding the house. You don’t particularly like the building plans. They may limit what you can add on to the house in the future, and the building plans don’t even fix all the house’s problems. But they are the only viable options on the table.

Those on the “no” side – from both left and right – would approach the burning house as an opportunity. The “no” folks never much cared for the house anyway. And since much of the house has already burned, why not just let the structure burn all the way to the ground?

Once the house is destroyed, a new, better house can be built in the old, dysfunctional one’s place. In budget terms, supporters of the “no” side want to deepen the state’s fiscal problems in the short term—risking another cash crisis, more debt downgrades, and even government shutdown and insolvency – in pursuit of a better, long-term state government.

The “no” strategy is higher risk. The house of California has to be shared, and there’s no consensus on how to rebuild it. It’s not even clear voters and their elected representatives would be capable of reaching such a consensus. The left wants majority vote on taxes. The right will want a new budget system that promotes budget cutting. It’s not clear how the house would be rebuilt. And there’s no guarantee that the state government and budget system that would emerge from a deeper fiscal crisis would be any better than what we have now.

The special election offers voters an unpleasant and difficult choice. It’s the kind of decision that should not be determined by the usual political moralizing about principles and issues. It’s a question of strategy and judgment. The “yes” side offers the safer choice—do your best to save what you have. But the “no” side offers a chance – a very small chance – of a brighter future.

Since this is California, a place of dreamers and gamblers, bet on the “no” side prevailing at the polls. But in time, we may come to regret not opening up the fire hydrant and putting water on the house.