There’s violence, and then there’s the violence being done to reason during the fight over the three tax-hiking ballot initiatives. At this rate, the safest political bet in California is that all logic will be dead well before November.

Which is why it’s so hard to pick out the worst arguments being made in the tax initiative battle. There simply are too many worthy contenders – which is to say, unworthy arguments – being made every day.

Here is my best effort to pick five. But I’d love to see your own choices in the comments

5.  The polling shows… (made by all sides).

So many claims have been made, by backers of all three measures, about the respective polling on these measures, and what they show will happen if one measure is dropped or if two measures aren’t dropped or if John Wayne rises again to rid the world of Liberty Valance and SuperPACs. These claims are bunk for two reasons.

First, making predictions about a November election based on March polls is nuts. Second, the poll talk has taken away from any deep, public debate — or engagement – about what the measures do, what they don’t do, and what the state really needs. None of the three efforts went through any real deliberative, democratic, public process to engage California citizens. (Yes, CFT and Courage Campaign, to their credit, listened to their members, but those members are only a fraction of California).

4. This is all about the schools.

First, whether these measures pass or not, California’s spending on public education will remain below the national average for per-pupil spending.  Whether these measures pass or not, the Prop 98 education funding guarantee—the formula that has protected school funding in California all the way to near the bottom of rankings – remains in place. None of these measures changes the game on schools and their funding.

Second, if this is all about schools – and each measure has education provisions (they are particularly extensive in Munger’s initiative, which establishes a Head Start program for California among other things), when are we going to start talking about education? Have you heard any real discussion of what these initiatives would mean for schools and student achievement? Me neither.

3. This measure will/will not fix the budget (made by all sides, but especially Jerry Brown).

Newsflash: none of these measures will fix the budget, no matter how much Jerry Browns protests. The budget process can’t be fixed by a tax ballot initiative, even a tax initiative with provisions to shift budget moneys around. The hard truth is that you can’t fix the budget with spending cuts or tax increases, because fixing the budget isn’t a math problem anymore. The budget process is so broken that only dismantling the current process (including taking away all the various spending mandates and formulas and supermajorities) can give citizens and elected officials a chance to fix it.

All of these measures are built on a bad budget process. Yes, Brown tries to live within the current budget structure. And yes, the CFT and Munger measures try to pile money on top of the budget structure. But that broken structure defies logic, reasoning or balance. All three of these measures could – for all anyone knows – make the budget problem worse.

2. We’re simply offering up a better idea than the governor. That’s how democracy works. (Mostly Molly Munger, and a little bit CFT)

It must be lovely to be able to be a full participant in California’s democracy. I wouldn’t know. Full participation is limited to groups and individuals, who like Munger, can afford to blow millions on a ballot initiative campaign. The rest of us don’t have much of a role. Yes, we can vote. We vote in legislative elections where our vote doesn’t much matter, because the districts are controlled by one party or the other. And in initiative campaigns, we can choose among the options that the wealthy interests and rich people offer us. Yippee!

Also, one shouldn’t put things on the ballot in California just because one has “a better idea,” as Munger was recently quoted saying. That’s reckless and irresponsible – because measures enacted by initiative can’t be changed except by another vote of the people. (Some initiatives permit amendment, but Munger’s is not one of them). No, the only reason you go to the public is if your idea is a perfect one, and it is perfectly drafted. So what each group is saying with its initiative is not: “we believe in democracy.” They’re saying: “we want to put something in place that can’t be changed through democratic processes, unless we or other rich entities come back again to the voters to ask their permission.”

  1. That we should be “realistic” and listen to the “grown-ups” (Jerry Brown).

Brown and his team have done a thorough (and fairly effective) job of defining his measure as the mature alternative to the childish alternatives. They’ve announced the sort of interest group coalition that many winning ballot initiatives have had. In interviews, Brown portrays himself as an adult in a political world that doesn’t have such people anymore.

Where are the grown-ups, he asks? Here’s an answer. In California, the grown-ups are in office, in power at major interest groups – and totally clueless, since they are unable to manage, or understand, a too-complicated governing system.

So the grown-ups spend their time conjuring poll-tested arguments for ballot initiatives, and other nonsense.