There are people who will tell you it’s your civic duty to educate yourself on all 17 measures on the November ballot, plus any other measures the legislature might add to the ballot, plus local measures, local races, state races, the U.S. Senate race and the presidential race.
Those people are nuts. You have a life. You have a job. And it’s just totally unreasonable for anyone to expect you to be well informed about more than a handful of measures. Three at the most.
You can ignore the rest.
Is that irresponsible? Not at all. Irresponsible is voting on measures you haven’t followed. And irresponsible is putting 17-plus measures on the ballot in the first place. Irresponsible was Gov. Jerry Brown’s and the legislative Democrats’ decision to move all ballot initiatives to November ballots, creating this logjam.
And irresponsible is the fact that no one in leadership in this state has pushed for the obvious solution. Create a separate calendar for ballot measure votes – as is done in some European countries – and have people vote on just a couple of measures at a time, no more than three. That way, each measure gets real debate and coverage. That’s how you deal with measures seriously. But California recklessly stuffs 17 measures on its ballot, even though everyone knows that there won’t be real campaigns or coverage of even half of the 17 measures.
So the average voter, with clear conscience can ignore most of these measures. But not all. Three measures is a fair amount of homework. But which ones?
Let’s begin with eliminating 14 measures that aren’t really worthy of your time or thought. You can leave that part of the ballot blank—or just vote no.
Prop 51 is a school bond that isn’t really about the schools; it’s just a way for developers to protect themselves from higher development fees. Prop 52 is a totally wrongheaded new supermajority rule for hospital fees in a state with too many wrongheaded supermajority rules. Prop 53 would require all kinds of new votes for big, expensive projects in the state. With our current election calendar stuffing everything onto November ballots, we don’t need more things to vote on. And we don’t need more ways to block mega-projects; mega-projects basically can’t get done in California anyway. (Look at the lack of progress by high-speed rail and the twin Delta tunnels).
Prop 54’s requirement that all bills be on the Internet for 72 hours will make little difference. Prop 56 is yet another cigarette tax – a policy that’s a positive to the state – tied to ballot-box budgeting, which we have plenty of; it’s not a big deal either way. Prop 58 involves a change on English-language education that might make it slightly easier to instruct California kids in foreign languages, but there’s already plenty of that (Drop by your local language immersion school sometime).
Prop 59 is a purely advisory measure—I won’t even bother telling you what it’s about. Prop 60, about the use of condoms in adult films, is simply not a subject worthy of statewide concern. Prop 61 is the latest of many failed efforts to use initiatives to beat up the prescription drug industry, which richly deserves abuse, and to enrich political consultants, who have plenty of money already. Ignore it.
The death penalty is a real issue, sure, but it affects a tiny fraction of our prison population. We don’t really need Prop 62 to eliminate it – the death penalty is de facto suspended in the state, and no one has been executed in more than a decade. A measure to speed it up, Prop 66, should be defeated too, by the same lights.
And then two measures – Prop 65 and Prop 67 – involve plastic bags and stores. Getting rid of such bags – or forcing people to pay for them – is a worthy cause, but hardly a major public policy issue.
Finally, there’s Prop 64, the marijuana legalization measure. This may be on your list; it’s not on mine. Marijuana is already decriminalized in the state, and marijuana is a huge business here. And it will remain so, whether Prop 64 passes or not.
So that leaves three measures worth your while:
1 — Prop 55. This is the extension of the personal income tax increases that were part of Prop 30. The sales tax piece is not part of this measure and will expire.
I think this is worth your time because it’s part of a bigger debate about budgets and taxation and California. And it’s a real pickle. California desperately needs tax reform that produces more revenues and is economically smarter than our current system. But tax reform is a hard sell—Brown, who recoils from hard stuff, won’t touch it. And this is what voters have. And Prop 55’s failure could lead to cuts. It’d be great if this campaign inspires a real push for the larger tax changes. It also should inspire scrutiny of all the automatic budget formulas in the state-one of Prop 55’s problems is that it itself includes formulas on spending
2 — Prop 57. This is a Brown-designed measure to create more flexibility for judges in sentencing and in matters of parole.
As with Prop 55, this initiative should touch off a bigger conversation that Californians should be part of. This state desperately needs to turn people who are sitting in jail even though they pose no threat to their communities into productive Californians. (Why the desperation? The decline of immigration, the net outflow of adults to other states, and our below-replacement birth rate for starters). How do we go about doing this? I see Prop 57 as a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. The state needs far more investment—smart investment in reentry programs and other services to help people turning their lives around. And Brown has been miserly about such programs. The media and citizens should give him a hard time about that and force him to campaign and really engage with citizens during this campaign.
3 — Prop 63 or the sales transit tax in Los Angeles County.
I live in L.A. and so my third measure will be the sales tax increase to fund an urgent and hugely ambitious set of roads, bus, rail and other transportation infrastructure in L.A. I use transit, and love to complain about Metro, but I want it to expand and succeed, for a host of reasons.
If I didn’t live in L.A., I’d probably make my third measure Prop 63, the gun regulation measure pushed forward by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. The measure’s presence on the ballot is annoying politically. It’s there to help Newsom build his brand for his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Gov. Brown could have signed similar measures into law—but he vetoed it, noting that this was on the ballot and the people should decide.
I’m hard on the gun control side of this debate. People kill people, and I don’t trust people, particularly Americans, who have a scary record of violence. Anything that gets guns out of people’s hands and homes sounds good to me.
There is one weapon I’d like to see someone develop—a weapon that allows Californians to take measures off of ballot, and delay them to future ballots, so we only have to decide on three measures at a time.