For voters who don’t spend their days engrossed in policy issues, the uncomfortable initiative season is upon us. How to decide on the 12 propositions on the November ballot? 

Reading through the arguments both pro and con can be confusing if the voters don’t take the time to dig deeper. That probably means getting off to an early start. One good place to begin is getting a jump reading the arguments in the ballot guide.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla has posted on the SOS website the current draft of the ballot guide for the propositions. The reason that what is posted is not a final copy is that material can be changed when a court orders alterations after a challenge to the language in the titles and summaries written by the attorney general’s office or the ballot arguments offered by proponents and opponents. 

The legal action will happen soon and must be resolved by August 10. All ballot inspired-lawsuits must be filed in the Sacramento Superior Court and there is no appeal to the superior court judge’s decision.

But with that warning, it would still be helpful to read what is in the draft guide as posted by the Secretary of State. Most of the basic back and forth arguments will undoubtedly remain about the same and voters will have a head start in doing some digging to clarify arguments in the guide

Take the first item voters will face, Proposition 14, the stem cell research bond.

The right of the state to fund stem cell medical research and create the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was approved by voters along with a $3 billion bond in 2004. Now there is about $130 million left in the fund and Proposition 14 is offered to replenish the kitty to the tune of $5.5 billion to pay for stem cell and other medical research, training, medical facility construction and administrative costs.

Promises that accompanied the 2004 campaign besides medical breakthroughs were that the bond money would stimulate economic activity, create jobs, and return money to the state’s General Fund when new inventions backed by the CIRM created profits.

Those points are at issue with Proposition 14.

While those in favor of the bond say CIRM is building on successes with 92 approved FDA trials in progress and 2900 medical discoveries to date and offer success stories, those opposed argue that no federally approved therapy has resulted and the promised bonanza of jobs and windfall of money for the state did not come close to materializing.

So, what to believe? Voters will have to do more digging. 

Yes, there are rebuttal arguments against the main arguments, but contrary opinions lay there as well.

For instance, in answering the charge that no substantial economic activity and jobs were created, the proponents point to a study by the USC Shaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. The report titled, “The Economic Case for Public Investment in Stem Cell Research,” does claim that 56,000 jobs were created (directly and indirectly) along with adding $10 billion to the state’s economy. The report goes on to say, “if” the research develops important therapies then the return on investment will be invaluable.

So, does that back the opponents’ argument that no recognized therapies have been developed? How to know? As with many ballot measures, voters have to weigh what might happen in the future if a proposition is approved.

The promise that money would be returned to the state because of new inventions has not exactly been gangbusters so far. The Legislative Analyst reports that money started coming only recently in 2017 but has totaled just $350,000 so far. However, the Analyst notes in his Proposition 14 review, past revenue collections “might not accurately predict future revenues.”

Once again, a crystal ball to the future would help, but the voters don’t have one, so they’ll have to try to understand the strengths and weaknesses on this and other measures. 

No time like the present to start.