Break Up Prop 19!

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Revisiting  the various ballot measures, I find myself thinking about Prop 19, and wondering whether it should be on the ballot at all. 

The legislature put it there. But that’s not the problem with it, at least in my view (I’m perfectly happy to see Propositions 16, 17, and 18 on the ballot). The issue is that Prop 19 isn’t actually one measure. It’s three measures—one pretty good, one bad, and one pension bailout.

One measure within the measure would extend property tax protections for older Californians when they moved, a rehash of an earlier failed measure. That’s the bad—old people don’t need more tax breaks. 

The second is an attempt to take away some property tax breaks from heirs who inherited a house from their parents but don’t live in the house. That’s probably a good idea.

The third is a measure to create new funds to give to counties, and then also to firefighting agencies for staffing. In effect, this is a bailout, since escalating retirement costs are a major factor in reducing staff and resources for fighting fires. 

I’d love to be able to break the measure apart, so I could vote for one of the three measures-within-a-measure. But I can’t—this measure is the product of legislative compromise.

Still, there’s a real question whether such a measure should be unlawful. After all, both legislation and ballot measures are supposed to be governed by a single-subject rule. And this goes at three distinctly different subjects. If Prop 19 passes, the courts should look at invalidating all three of the measures inside it.

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