Your Study Guide for the California Ballot Initiatives

The pros and cons of the propositions in California that could impact your life
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Andrew Talebi
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The pros and cons of the propositions in California that could impact your life
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LIve In California? Here is our voting cheat sheet. 

If you are anything like just about everyone else in America, you're tired of the general election. The reasons for this are pretty obvious: First, this thing has droned on for around a year and a half. Second, the two candidates for president are polling with incredibly high unfavorability percentages (Clinton at 53.4% and Trump at 57.7%).

If you dig back far enough into the basic civics classes you took in middle school, or maybe high school, you'll find solace in one very important fact of American politics: local elections impact your lives far more than national politics (including those elections that determine who occupies the Oval Office). However, like national politics, there is often a great deal of misinformation and spin doctoring that takes place when the public are pitched various propositions for consideration come November.  

As I live in California, and as the state has one of the more convoluted initiative processes in the nation, this article will examine all of the propositions and the positions for and against each. I urge anyone who has received their Voter Information Packet in the mail to completely disregard it.  I read the whole thing.  It is not informative at all.  Also, please note that some propositions are unopposed - those have been placed towards the end of this article with brief summaries to encapsulate their respective issues. 

Proposition 51 - The School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities. Initiative Statute

Proposition 51 seeks to allow the state to issue $9 billion in bonds to allow for the funding of improving K-12 and community colleges throughout the state.

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Argument For Proposition 51 - Said simply, it has been a decade since the state issued any bonds to revitalize schools around the state and around 10,000 of the schools are outdated and crumbling. Around 8 million students comprise the K-12 and community college population, with their campuses being ill suited for technology or vocational training, and at times unsafe, particularly for younger children. Appropriately, most of the money would be targeted at K-12 schools, with $2 billion directed towards community colleges.    

Argument Against Proposition 51 - While Proposition 51 costs $9 billion now, by the time it is paid off in 35 years, the interest will have accrued to $8.6 billion, making the total cost of this Proposition on California taxpayers $17.6 billion.  Governor Jerry Brown opposes Proposition 51 stating, "It's a blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money that would be far better spent in low-income communities." Governor Brown takes particular issue with the fact that Proposition 51 was crafted by the developers who stand to profit from the construction projects. Finally, the independent Legislative Analyst's Office stated:

Notably, the existing program fails to treat school facility costs as an ongoing expense despite the recurring nature of facility needs, allows disparities based on school district property wealth, fails to target funding according to greatest need, results in excessive administrative complexity, and lacks adequate accountability mechanisms.

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My Take - I lead with Proposition 51 and devoted considerable space to it in this article because it is both mundane but critically important.  It is difficult to vote against the idea of repairing schools. However, I'd urge those who have lived in California since Governor Brown inherited the economic mess laid by Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger to consider the import of a sitting Governor opposing this Proposition. Say what you will about Governor Brown's policies, he has trended the state's economy in the right direction since assuming office. Construction companies are inevitably going to profit from the physical revitalization of infrastructure, but I think it is unwise to allow those companies to draft the provisions of legislation that allows them to profit from the project and then saddle the taxpayer with $18 billion in further debt.  I oppose Proposition 51. 

Proposition 53 - The No Blank Checks Initiative

When the state funds public infrastructure projects, it issues revenue bonds; debt which is repaid by use of the project (i.e., toll roads). Proposition 53 seeks to require statewide voter approval for any public infrastructure projects that require $2 billion or more in revenue bonds.  

Argument For Proposition 53 - The central argument in supporting Proposition 53 boils down to the reality of any construction project. That is to say, the cost at the front end of the project is usually minuscule compared to the actual cost of the project once work has gone underway. Advocates for Proposition 53 take the position that if a minimum of $2 billion in taxpayer money is going to be spent on a project that will likely end up costing more, taxpayers should have a say. 

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Argument Against Proposition 53 - Opponents of Proposition 53 do not disagree, on a philosophic level, with the notion that voters should vote on massive public infrastructure projects. Rather, the issue here is with the drafting of the proposition, which indicates that statewide voter approval could, and likely would, be required for local projects.  For example, the expansion project at LAX might not be able to get adequate funding unless the entire state has a say in the matter. Governor Brown, the Chamber of Commerce, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and state labor leaders all oppose Proposition 53.

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My Take - A question I often ask myself when driving around Los Angeles is why my roads suck so much even though I seemingly pay out my eyeballs in taxes. Having a say in projects costing $2 billion or more is a good idea in principle. What's not a good idea in principle is having people with no skin in the game have an opinion on local infrastructure projects. Maybe in the future, someone more adept at drafting legislation will tighten up this concept for voter approval.  Until then, I oppose Proposition 53.  

Proposition 55 - Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare

In 2012, voters passed Proposition 30, which increased income tax rates 1-3% on those making $263,000 per year or more. Proposition 30 is set to expire at the end of 2018 and Proposition 55 seeks to extend this tax increase until 2030. 

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Argument For Proposition 55 - After Proposition 30 was passed, the state saw an increase of around $6 billion in revenue per year. The money is aimed at essential services, namely education but also health care. As discussed under Proposition 51, the schools in this state are suffering and the state's future depends on an educated and competitive workforce. In 2012, ravaged by the recession, schools were hit hardest. Some analysts are predicting another recession in the future, and Proposition 55 seeks to ensure that enough revenue exists in the state's budget to continue funding education for the future.    

Argument Against Proposition 55 - When the public was pitched on Proposition 30, Governor Brown and other advocates pushed the notion that the increase was temporary.  As even supporters of Proposition 55 note, the increases worked. However, as compared to 2012, the state is no longer in a dire fiscal position and it is time to undertake comprehensive tax reform, rather than continue to band-aid the state's budgetary issues. Finally, under Proposition 98, schools already get the majority of the state's revenue so there are clearly other issues impeding the proper spending of that money.

My Take - I'm poor, so I don't really have a problem with the rich paying more taxes. However, I don't intend to be poor until 2030.  A shorter extension may have been easier for me to swallow - that is, until I looked at this chart:

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Everyone making $52,000+ is taxed at 9.3%. Notwithstanding payments to Uncle Sam, that's already a considerable amount of taxes and the state will continue to tax those earners at $263,000+ at the increased rate for an additional two years. To me, this is less about taxes and more about pork barrel spending in Sacramento, which Proposition 55 does not seek to resolve. I oppose Proposition 55.

Proposition 57 - The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016

Proposition 57 seeks to allow inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes to reduce their sentences through credits for good behavior while in prison but not less than the minimum mandatory sentence for their respective crime. Additionally, it seeks to require a judge's approval when a prosecutor seeks to charge a juvenile as an adult.

Argument For Proposition 57 - The idea behind the credit system is to allow those nonviolent criminals to rehabilitate themselves by exercising good behavior in an effort to reduce the time spent in jail, and hopefully, to instill certain values in the inmates to prevent re-incarceration. These felons would still be required to have their sentences reduced by the parole board. California prisons are routinely overcrowded, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Allowing for certain inmates to be released on the basis of good behavior would assist in curing that problem. Governor Brown supports Proposition 57. 

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Argument Against Proposition 57 - The major opposition to Proposition 57 centers around the definition of "nonviolent crime." The law does not make clear which among the nonviolent crimes would be covered under this program. As it stands, arson and hostage taking could be defined as "nonviolent crimes." Moreover, opponents argue that the drafting is so sloppy as to apply to other crimes such as assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and rape of an unconscious person.   

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My Take - Criminal justice reform is something that will inevitably result in grappling with some uncomfortable ideas, not the least of which is the suggestion that a convicted rapist should have his or her sentence reduced for "good behavior." That said, I think that the argument in opposition to this Proposition is short-sighted.  Any convicted felon seeking to take advantage of this system will be required to have his or her reduced sentence approved by the parole board and the Governor. I trust those individuals enough to keep rapists, domestic abusers, and sex traffickers behind bars. I support Proposition 57.    

Proposition 60 - The California Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act

For those of us fortunate enough to have lived in Los Angeles during the Measure B saga, Proposition 60 seeks to expand the requirement that all adult entertainers who film in California wear condoms during intercourse.

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Argument For Proposition 60 - It almost goes without saying but the argument in support of Proposition 60 concerns workplace safety.  A study commissioned by the AIDS Health Foundation (the primary backer of the proposition) found that a third of those engaged in the adult film industry who also participated in the study had unreported STDs. This initiative seeks to increase the safety of those engaged in the adult film industry, reduce (or eliminate) the spread of STDs, and would fine any violators up to $70,000.

Argument Against Proposition 60 - Learning from the lessons that Measure B unleashed on Los Angeles, the LA Times has come out against Proposition 60, noting that the multi-billion dollar adult film industry, which once concentrated in Los Angeles, has evaporated since Measure B was enacted. With respect to workplace safety, opponents of the proposition are quick to note that the industry requires testing every 14 days. Moreover, though slow moving, OSHA has been working to create specific guidelines for those engaged in the adult film industry. Finally, industry standards are usually reached and agreed upon after comprehensive studies and active participation by those engaged in the industry, rather than by referendum.

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My Take - Porn is going to get filmed and it is going to get filmed without condoms. This issue boils down to whether California is going to continue to be a haven where porn can be filmed and the state can derive some form of revenue from it. As I am in favor of businesses staying in California, I oppose Proposition 60.  

Proposition 62/66 - The Justice That Works ActThe Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016

These two propositions are working against each other: Proposition 62 seeks to eliminate the death penalty in California, retroactively applied to those sitting on Death Row, and revising their sentences to life without parole. Proposition 66 seeks to solve problems with the legal process surrounding the death penalty by capping the appeals process at five years, allowing more courts to hear appeals, and expanding the field of state-appointed lawyers.  

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Argument For Proposition 62 - Since California reinstated the death penalty in 1972, 1,039 people have been sentenced to death but only 13 have been executed. According to the independent Legislative Analyst's Office, abolishing the death penalty will save the state at least $150 million per year. In recent years, the tide of change has slowly swept over the United States, with more states voting to abolish the death penalty. The reason for this is simple: fear of executing a wrongfully convicted person. To that point, for every 10 people executed in California since the death penalty was reinstated, one has been set free.       

Argument For Proposition 66 - Essentially, those who are convicted of a crime heinous enough to warrant a death penalty should face their sentence and bring closure to the victims' loved ones. To fix the monetary issues surrounding the death penalty, new procedures would be put in place to speed up the post-sentencing/appeals process and more prisons would be able to house those on Death Row.     

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My Take - People who call themselves civilized should not utilize a barbaric form of punishment that is prone to error, particularly when you consider that the majority of prison inmates are underprivileged minorities who are often maligned by the criminal justice system. I support Proposition 62 and vehemently oppose Proposition 66.

Proposition 63 - The Safety Act For All of 2016

In an effort to stem firearm violence, Proposition 63 seeks to outlaw possession of high-capacity magazines, establish a system to confiscate guns from felons, make all gun theft crimes felonies, and require businesses and people to report stolen firearms. Additionally, it seeks to require background checks in order to purchase ammunition and require that the purchaser obtain a four-year license with the California Department of Justice.  

Argument For Proposition 63 - Nearly 70% of California homicides and two-thirds of suicides are committed with firearms. In an effort to curb gun ownership by potentially dangerous individuals, Proposition 63 requires that those who lose eligibility to own a firearm actually forfeit their guns and vests power with judges and probation officers to compel such individuals to surrender their firearm. By regulating the sale of ammunition, and requiring a registry of those who are purchasing ammunition, the state and law enforcement is better prepared to regulate illicit sale of firearms and ammunition.  

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Argument Against Proposition 63 - The opposition focuses its argument on the provision concerning the sale of ammunition. It states that the "sharing" of bullets amongst friends will now be criminalized. Additionally, the opposition argues that the online sale of bullets will be criminalized. Finally, by banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition, Proposition 63 operates as a de facto confiscation of legally owned property by the state.

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My Take - I'll be honest: reading the opposition and trying to stay somewhat objective on this Proposition was difficult. Seemingly any time a sane gun regulatory measure is introduced, the opposition resorts to "the guberment is comin' fer muh guns" rather than putting together an articulate counterpoint. That is the case with Proposition 63 as well.  For that reason, and because I think gun ownership has flown completely off the rails, I support Proposition 63.  

Proposition 64 - The Adult Use of Marijuana Act

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Proposition 65/67 - The Environmental Fee Protection Act / Referendum on Senate Bill 270

These two Propositions are about whether the entire state of California will implement a ban on plastic bags in grocery stores.  The difference between the two Propositions is allocation of the revenue from the sale of carryout bags.  To be honest, it's a little confusing but this chart is helpful:

Prop 65 chart
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There is some educated debate about the true positive environmental value, if any, of reusable tote bags. Personally, I I think that a statewide carryout bag law is a little silly.  I would rather local communities make the decisions.  To the extent one of these two Propositions has to become law, I would rather see Proposition 67 pass.  That said, and I'm undoubtedly in the extreme minority on this one, but I oppose both Proposition 65 and 67.   

The Propositions below are essentially unopposed. 

Proposition 52 - Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program

Medi-Cal (the state's version of the federally funded Medicaid) provides health insurance to indigent Californians and the federal government almost matches Medi-Cal's funding dollar for dollar. In 2009, the Legislature found a way to game the system, taxed private hospitals (instead of the people), and since then, has put all of that tax money (~$4 billion) into Medi-Cal, triggering a match of ~$4 billion from the Federal Government, which is reimbursed to the private hospitals. This Proposition codifies this scheme into the state Constitution.  

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Did you go cross-eyed reading that? Me too. But the only group that has opposed this Proposition has changed its stance to "neutral." Their only complaint appeared to be ensuring that the money raised by this Proposition is effectively allocated, rather than actual opposition to the substance of the Proposition itself. I support Proposition 52.

Proposition 54 - The California Legislature Transparency Act

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Proposition 54 seeks to amend the State Constitution to require that any legislation have its full text placed online at least 72 hours before the Legislature vote. It also requires that all public proceedings be recorded and placed online within 24 hours and to be kept online for 20 years.  

Will this end special interest influence in politics? No. Is more transparency in government a good idea? Yes. I support Proposition 54.

Proposition 56 - Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, and Law Enforcement

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Proposition 56 raises the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $2 and also taxes the sale of e-cigarettes, which are currently untaxed, at $3.37. The money raised by way of these taxes would go toward Medi-Cal funding with 13% of the funds going towards tobacco-related research and prevention programs.

The only opposition to this proposition comes from groups funded by Philip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds. Shocker. I support Proposition 56.

Proposition 58 - The California Education for a Global Economy Initiative

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One in five California children need to learn English. Proposition 58 seeks to allow schools to provide options to parents of these children in order to best facilitate learning English. Should parents want to immerse their children in English-only classes, that option is available. Alternatively, dual-language immersion is also an option and has been shown to have positive benefits in an increasingly more global world. There is some opposition to Proposition 58 but, to me, giving schools and communities the ability to decide how best to educate their children is a no-brainer. I support Proposition 58.    

Proposition 59 - Tell The Legislature How You Feel About Citizen's United

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This Proposition seeks to elicit an answer to the question of whether the Legislature should urge a US Constitutional amendment to the Supreme Court decision in Citizen's United.  No indication is given as to the language of this proposed amendment. Also, the Supreme Court could just overturn its own decision later on down the road. This seems premature and borderline silly. I oppose Proposition 59.

Proposition 61 - The California Drug Price Relief Act

Drug prices are negotiated through confidential contracts, which results in the state (under Medi-Cal or those under the care of Veteran's Affairs) paying different prices for the same drug. Proposition 61 seeks to prevent the state from buying drugs at a price higher than what the VA pays. Here's the problem: Pharmaceutical companies care a lot about their profit margins and if they take a hit in one area of their revenue stream, you can expect that they will seek to recover that money elsewhere.  

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In addition, should Proposition 61 pass, it is likely that the drug discounts veterans receive would evaporate. I generally support the notion of comprehensive reform as it concerns the pharmaceutical industry and the soaring cost of medicine. However, this Proposition falls quite short of accomplishing that objective and I refuse to entertain the idea that veterans could lose their discounts. I oppose Proposition 61.

A lot of media attention is paid to the Presidential election. But it is critically important that the issues down ballot get addressed. The state and local initiatives have a direct impact on both your wallet and communities. Self-governance is not an issue that comes around every 4 years, it's something that requires consistent participation. 

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November 8, 2016 is just around the corner. Don't forget to grab your sticker so you can let all your Instagram friends know you voted.