Regulate and Tax Cannabis
Thirty-eight years ago, in November 1972, there was a marijuana-legalization measure on the November ballot in California, also called Prop. 19. Strikingly similar to this year's model, the proposition failed when 60 percent of Californians voted to keep pot illegal. Almost four decades later, marijuana is easier to find than it ever was, proving that the criminalization of marijuana does nothing to prevent its use. Meanwhile, drug crime has exploded—our prisons are packed and our streets are less safe. These are the direct results of this archaic law. The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 will provide the state with significant tax revenue. It is estimated that a $50-per-ounce levy has the potential to raise $1.4 billion a year—money which now winds up in the hands of drug traffickers and illegal gun dealers. It's time for this foolish prohibition to be abolished.
This is inside politics that matters. For years, the boundaries of California's Assembly and state Senate districts were drawn up, every 10 years, by the assemblymembers and senators themselves. That scheme had predictable results: The elected officials created districts that were favorable to themselves and their parties. Essentially, they were able to choose their own voters. And so we get districts that are "solidly Democratic" or "solidly Republican," making political compromise unnecessary and gridlock inevitable. Two years ago, California voters did away with that system. With 2008's Prop. 11, voters approved the creation of an independent citizens commission to take over the drawing of legislative districts. (For more on this, see Prop. 27 endorsement below.) Prop. 20 expands that commission's mandate, empowering it to also draw U.S. congressional districts. It's a good idea for the same reason Prop. 11 was a good idea: Many elected officials in Sacramento today hope to move on to jobs in D.C. someday, and they have their eyes on that prize when they draw congressional districts.
Vehicle Fee for Parks
Prop. 21, the Vehicle License Fee for Parks Act, is exactly what it sounds like: a fee ($18 per year) tacked on to the fees California drivers pay annually to the DMV. The roughly $500 million that the initiative would raise would go toward maintaining the state's 278 parks, which are plagued by slashed budgets. Most California drivers would get free access to the parks, and $130 million would be directed to the cash-starved general fund. While any added fees imposed on residents should be treated with skepticism, there is no doubt that keeping state parks open is a worthy move—not only to attract the millions of tourists who routinely visit the state's parks, but also to allow all Californians to share in the state's rich natural heritage.
Ban on State Borrowing From Local Governments
In the past year the Legislature, facing a horrendous deficit, has exercised its authority to take money from local redevelopment and transportation agencies in what is universally described as a "raid" on local funds. On its surface, this proposition, which would end that practice, seems to make sense. And were it proposed in a different year, in a different economy, and in more moderate form, it might well be worth recommending. But at a time when nearly every state in the nation—including California—is strained to the breaking point by the largest economic downturn in a century, it doesn't make sense to pass a law that would prohibit even 1 cent of variation in shares of state and local revenue, even in the event of natural disasters. Among the many structural problems facing our state, one is the inflexibility forced on the Legislature because of "budgeting by ballot." This proposition would make matters worse.
Suspend A.B. 32, the Global Warming Act
California's landmark anti–global warming legislation, A.B. 32, was passed in 2006 with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Now that statewide unemployment is hovering around 12 percent, anti-regulation groups are targeting the climate change law and its objective, saying environmental regulations are the cause of the Golden State's financial woes. If passed, the law would suspend most of the provisions of A.B. 32 until the state posts unemployment figures of 5.5 percent or lower for four straight quarters—something that has happened only three times since 1980. Curbing greenhouse gasses is a responsibility that runs deeper than the ebb and flow of unemployment figures, and the revenue generation estimated to be produced by axing the law is modest by nearly all accounts.
Repeal of Corporate Tax Breaks
This proposition reverses three tax breaks, negotiated during the last two years' state budget showdowns, which primarily benefit multinational businesses. They represent about $1.3 billion a year in lost revenue to the state. A yes vote will ensure that money stays in state coffers rather than going to a few well-lined pockets. One of the breaks lets interstate businesses pick their in-state share of business taxes from a menu: choosing whether to pay on the property they occupy, their payroll value or sales. The second allows distribution of tax credits to affiliates—a game that some companies have gotten too good at playing. And the third allows corporations to collect refunds of past taxes during years in which they've shown net losses. The California Chamber of Commerce has labeled this prop a "jobs tax," claiming that it will reduce new hiring. It's the tired old trickle-down argument. Don't buy it.
Majority Rules on Budget
In some ways, this is the only proposition that matters. California currently requires the approval of two-thirds of both legislative houses to pass a budget, a threshold shared only by Arkansas and Rhode Island (the other 47 states require simple majorities). The result, here in the eighth largest economy in the world, is budgets that are almost always late, a fixed system of minority rule with a legacy of intense gerrymandering to maintain it, suspended services and a credit rating nestled snugly between those of the Czech Republic and Greece.
Opponents say that if passed, Prop. 25 will allow lawmakers to raise taxes with only a majority vote. That's false. State law will continue to require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes. What Prop. 25 will do is set the conditions for a realistic public conversation about spending and revenue in California to take place—and that is a necessary first step to recovery.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is sponsoring this initiative. If it passes, its primary funders, Chevron and Occidental, as well as MillerCoors and Anhueser-Busch, will get their way, as all levels of government, from city councils to the state Legislature, will have to achieve two-thirds vote thresholds to raise any fee for any activity or any levy for violating any law. That includes environmental law, which is where this prop got its nickname: The Polluter Protection Act. This proposition is corporate cynicism at its worst.
'Incumbent Protection Act'
The sponsors of this measure, a group of Democratic incumbents (many of whom we generally support) have named it the Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act. They claim its intent is to save money, because the state cannot afford to pay a small citizens commission to handle the chore of drawing legislative districts. Its true intent is to make it easier for them to keep their jobs. Prop. 27 would repeal the voter-approved Proposition 11, which authorized the creation of the commission, and return that responsibility to the Legislature itself, where it would no doubt result in more gerrymandering. Voters in Santa Cruz County have a stake in the outcome of this decision. In the last round of redistricting, parts of the county were included in a Senate district that stretches down to Santa Maria, ensuring that nobody from our part of California will ever win that seat. A citizens commission will almost certainly redraw this district more fairly. If Prop. 27 passes, they won't get the chance to do that.
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