Monday, November 5, 2012

Ballot Initiative Breakdown by Chuck Krugman

The following is an independent analysis of the initiatives on the ballot tomorrow by Chuck Krugman of the Fresno Stonewall Democrats. The analysis includes opionions from such groups as the ACLU and the League of Women Voters.

You can learn more about all the ballot measures by visiting the California Secretary of State website by clicking HERE or by going to this web address...

By Chuck Krugman

The November election ballot is long and confusing as there eleven statewide initiatives and three local initiatives on ballots in Fresno County. Some of the initiatives are not what they seem with some unintended consequences if passed in to law. In this article I will briefly summarize the initiatives outlining the pros and cons of voting on each of them.

Prop 30 Temporary taxes to fund education initiative

Proposition 30 was proposed by the Governor to address current shortfalls in the California state budget. If passed it would raise sales taxes by 0.25% for four years and would raise income taxes for those filing that earn an income of $250,000 (single person) or $500,000 annual for couples filing jointly. If passed most of the funding would be used to fund k-12 education and some money funding higher education as well as the general fund revenues would be offset by increases allowing the funding of other programs. It would also require continued funding for programs shifted to counties under realignment. Passage would result in increase of state revenues of at least $6 billion per year for the next four years. If defeated proposed budget cuts for this fiscal year   would be triggered. These would include the shortening of the school year by three weeks, cuts to colleges and universities and social service programs and would not allow funding for public safety programs under realignment. This initiative addresses the shortfalls that have occurred as a result of the downturn in the economy while protecting needed services offered by the state. The California Democratic Party recommends a “YES” Vote.

Prop 31state budget initiative

On the surface Prop 31 sounds like it might be a good in that it requires the state of California to adopt a 2-year budget cycle. However, it also requires that the legislature must find a source of revenue for any program enacted that would cost more than $25,000,000 to implement. It also allows a complicated formula for local governments to opt out of certain state programs and set up their own methods of funding. In doing this issues would be raised regarding the uniformity of certain programs and services or result in a potential lack of services in certain counties. This could undermine social service and environmental programs as a result. In times of a budgetary emergency it would grant increased powers to the governor to make mandatory budget cuts and would prevent the legislature from coming up with appropriate solutions to budget difficulties. To implement this some revenues would be shifted to local county governments for funding and the state could lose $200,000,000 annually. This is an another attempt to downsize government at the expense of those people who most need services in that if a budget emergency occurs the brunt of budget cuts would come from health and Social service programs that are not mandated by the Federal government. Examples would include supplemental MediCal or in home supportive services and other programs affecting low income residents, senior citizens or the disabled. The California Democratic Party recommends a “NO” vote on this initiative.

Prop 32 Political contributions by pay roll deductions initiative

If enacted Prop 32 would prohibit any contribution by pay roll education for political activities on the part of corporations, labor unions or government contractors. In reality few if any corporations or government contractors make deductions from pay roll to contribute to candidates. As a result if passed this initiative would only impact the activities of labor unions in California that use this method to raise funds for political activities on behalf of their members. This is similar to legislation enacted in Wisconsin and other states to undermine the activities of unions. If passed this would result in increased costs to the state for investigating and advising or enforcing alleged violations. While Prop 32 impacts the activities of unions it does nothing to address issues of donations from corporations or special corporate PACS to candidates. While there may be a need to monitor and regulate contributions of special interest groups or lobbyists there are already safeguards that address the activities of unions and their campaign methods. The California Democratic Party recommends a “NO” vote on this initiative.

Prop 33 Auto insurance initiative
This is the third time an initiative of this type has been brought before California voters. Funded by the insurance industry it would change the factors included in setting insurance rates for auto insurance in California. Presently rates are set based on an insured’s driving record, the number of miles driven annually and the number of years a driver has been driving. This initiative if passed would allow the history of being insured to be factored in as a consideration. This would allow higher rates to be charged for a customer who for whatever reason has allowed coverage to lapse. While supporters claim that this would result in greater competition by insurance companies states that have implemented similar laws have experienced significant increases in premiums as a result. This also adverse affects low income people or senior citizens as well who may for a period of time might not have owned or driven a vehicle. This initiative in reality does not benefit consumers and the California Democratic Party and many other organizations concerned with the interests of consumers recommend a “NO” vote.

Prop 34 Death Penalty initiative 
This initiative would abolish the death penalty in California and replace it with a sentence of “Life with no chance of parole.” If approved this would apply to those inmates serving sentences on Death Row. It would also set up a new “Safe California” fund that would allocate $100,000,000 over four years for prosecution and investigation of murder and rape cases. Supporters say this will save the state money by reducing costs of maintaining inmates on Death Row and ongoing court costs for prosecution and appeals of death penalties. Opponents say murderers and others will avoid justice and the additional program and funds for law enforcement are not needed. The California Democratic Party recommends a “YES” vote.

Prop 35, Human Trafficking Initiative

This initiative would increase penalties for human trafficking and change the definition to include the distribution of obscene materials depicting a child and increase penalties and fines for human trafficking. All sex offenders would have to provide information about their internet activity. This initiative could cost over $2,000,000 a year to prosecute and investigate claims. There could be also increased costs for local governments to provide additional training for police officers. Supporters say this is needed to stop online human trafficking activities and provide added protection against sex offenders however actual numbers of these cases have been reported at a low level and are unsubstantiated. Opponents express concerns about the poor drafting of the legislation that could result in invasion of privacy extensive litigation against it and no guarantees that there would be any impact on human trafficking. Opponents say this would have a detrimental effect on victims of human trafficking receiving help as many sex workers are underage youths, undocumented immigrants or transgender persons. Anyone associating with a person who engages in sex work activity could be accused of human trafficking. While the California Democratic Party recommends a “yes” vote other civil rights and advocacy groups such as the ACLU recommend a “NO” vote due to the language of the initiative. It is noteworthy that the backer of this initiative is Chris Kelly, former privacy officer from Facebook who ran unsuccessfully against Kamala Harris for California Attorney general and it is likely that he is using this initiative to jump start a political career in the future.

Prop 36 Three Strikes Initiative

This initiative would modify the California Three Strikes law to make sure that a third strike would count if the crime committed was a violent or serious felony. It would allow for the possible resentencing of those already serving third strike sentences if their crime was not a serious or violent felony. New sentencing guidelines would change the penalty for the third strike to twice the existing penalty for a given offense. There could be some initial costs of a few million dollars a year for the first few years for resentencing activity for existing inmates but there would be an estimated savings of between $70 and $90 million annually. Supporters say that this would result in the punishment more appropriately fitting the crime and saving money that can be diverted to other needs of California residents due to less prisoners being incarcerated for longer terms.  While opponents express concern that dangerous felons would be released to the streets to reoffend. The California Democratic Party recommends a “YES” vote.

Prop 37 Genetically Engineered foods initiative

This initiative would require the labeling of foods containing genetically engineered products by distributors and grocers. This does not apply to food sold in restaurants and independently. Costs could range from a few hundred thousand to $1,000,000 per year to monitor and enforce regulations. Presently there are no existing laws in California that regulate genetically engineered food. Supporters say this would give consumers a greater choice in what products they buy and eat while opponents say this would result in costly law suits against farmers for not properly labeling their products. They also cite increased costs for redesigning of packaging of products. However, some other states and countries in Europe require labeling of genetically engineered products. The California Democratic Party recommends a “yes” vote.

Prop 38 Tax to fund education and early childhood programs initiative

This initiative would raise income taxes on all Californians except in the lowest income bracket which anyone making over $17546 per year would receive some increase in their income tax payments. Funds would be placed in a special fund that wound fund education and facilities and early childhood programs in the state. However, funds cannot be used for teacher salaries. The higher taxes would be in effect until 2024 with no mechanism to change or revise this initiative during that time. Control of funds would be given to local districts and there would be no uniformity as to how funds are allocated in the state. This would take money from the General fund to support these programs. A new complicated distribution formula of these would be enacted. There is no requirement in this initiative that addresses underperforming schools or bad teachers. Provisions of this initiative would negate Prop 30 and could have a negative impact on the general fund’s revenues. If Prop 38 is approved and Prop 30 is not then mandatory budget cuts would go in to effect negatively impacting state services. Supporters say this would restore the priority of education in California and fund early childhood programs giving all children a head start that they need. Opponents concerns address the lack of accountability of distribution of these funds and locking taxpayers in to higher tax brackets until 202 without any ability to change or amend this initiative. The California Democratic Party recommends a “NO” vote.

Prop 39 Tax Treatment for Multistate businesses initiative

this initiative would close a loophole that has existed since 2009 regarding how out of state corporations pay taxes in California this initiative would require multistate businesses to pay taxes on the percentage of sales in California. This would result in an increase of revenue for the state of $1 billion per year to start. For the first five years 50% of revenue would go to provide for energy efficiency and clean energy jobs in the state. Supporters say that this will allow corporations to pay their fair share in taxes and close a loophole while creating jobs and improving energy efficiency. Opponents say that this will result in companies eliminating jobs in California and that there is already enough funding for energy efficiency projects. Initially the California Democratic Party took a “Neutral”” position on this initiative as there was hope that a legislative alternative would be approved by the end of the session. As this did not occur California Democratic Party Chair John Burton has taken a position of recommending a “yes” vote as has the Fresno and Madera County Democratic Central Committees.

Prop 40 Redistricting Referendum

This referendum would if passed approve current state Senatorial districts adopted by the newly created California Redistricting Commission in 2011. The law allowed for the gathering of signatures to challenge the newly created districts and a challenge was initiated by Republicans who were unhappy with the decisions of the Citizens Redistricting Commission in establishing districts. Court decisions upheld the districts and the opponents of this petition chose to stop campaigning. If this referendum were defeated it would require the courts to draw new district boundaries at a cost of about $500,000 with another $500,000 cost to counties to create new maps. There is little guarantee that new district boundaries would be significantly different and if this initiative passes existing districts are kept intact with no additional cost to the state or counties. The California Democratic Party recommends a “Yes” vote on this initiative.

Fresno County Measure B. Renewal of Library sales tax initiative 
This initiative is a referendum to renew the Library sales tax of 0.12% sales tax to provide ongoing library services. This is a renew of the tax passed in 1998 that expires in 2013. If passed this would allow current library services to continue at present levels with continued construction of new facilities and increased services based on plans and revenues received. If defeated this would result in staff layoffs and closing of many branch libraries. This referendum has received widespread support and there is no organized major opposition to it. The Fresno County Democratic Central Committee and the Fresno County Democratic Women’s Club recommend a “yes” vote.

Measure F (For Fresno City Residents only) Charter revision Amendments initiative

This recommends amendments to the Fresno City Charter addressing financial and fiscal issues requiring changes to the charter that have not been widely discussed publicly. They include changes to the process of reviewing and awarding contracts or backing of the city for projects and development activities exceeding $1,000,000. This amendment locks the Fresno City Council in to an arbitrary review process that does not allow for discretionary funding and decisions. It undermines the powers of the City Council and appears to give more power to the Mayor and City Manager in dealing with fiscal issues. Due to the ambiguity of this issue the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee and the Fresno County Democratic Women’s Club recommends a “No” vote.

Measure O (for all county residents) outsourcing of jobs and privatization of services

This referendum would change existing county law allowing for outsourcing of jobs and privatizing of departments with a majority of three votes on the Board of Supervisors. Current law requires a “supermajority” of four votes for outsourcing of county services and privatization of services. While it may appear that privatization of outsourcing may save money in the short run there is no guarantee that money will be saved in the long run. There is also no guarantee that outsourced services will be of the same quality that in-house services have been provided. As the bottom line with private venders or contractors the bottom line is a profit margin which will occur at the expense of quality or quantity of services provided. If enacted this would result in potential layoffs of county employees who are union members and while some may be rehired by new contractors there could be a significant reduction in salary and benefits offered and there would not be union representation currently provided to county workers. If implemented this could have disastrous effects on services such as the Public Defender, mental Health and social services and could result in privatization of correctional services. County residents have been complaining for years since county trash disposal services were contracted to private companies reporting increased rates and poor services. The Fresno County Democratic Central Committee and the Fresno County Democratic Women’s Club recommend a “no” vote on this initiative. 

Remember to vote early if you are a vote by mail voter and otherwise on Election Day November 6, 2012.

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