Barry’s ballot guide
Fall 2016

There is quite a crop of propositions. Some are good, some are bad, and some rotten. I'm using the official ballot guide, records of contributors (who is paying tells much!), endorsements, and talking with friends involved in some of the campaigns. In some cases, the people involved (pro or con) are people I know to be so rotten that I have changed my position to be on the other side. I will explain those as I get to them. The titles are the official ones from the voter information guide.

A great resource is votersedge.org. Check it out. As always, I welcome your input. I reserve the right to be entirely wrong as well. Without further delay, here we go.

Prop. 51 — Bonds for School Facilities

Right off the bat, we run into our first goofball. It's Rick Marshall who lives in Torrance only a few miles from me. He opposes pretty much any school spending and is a major thorn in the school district's side. He shows the difference between a public watchdog and a yapping dog. Okay, I feel better having gotten that off my chest.

The bonds go primarily to community colleges, vocational education, and charters, all of which have a great unmet need. A well-trained workforce is something we will be seriously lacking in a few years and already are in many fields. This is a great investment, and it is clearly shown that the payoff from education is enormous in so many ways.

Recommendation – YES

Prop. 52 — Private Hospital Fees for Medi-Cal

The legislature enacted a fee in 2009 to pay for children's health care services and has extended the fee three times. There are groups wanting to divert that fee to other areas, which would cut payments to hospitals. The hospitals and groups serving these kids don't trust the legislature, and even the legislature doesn't blame them! Make the fee permanent and require a vote of the public or a 2/3 majority of the legislature to change it. Fair enough.

Recommendation – YES

Prop. 53 — Public Vote on Revenue Bonds

Here's a fine abuse of the initiative process. Dino Cortopassi doesn't like a state water project, so he's funding this measure to stop it. He is teaming up with John Coupal of the Jarvis association, whose endorsements are for sale at the right price as he has often shown. The measure would put all state revenue bond projects over $2 billion up for a statewide vote. That sounds nice, but revenue bonds are paid back by the project itself. We would all be voting on a project even if it is local. An example he raises is the Bay Bridge, which he says we should have voted on. That doesn't make sense. Should voters in LA be voting on a project hundreds of miles away that they aren't paying for? Mr. Cortopassi, please do something worthwhile with your money instead of trying to get the rest of us to make things go your way.

Recommendation – NO

Prop. 54 — Changes to the Legislative Process

You'll probably think I'm making this up, but it's real. In the final days of every legislative session, a strange beast called gut and amend rears its head. For example, a bill on roller coaster safety suddenly becomes tax code revisions for glass manufacturers. Prop 54 would require bills be in print 72 hours before a final vote. Some legislators say that would give special interest a chance to jump in and have changes made. There is some truth to that. On the other hand, it would keep those same people from doing a last-minute gut and amend like they have been doing. The measure also requires the recording of meetings of the legislature. I'll bet you thought they already did that. Surprise!

Recommendation – YES

Prop. 55 — Extend Tax on High Income

In 2012, we the voters approved Proposition 30 creating a six-year tax on higher incomes (over $250,000 for an individual and $500,000 for households). It is set to expire in 2018. Prop 55 extends it 12 years. The state's budget is in much better shape now, and we continue to make progress. Continuing the higher rate would definitely help maintain the gains of the last few years. There are two serious issues I have with doing that. First, temporary should be temporary. It was promised as such, and we should keep our promises, plain and simple. I don't have a serious problem with the higher rate. The theory that the wealthy would move out of state has been shown untrue by the statistics. But the second serious issue is that higher incomes are highly volatile, particularly capital gains. In the past, that has made the state's revenues shoot up and down. We need to have a more stable income stream to keep is financially healthy. I hate the fact that I'm agreeing with John Coupal on this, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Recommendation – No

Prop. 56 — Tobacco Tax

Big tobacco is strongly opposing this one. Do you need to know more? Okay, the proposal is to raise the tobacco tax by $2 a pack. The reasoning why is simple:

  • Most smokers start as teens

  • Teens are very price sensitive

  • Our tax is one of the lowest in the nation

  • It is well documented that raising tobacco taxes reduces tobacco usage

As you can imagine, big tobacco doesn't want to lose its next crop of customers. They can't fight the above logic without looking like the vermin they are, so they try to raise doubts about how the funds will be used. As I pointed out, the higher tax itself cuts smoking, so they could dump it in the ocean, and it would still be worthwhile. Obviously, that's not the plan. The revenues primarily go to health care. With smoking still the largest preventable cause of death, the costs associated with smoking are great, and the medical system could definitely use more for treatment. The tobacco companies complain about the tax distribution -- as if they care at all. They complain not enough is going to schools. This is a health issue, and that is where funds are going, including smoking prevention. The measure also taxes e-cigarettes, which have been shown to bring more people into smoking than out of it.

Recommendation – YES

Prop. 57 — Parole, Sentencing and Court Procedures

In 2011, a federal court ordered California to reduce the prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity or face mandatory release of prisoners. That is the driving force behind this one. One way or another, we have to have less people in prison. The question is how. Prop 57 makes it easier for non-violent felons to get parole and keeps more youth out of the prison system by keeping them in the juvenile system. I read through the actual initiative after reading some scary stuff, and I don't see anywhere that gives anyone automatic parole or makes it easier for violent felons to get out. I thought the opponents had a point, but the actual language does not match their arguments. As I learned working in the juvenile probation system, our recidivism rate was pretty low while it was much higher for youth authority and higher yet for prison. Prop 57's language primarily focuses on moving youth back to the juvenile system. If you don't like this proposition to reduce the prison population, you'd better come up with another idea.

There is a huge caveat to this. Without services and programs for parolees, they will quickly end up back in the system. That is obvious. We need more funding for law enforcement, which is our biggest mental health program, along with education and job placement. There is no point in releasing someone to have them screw up again because they can't adapt as a productive member of society.

Recommendation – YES

Prop. 58 — English Language Education

I remember the vote to ban bilingual education. At the time, we had an awful system that created an educational ghetto where kids never learned English. That system needed to go. Almost 20 years later, we know much more about how to make kids English proficient. There are even multilingual schools that parents try hard to get their kids into that are English/Spanish and English/Chinese. Prop 58 allows individual districts to try out what works for them. That seems worthwhile.

Recommendation – YES

Prop. 59 — Political Spending Advisory Question

Should we vote to ask our representatives to propose a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United? No. While the ruling has made a mess of our messed up political system, our voting on this measure does zero to change it. If you want change, look to congress and the courts. The ballot is long enough without this sort of clutter.

Recommendation – NO

Prop. 60 — Condoms in Adult Films

Here is the first of two measures sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. While the goal of preventing the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is laudable, the data indicates requiring condoms in the adult film industry is not helpful. The LA county ban has had the effect of pushing filming into other communities with less regulation or filming being done without permits or oversight. Existing safeguards such as regular testing and notification when a performer tests positive have been shown to be more effective. The proposed treatment makes it worse, not better.

Recommendation – NO

Prop. 61 — Prescription Drug Costs

Here is the second one funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The opposition is the pharmaceutical industry. Seems pretty clear cut, right? Not at all. Prop 61 states that drug manufacturers can't charge more than they charge the Department of Veterans Affairs. Big pharma is terrified of that of course, and they are throwing big bucks behind it. Being the rotten group they are (bought an Epi pen lately?), I assumed yes would be the right vote. Then I found out the AIDS Healthcare Foundation makes most of its money selling drugs and would benefit strongly from this proposal. Uh... That's not right. I would prefer to see regulation handled by the legislature on such a complex matter than getting one group's proposal. I'd like to vote yes to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry, but that would be wrong -- this time.

Recommendation – NO

Prop. 62 — Repealing the Death Penalty

Let's face it, the death penalty doesn't work by any measure. It's not a deterrent, even in places like Texas where it is actually used more often. It costs a fortune to the public in legal costs and special holding facilities. There are some truly terrible people who deserve it, but as a state-run program, it simply does not work. Life in prison without possibility of parole is something inmates truly fear. They can't hurt anyone else. They do not need the appeal structure death row creates. The savings are millions of dollars per year. I'm sure we could find something useful to do with that.

Recommendation – YES

Prop. 63 — Gun and Ammunition Sales

This won't be a controversial topic, will it? Prop 63 requires a permit to buy ammunition. It could cost as much as $50 and be good for four years at a time. There would be a new process for removing firearms from those who are already not supposed to have them. Evidently, this is a serious problem currently. Large-capacity magazines are already limited, and older ones are grandfathered. That would end except for where you have a firearm that requires such a magazine. Theft of a firearm would become a felony. Nothing here does as much as either the pro or con side would have you think. The measures in Prop 63 seem worth a try and don't do harm in any case.

Recommendation – YES

Prop. 64 — Making Recreational Marijuana Legal

While I've never been a fan of marijuana -- it stinks -- I've seen that prohibiting it doesn't seem to have done anything to impact its popularity. Governor Brown suggested previously that we wait until Colorado and Washington had worked out legalization before we do likewise. He was right. Much has been worked out. I'm still not convinced all has been worked out. I don't see any harm in holding out for another year or two. One issue that seems to be a real challenge is deciding when a driver is incapacitated by marijuana. So far, there is not useful test. Legalization doesn't really change that question though.

The opponents points are foolish, to put it kindly. They claim this measure would allow marijuana commercials on TV. Too bad the FCC bans them. They say you could grow marijuana near schools. Oh, heavens! While I find their arguments weak, I'd still rather wait a year or two.

Recommendation – NO

Prop. 65 — Money from Carry-Out Bags

Our good friends in the plastic bag industry would like to sow some confusion by adding a measure to the ballot that you should vote no on while there is a related measure you should vote yes on. They are hoping you will be off balance enough to get that second one wrong. Prop 65 would direct the fees you would pay for bags to environmental causes instead of the stores. It is the stores that have to pay for the bags, so why should they not get the money? The bag folks created a wonderful organization called the California Taxpayer Protection Committee to shill for them. Don't buy it.

Recommendation – NO

Prop. 66 — Death Penalty Court Procedures

If we are going to have the death penalty, it needs to work better. The backers of Prop 66 have put together a plan that reduces appeals and speeds up the process. Opponents say the changes not only will not work but increase the possibility of putting innocent people to death. Both sides are lawyers, many of whom have excellent credentials. Who is right? Frankly, I am not knowledgeable on habeas corpus. The fact that they disagree so strongly makes me very hesitant. Maybe it's time to give up on the death penalty.

Recommendation – No

Prop. 67 — Plastic Bag Ban

Here is the companion to Prop 65. The plastic bag industry is concerned that our ban on single-use bags is harming us. All of the money for this proposition is from out of state. The bag makers think their business is going to be hurt, and it will. If you go to Seattle, you have to bring a bag or pay for one. From my observations, absolutely everyone understands and it is not an issue at all. In parts of the state that already have such bans, it's not a problem. After the state implemented the ban, the manufacturers gathered signatures to stop it. Thus, we have Prop 67 that determines whether or not the ban will go into effect. A yes vote continues the ban. Let's do it.

Recommendation – YES

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Last modified: 10/23/2016