Election Guide (Part 2) – CA Ballot Propositions, State Senate, more

This is Part 2 of my voter guide. Part 1 covers the 24 San Francisco ballot propositions and city supervisor races.

The deadline to register to vote in California is October 24. I highly recommend you sign up. Click here to register to vote.

A few notes I cover in more detail in Part 1: More housing is the most important issue for me on this year's ballot, and by default I vote "no" on ballot propositions, since I think we shouldn't be deciding policy by statewide or citywide ballot.

California State Initiatives

Prop 51 (School Bonds): Yes

The real story here is that Proposition 13, passed decades ago, limits the state's ability to collect property taxes, enriching a generation of homeowners at everyone else's expense. This is why our schools constantly need more money.

I also wish the Legislature should be able to figure out its budget and prioritize and we didn't have to vote on things like this. I don't feel too strongly in either direction.

Prop 52 (Medi-cal): No

Hospitals pay a required fee to the CA State government (about $5 billion a year). When the State allocates this money for Medi-cal, the federal government provides about $4 billion in matching funds.

In the past the State has diverted some of the hospital fee money to the general fund which hurts 2x - not only does Medical miss out on the fee money, it misses out on the federal matching funds.

This measure would require the hospital fee money to be spent on Medical, which seems reasonable.

I'm upset that we have to vote on this; I would rather the legislature do the right thing. I'm also upset that this amends the state Constitution; I don't think the Constitution should get into the specifics of how things should be funded. I also think we should be trying to loosen the hands of our legislators, not restrict them further, and that they're as aware of the cost of giving up matching funds as voters are.

Prop 53 (Voter Approval for Megaprojects): No

I'm really torn on this. On the one hand, you are putting voters in charge of deciding even more things about what the government does. On the other, megaprojects frequently fail and the majority come in at least 50% over budget (high speed rail is only the most prominent example of this). Politicians also like to build big things so they can have a "legacy" and the history of big things lately has been really mixed - see high speed rail and also the Bay Bridge which has required frequent fixes and may be cracking.

Our politicians might not make great decisions with our money but I think voters would make worse decisions. Note voters approved the first $9 billion of a high speed rail project whose final cost may be upwards of $60 billion, when no real funding source for the other $51 billion was in sight. This would also increase uncertainty and delay the start of any project until the next statewide vote.

Prop 54 (72 Hr Bill Freeze): Yes

I am unhappy that this bill amends the Constitution. But apparently there are numerous instances of state legislators shoehorning special-interest-friendly language at the last second.

There was that budget measure that limited the amount of reserves local school districts could maintain as a cushion against lean times (a gift to the teachers union, which wanted to make those dollars available for immediate spending); the 2009 waiver of environmental rules for a downtown Los Angeles football stadium (on the argument that time was of the essence to secure an NFL team ... the project never broke ground); or the 2011 bill that Democrats rushed through to force all voter initiatives on the November ballot, thus breaking a deal with Republicans to put spending reform on the June 2012 ballot.

Prop 55 (Extending Income Taxes on High Earners): No

The share of tax each resident pays is something that the Legislature should resolve. I also agree with the Chronicle that this measure will increase the variability of revenue in the state budget, which isn't great.

Prop 56 ($2 Cigarette Tax): Yes

In general taxes are a good way to discourage behavior you don't want. Cigarettes are unhealthy and incur significant spillover costs due to secondhand smoke, and the additional burden on the healthcare system from insuring/treating patients with cancer and emphysema.

I would have preferred for the Legislature to vote for this tax as well.

Prop 57 (Parole): No

Many people are serving sentences that are too long and the prisons are overcrowded. But the language is confusing and I don't see why the Legislature can't pass legislation to deal with this issue.

Prop 58 (Local Language Education Flexibility): Yes

Apparently this is on the ballot because it repeals a previous voter-passed initiative from 1998. The worry is that voting Yes will allow students to graduate without mastering English at all, which isn't good. But it seems like all of parents, students and schools want students to learn English, they just don't agree that "all English classes, all the time" is the best way to do it.

Prop 59 (Citizens United): No

I'm voting No because this is a waste of energy and we shouldn't be voting on things like this, not based on any opinion about Citizens United.

Prop 60 (Porn Stars Wear Condoms): No

The practical effect of this bill would be to shift the porn industry in California to Nevada or another nearby state. The porn industry also requires performers to get tested every two weeks. There are problems that probably deserve more scrutiny - the exploitation of performers in some scenarios - but it's not clear that this initiative is the vehicle or the method to fix them.

Prop 61 (Drug Prices): No

I agree with the Chronicle that the right solution here is to make drug prices (and the rates each agency pays) public, instead of ensuring that the prices Medi-cal and the VA pay are the same. I also think there are legitimate concerns about reduced access to necessary drugs and the ability of the Legislature to override this initiative if there are unforeseen problems.

Prop 62 (Repeal Death Penalty): Yes

Prop 66 (Quicken Death Penalty): No

Leaving aside whether it is ethical to put someone to death for crimes they have committed, I am against the death penalty for the following, more practical reasons:

  • It's entirely possible we have put an innocent person to death, an monstrous miscarriage of justice that should never be allowed to happen.

  • It's argued that the death penalty deters people from violent crimes. But there's a lot of evidence that deterrence depends much more on the severity and the certainty of punishment. Death, if it comes at all for death row inmates, is applied years or decades after the fact.

  • There are legitimate concerns about whether execution can be done "humanely" and a number of states have had problems sourcing the drugs used to put people to death.

  • It's expensive to execute someone, both in pure cost and in the cost of the appeals process - a death sentence must be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Repeal would also save California a significant amount of money.

Prop 63 (Ammunition): No

The biggest effect of a Yes vote would add additional charges for people who would like to buy ammunition. I don't think we need to vote on this.

Prop 64 (Marijuana Legalization): No Position

In general I'd prefer for drugs to be legalized and heavily regulated + taxed, instead of illegal, especially when you consider the potential revenue. I also think criminal sentences for possessing or distributing marijuana should be smaller than they are (the initiative provides for this). However, I'm concerned that marijuana is only as expensive as it is because it is illegal. Marijuana is not an expensive crop, and if it becomes legal to grow the price per ounce could go really low. I'm worried the flat taxes per ounce are too low, and the 15% sales tax should be a flat tax or a guaranteed minimum price per ounce.

The results on public health so far are mixed; one study reports a 7% increase in traffic fatalities for every 1% increase in marijuana consumption. The penalties for drunk drivers are not currently high enough and I'm worried we don't know how to measure whether a driver is high.

On top of this I am worried that the Legislature won't have the flexibility to override a state initiative; any amendments require a 2/3 vote.

Prop 65 (Money from Paper Bags to Environment): No

This directs revenue from grocery bag fees to specific environmental causes. I don't think we should put additional constraints on where the Legislature should direct money, and I don't think we should pass things by state initiative.

Prop 66: No (see #62 above)

Prop 67 (Affirm Plastic Bag Ban): Yes

Proposition 67 is a referendum on the existing bag law (10 cents a bag); a "Yes" vote says "Yes, please keep the law the way it is." I prefer the Legislature to write laws, not California voters, so I am voting Yes.

Superior Court

Victor Hwang, who has experience working as a public defender.

Board of Education

Stevon Cook, Matt Haney, Rachel Norton, Jill Wynns.

Community College Board

Rafael Mandelman, Amy Bacharach, Alex Randolph, Shanell Williams.

Bart Director

Gwyneth Borden, who has been endorsed by the Chronicle and is open to a ban on BART strikes.

California State Senate: Scott Wiener

This is one of the most important races on the ballot due to the difference in quality between the candidates. Wiener is running against Jane Kim, who has opposed numerous housing projects, and is sponsoring some of the poorer propositions on the city ballot. Scott Wiener understands how to build more housing in San Francisco.

Kim also recently sponsored "legacy status" for Luxor Cab Company, which gives them a permanent subsidy from the City of San Francisco. This is a terrific waste of money compounded by the fact the benefit won't do anything for the company's cab drivers, only its 20 or so full time employees. Vote for Scott Wiener.

California State Representative: David Chiu

Chiu is running against Matthew Del Carlo, who does not appear to have policy positions listed anywhere publicly; it's not clear what he would run for, or do in office.

Chiu slammed Governor Brown for including $0 in affordable housing in this year's budget. The housing measures were tied to the Governor's "by right" housing legislation, which would have done more to lower rent/housing prices in San Francisco than any other legislative measure in a decade. It's not clear whether Chiu supported or opposed this measure.

Chiu is running against Matthew Del Carlo, who doesn't have any information about his policy positions listed publicly. I reached out to him multiple times asking him to post these publicly and he's refused to do so.

United States Senate: Kamala Harris

Harris is running for Barbara Boxer's old seat. We really need a California Senator who understands the technology industry and is willing to fight for it; who understands you can't just make a "golden key" to read messages that only the US government can access, as in Dianne Feinstein's horrible encryption bill.


Hillary Clinton.

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