03 November 2008

California ballot initiatives

Many of my readers know that I'm opposed to the California ballot initiative process. Once enacted, ballot initiatives are nearly impossible to change, so that when it turns out that they are badly designed legislation the legislature cannot fix them. And they very often badly designed: often innocently, as good legislation is tricky to create, and occasionally maliciously, as the interests behind an initiative cook up legislation with effects that an ordinary voter won't understand. In particular, the state budget drama we go through every year is largely because the maze of set-asides, tax limitations, and other budget rules built up from years of initiatives have made it very difficult for the legislature to create a budget even under the best of conditions.

So my default setting for ballot initiatives is to vote No. But every year, there are a few initiatives where against my better judgment, I end up voting Yes. This year is no exception.

1A: Yes

This is a bond issue to fund a bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. My friends and regular readers will be unsurprised to hear how I think that more rail is more good, and with Peak Oil and global warming making commuter air travel a very bad idea, it's long past time we got serious about this obviously good place to start. I don't much like doing this as a bond issue; I'd rather see a political order in which heavy investment in rail is part of the normal budget. But there's good reason to hope that this project will get the ball rolling for a strong network of rail in California — this project is one element in a greater proposal that runs San Diego to Sacramento.

2: Yes

This law improving the treatment of farm animals is exactly the kind of thing that should be part of a coherent legislative effort, rather than a ballot initiative ... but a friend of mine told me an interesting story. She was approached by a canvasser with the original petition to create the initiative, and said exactly that: I like the sound of the legislation, but I don't like initiatives. The canvasser said she agreed, but that a legislative solution had stalled out completely, and the backers of the legislation had turned reluctantly to the initiative process. As I was saying just recently, America's screwy food production is the product of perverse incentives, and this legislation is an effort to straighten that out. So I'm voting Yes.

3: No

I was originally inclined to vote Yes on this bond issue for children's hospitals, but the SF Bay Guardian argues that the rules on how the money is apportioned are screwy. When in doubt, vote No, so that's what I'm doing. I'm voting No.

4: No!

Against the distant possibility that I have readers who don't already understand this: parental notification requirements for minors getting abortions are a very bad idea for a number of reasons, not least because not all parents are responsible parents.

5: Yes

This bundle of reforms in drug policy toward dramatically reduced penalties for possession of marijuana, and better access to treatment, is flawed policy but a whole lot better than what we have now. It's become evident that legislatures cannot provide any sanity in this area, so voting for this proposition is the lesser evil.

6: No

A bundle of “law and order” stuff: budget set asides for cops, stiffer legal penalties, prison spending, et cetera. Further screwing up legislatures' ability to set budgets, and putting more people in jail for longer is only good for the prison-industrial complex.

7: No

It's renewable energy, which is tempting, but there are a lot of policy details lurking in there. Looking at supporters and opponents, I find responsible groups on both sides. When in doubt, I vote no.

8: No!

I spoke with some folks who have been phone banking who say that folks are confused on this one, so let me remind folks: Prop 8 eliminates the right to same-sex marriage established by California courts. Say No to hate; vote No on 8.

9: No

Like Prop 6, this revision to parole rules means more people in jail longer. It also means that without the carrot of parole to offer to prisoners, prisons become more hellish, less rehabilitative, and harder to manage.

10: No

As with Prop 7, this renewable energy measure is tempting ... but again there are too many mixed signals out there with endorsements and anti-endorsements. It will evidently be a big windfall for the natural gas people, which isn't really the point. So I'm voting No.

11: No

Yeah, we need redistricting reform, but it's tricky to define good policy for this. Most of the sources I trust are against this, so I'm thinking better safe than sorry and voting No.

12: Yes

This bond to help out veterans with housing money is exactly what you want from a bond measure: it gives loans to veterans, paying for itself as the vets pay the loans back, taking advantage of the state's ability to create a bigger risk pool to make better loans available to more people.

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