Evan’s voter guide – Nov 2012

Election day is upon us, and I thought I’d continue my time-honored tradition of telling the 9 people who might read this which way I voted on state and local issues. Below I’ve listed all SF and California propositions, along with my vote and my logic on why.

Preface: Ballot propositions, originally designed to bring political control of the state back to the people, is now largely run by the very wealthy. It makes it easier for people (and companies) with money to influence politics, and worse yet, many of the ballot propositions are very difficult to understand and decide on. In most cases, it’s things that our elected representatives should be taking the time to understand and decide on, not individual voters. So by default, I vote no on every proposition unless I fee strongly that it deserves a “yes” vote.

If you’re looking at good sources of info on these measures, I encourage you to check out:

San Francisco Propositions

Prop A – City Parcel Tax: Yes
A college degree remains essential in this economy, and San Francisco needs to be producing an educated workforce so that its economy can continue to boom. SF City College is a great way to get that degree on the cheap, and a smart investment in public dollars.

Prop B – Parks Bond: Yes
San Francisco’s parks are in dire shape. And while the Parks and Rec department still has major operational issues that need to be addressed (and this does nothing about that, it mostly just funds improvements), parks improvements are badly needed. They’ve also designed the projects funded by this prop to nicely reach parks all across the city, so everyone should see an impact a park near them. All SF Supervisors also support this measure.

Prop C – Affordable Housing: Yes
I’ve lived in multiple apartments that were within 100 yards of a massive affordable housing project that was supposed to be rebuilt — until the project was set in limbo by the elimination of state redevelopment agencies. At the same time, I’ve seen rents across the city skyrocket, forcing friends out of San Francisco. It’s clear that we need more affordable housing in San Francisco. I worry about sending tens of millions of dollars to build low-income housing, because I see few examples of successful low-income housing projects, nor have I ever met anyone who has benefited in an affordable housing unit (though that could be because people I meet are typically yuppies like myself).

I know that there is an enormous need for affordable housing in this city, and it appears like this measure would actually lower the burden on real estate developers to include low-income units — making it easier and cheaper to build housing for the rest of us. For those reasons, I’m voting yes on C.

Prop D – Election Cycle: Yes
Right now, SF staggers its elections so that some positions are elected in off years, forcing us to hold an election when there is little else on the ballot. Instead, this measure would group those elections together to save money and ensure higher voter turnout. Easy yes.

Prop E – Gross receipts tax: Yes
A classic example of why tough decisions should be made by our elected leaders and not citizens, Prop E is a massively important and massively difficult-to-understand change to how San Francisco collects taxes from businesses. It’s clear enough to gauge, though, that this change will be an improvement for tech companies (who often have high payrolls but low gross receipts) and for San Francisco’s business climate. This proposition would have businesses pay taxes based on gross revenue, not just payrolls, as they do today. It also will generate more taxes than today, but more fairly.

Prop F – Hetch Hetchy: No
This ill-planned proposition asks us to consider studying the removal of the Hetch Hetchy dam and reservoir, where San Francisco and the Peninsula gets all of its drinking water. It’s hard to think of many more bad ideas than this. While I wish we hadn’t ruined a pristine natural landscape generations ago, the project is built, relied on by millions and generates (not expends) electricity to get drinking water to an urban area hundreds of miles away. We can’t take that away.

Prop G – City Policy on Corporations: No
This proposition would declare that corporations are not people. However true that may be, voters don’t need to spend their time voicing their opinion on national matters through local declarative ballot measure. I’m voting “no” on G.

California Propositions

Prop 30 – Tax increases for schools and safety: Yes
I hate new taxes. But California’s budget is an absolute mess, and much of that has been due to sliding tax revenues and jobs have been lost and consumers have cut back on spending. Prop 30 raises income taxes on the wealthy and .25% sales tax on everyone to help balance things out. The money will largely be used to fund public safety and schools, and if it doesn’t pass, we’ll be cutting billions from schools. Our state is entirely too dependent on volatile sales and income taxes on revenue, and passing this measure will only make that situation worse. But unless we want our schools facing financial ruin, we must vote “yes” on Prop 30.

Prop 31 – Two-year budget cycle: Yes
This proposition is a good-government set of reforms to make Sacramento’s budgeting process a bit more sane. It forces to identify how they will pay for any major ($25mil+) program, requires performance reviews of government programs and moves California to a two-year budget cycle. All good things.

Prop 32 – Bans political payroll deductions: No
Seems like a poorly veiled attack on unions. I don’t see any good reason to vote for this.

Prop 33 – Auto insurance based on driver history: No
This is the third attempt by the founder of Mercury Insurance to pass this proposition, and it should fail once more. As a driver who has had spotted insurance history (since I don’t own a car), I don’t think I should be punished should I decide to get auto insurance. Let’s vote “no” on this. This keeps rates affordable, making it easier to have coverage. That’s a good public policy goal.

Prop 34 – Repeal the death penalty: Yes
I met the creator of Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions, David Protess. While Protess has since had some scandal in his advocacy of the wrongly convicted, I learned enough to see that some people on death row are, in fact, innocent. As long as the number of innocent people on death row is greater than 0 (and it always will be), I don’t think we should be sentencing people to death. These horrible criminals should suffer a worse fate: spending the rest of their days behind bars.

The death penalty in California, in practice, is already almost gone. Only 13 people have been executed in the last three decades, despite the 700+ convicts awaiting executions. Abolishing it just formally ends the death penalty, which is largely already over in practice.

If you’re not with me on the moral or practical rationale, well, there’s another dousy of a reason not to support the death penalty. The cost of each of the 13 executions the state of California has carried out in the past 35 years: $300 million. Does that sound like a good use of taxpayers to you? Yeah, me neither. I’m voting “yes” to abolish the death penalty in this state.

The hitch in all this: As Avery Lewis pointed out to me, many death row inmates are actually against this proposition because it suspends their right to state-funded legal assistance if they want to overturn their initial conviction through the appellate system.

Prop 35 – Human trafficking penalties: No choice
I really struggled with this proposition. The main reason: It’s, again, something I don’t think voters should be deciding on. Criminal policies, including exactly what sentence specific crimes should get? This seems like a job for the legislature. You know, the people who are supposed to pass laws like this. While punishing sex offenders and traffickers is a good public policy goal, I’m not convinced this is something that needs to be done on the ballot box. I’m voting no or just leaving it blank.

Prop 36 – Three Strikes reform: Yes
According to HuffPo, since 1980, higher education spending has decreased by 13 percent in inflation adjusted dollars, whereas spending on California’s prisons and associated correctional programs has skyrocketed by 436 percent. One of the reasons is the three-strikes law, which sends third-time offenders off on lengthy prison sentences. While crime has increased dramatically since 1994, when this law was put into place, it seems that was more to do due with national decreases in crime rates, not the three-strikes law. Additionally, the incredibly harsh penalties for minor crimes in many instances has encouraged unequal enforcement of this law by judges.

To stop the ballooning prison budgets and make for a more fair justice system, I’m voting yes on reforming three strikes. For a detail analysis of the effect of three strikes in California, see this report.

Prop 37 – Genetically engineered food labeling: Yes
I can’t say that I often, or even ever, worry about eating genetically modified foods. We have huge problems with our food system (misplaced subsidies, public policy that encourages obesity), but I don’t feel like genetically modified foods is one of them. Furthermore, I don’t see any reason that California voters need to be weighing in on this narrow of a topic. If there’s something to be done about this, it should be done in Sacramento.

OK, Brian McGinn convinced me. Even if there are many more important things we need to do to fix our food system, passing Prop 37 sends a signal to big agriculture that we care about what’s in our food. And looking at who’s behind the money on yes and no, I have a lot more faith in companies like Amy’s Kitchen and Clif Bar than in Monsanto.

Prop 38 – Tax to fund education: No
This is the companion measure to Prop 30. Whichever gets more votes passes, and I believe that this is the worse of two measures. Mostly, I believe that because it ties the legislatures hands even more because it specifies exactly where the money will go. California’s government needs more flexibility, not less — as that’s one of the major reasons we have so many budget problems in Sacramento. I’m voting “no” on this. 

Prop 39 – Tax treatment for corporations: No
Currently, companies in California can choose between two methods for calculating their owed tax. This measure would require companies pay income tax purely based on sales. It would then direct about half of the money to clean energy projects. While I like fair taxes and clean energy, I don’t see much of a convincing reason to vote “yes” on this.

Prop 40 – Redistricting: Yes
Our new redistricting policies are already helping California, and I love what the redistricting comission has done. Prop 40 would approves what they’ve done, while voting “no” rejects it. Even the people who promoted getting this on the ballot have given up. So should everyone else. Vote “yes”.

2 Comments

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  1. Anon said:

    For prop 40, you’re arguing to vote yes, then concluding by saying “Vote no.” Pick a consistent position? :)

  2. Evan said:

    Thanks! Fixed.

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