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Parsing the ballot Propositions, from right and left

by Idan Ivri, Contributing Writer

October 13, 2010 | 10:19 am

As usual in California, voters will face a slew of initiatives in next month’s election. To help sort them out, The Jewish Journal has consulted both sides of the political aisle on each proposition. 

Speaking for the right is Bruce Bialosky, founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition of California, giving his personal take on each initiative. On the left are the official endorsements of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a nonprofit Jewish group that advocates on social justice and equality issues.

The Journal has also included a Reality Check section for each proposition with background information from nonpartisan sources, such as the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO).

Proposition 19

What it would do: People 21 or older could grow and possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.  In addition, local governments could authorize, regulate and tax the commercial sale of marijuana under certain conditions. Marijuana would remain illegal under federal law.

From the right: Almost all mainstream Republicans (and Democrats) oppose Proposition 19. Most argue that legalization will lead to a dangerous increase in drug use and that the proposition is a badly worded legal disaster waiting to happen.

Bialosky, however, said he personally supports Proposition 19. He framed the issue as a question of personal choice rather than politics: “I think it’s pretty clear, and everybody can make a decision for themselves,” Bialosky said. 

From the left: Yes on Proposition 19.  Back in 2001, PJA publicly committed itself to “decriminalizing marijuana and reclassifying it as a legal, taxed, and regulated substance in the manner of alcohol.” The position was based in part on Leviticus 19:14, “codified by Maimonides as the principle of not making one’s fellow a criminal.” PJA also strongly believes in ending the practice of law enforcement using anti-marijuana laws to disproportionately target minorities.

Reality Check: The Journal will run an in-depth analysis of Proposition 19 next week, explaining many more of the issues in this complex debate. Stay tuned.

Propositions 20 and 27

What it would do: Proposition 20 would transfer the power to draw California’s U.S. Congressional districts from the state legislature to the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission, a bipartisan group established in 2008 to draw state legislative districts.

Proposition 27 would do the opposite of Proposition 20, abolish the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission altogether, and transfer its power to draw state districts back to the state legislature. 

From the right: Yes on 20, no on 27. “I’m not interested in putting redistricting in the hands of politicians,” Bialosky said. “Even though the independent Commission is not free of politics, it certainly is a lot better than having [Rep.] Henry Waxman and [Rep.] Howard Berman and his brother [political consultant Michael Berman] do redistricting for the state of California.”

From the left: No on 20, neutral on 27. “Proposition 20 takes the critically important matter of how our state will be represented in Washington and makes it part of an untried experiment,” PJA wrote. PJA noted that the Commission has yet to complete its existing work redistricting state legislative districts, so it would be unwise to compound its workload now. 

On Proposition 27, PJA admitted that there are “concerns that [the Commission] will not be representative of California’s increasingly diverse population,” but held out hope that newly drawn districts will reinvigorate the democratic process.

Reality Check: The California Democratic Party strongly endorses a no on Proposition 20 and yes on Proposition 27, which would allow Democrats to continue to take advantage of their perennial majorities in the state legislature when drawing Congressional districts. Republicans, on the other hand, have much to gain by putting the Commission in charge.

Proposition 21

What it would do: The state would institute a new $18 annual surcharge to register a motor vehicle to pay for state park and wildlife conservation programs.

From the right:  No on 21. “These things were funded for years by general funds.  Why is the money missing now?” Bialosky asked.  He fears that initiatives like Proposition 21 encourage the proliferation of endless special fees.

From the left:  No on 21. Echoing Bialosky’s concerns, PJA wrote that while it supports the state park system, “PJA generally opposes ‘ballot box budgeting’ that removes legislative discretion over the annual budget.”

Reality Check: The LAO estimates that the surcharge will raise $500 million, but because some of that money will be deducted from existing spending, only about $250 million will actually go to supporting parks and wildlife.

Proposition 22

What it would do: More state fuel tax revenues and local property taxes would stay with local governments instead of going to the state, even if the state suffers severe financial hardships.

From the right: Yes on 22. “The local governments have these funds for a reason, and the state should not be stealing this money from them,” Bialosky said. He described state use of local revenues as a “gimmick” that allows the legislature to avoid balancing the budget.

From the left: No on 22. “Proposition 22 represents an assault on the legislature’s ability to deal with fiscal emergencies,” wrote PJA. It would “make budgeting in hard fiscal times all but impossible.”

Reality Check: Prior voter initiatives in 2004 and 2006 (both called Proposition 1A) already limited the state’s power over local funds. Proposition 22 would eliminate much of the remaining flexibility, even if the state only needed the money as a temporary stopgap.

Proposition 23

What it would do: California’s 2006 global warming law, known as AB 32, aimed to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 percent by 2020. Proposition 23 would suspend that requirement until the state unemployment level drops to 5.5 percent for an entire year. 

From the right: Yes on Proposition 23. Bialosky believes AB 32 will drive jobs out of California at a time when the economy is weak. Bialosky said that “we all want” clean air and clean water, but he blasted the state’s attention to “this silliness of global warming, particularly when we can’t afford it.” 

From the left: No on Proposition 23. PJA emphasized that scientists agree global warming is real, and PJA said it is “a threat to a just, sustainable, and prosperous world.”  On the economy, PJA pointed to the existing “12,000 companies, 500,000 jobs, and billions of dollars of private investment” in the sustainable, green economy that AB 32 is helping to create. 

Reality Check: The truth is that economists do not know what the economic effects of AB 32 will be. The LAO predicts a modest decrease in economic activity in California due to the new regulations, but it also notes that some industries may benefit from the state’s new emphasis on the green economy.

Proposition 24

What it would do: In last year’s budget compromise, corporations received a series of new tax breaks. Proposition 24 would repeal them before they go into effect next year.

From the right: No on 24. “I don’t think any Republican is recommending anything other than no on this,” said Bialosky. He added that the budget problems in Sacramento are based on too much spending, not a lack of tax revenues.

From the left: Yes on 24. PJA noted that it is “difficult to fathom how, at a time when programs for California’s poorest citizens were placed on life support, some of California’s largest corporations received billions in last-minute tax breaks.”

Reality Check: If Proposition 24 passes, the LAO estimates that the state will collect about $1.3 billion more in taxes in fiscal year 2012-2013. However, major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle oppose the measure, saying that voter initiatives are not the place for piecemeal tinkering with tax policy that could affect jobs.

Proposition 25

What it would do: The threshold for passing a budget in the legislature would be lowered to a simple majority rather than the two-thirds majority required now.

From the right: No on Proposition 25. Bialosky said that gerrymandering ensures Democratic majorities in the legislature, so budgets by majority rule will essentially give Democrats a blank check and lead to more bad policies.

From the left: Yes on Proposition 25. “PJA believes the two-thirds vote requirement is contrary to deeply held Jewish commitments to social justice [because] it enables a minority of legislators to stymie state funding for vital programs that serve the neediest among us.”

Reality Check: Even if Proposition 25 passes, legislators will still need a two-thirds majority to override a governor’s veto of a budget proposal or to raise taxes.

Proposition 26

What it would do: The threshold for passing a new state fee in the legislature would be raised to a two-thirds majority instead of the simple majority required now because these fees would be reclassified as “taxes.”

From the right: Yes on 26. Bialosky said the higher vote requirement should apply to both taxes and fees: “It’s money going to government — I don’t care how you characterize it.”

From the left: No on 26. PJA believes that the fees targeted by Proposition 26 are legitimate, including state park admission fees, restaurant health inspection fees, road maintenance fees paid by developers and fees imposed on polluters to clean up their hazardous waste.

Reality Check: Under current law, “taxes” (which require a two-thirds vote) typically pay for general public services that benefit everyone. “Fees” (which require only a majority vote) typically pay for a specific program or service that the payer has taken advantage of. The LAO estimates that if Proposition 26 passes, billions of dollars in fees would be subject to the higher vote requirement of taxes.

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