Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 6:21 am | Fair 52º


Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: Thoughts on California’s Ballot Measures

As devoted citizens of these United States, we support the separation of church and state. However, when it comes to casting our vote on anything, as people informed by our faith beliefs, we cast our votes to the best of our ability for those things that are in concert with our beliefs. Sometimes voting is the only thing we can do to influence the course of events in favor of those truths we hold sacred.

It takes precious time and effort to understand some of the propositions on the ballot, so in the interest of those who have very little time, I have done some research on the state propositions you will find on this year’s ballot, and I am sharing what I have found with the hope it might make your decisions a little easier.

Proposition 30: Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Public Safety Funding. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

If approved, this proposition would be a responsible move in the direction of “financial stability and adequate funding for all the services we want from our government.” The increased revenues from this measure would help the state balance the budget by freeing up General Fund dollars and would eliminate the need for more dire cuts to state support of public universities.

The state budget already passed by our Legislature and approved by our governor assumed the passage of this measure of support from Californians who have been dismayed by cuts already made to funding higher education. If this measure fails, there is also the potential shortening of the school year by as much as 15 days for K-12 education.

Proposition 30 is funded by an increase to the sales tax of one-quarter-cent per dollar spent on goods and services over the next four years, and people earning more than $250,000 per year would have to pay a higher tax rate over the next seven years.

One of the strongest arguments I found in favor of Proposition 30 came from the nonpartisan California League of Women Voters: “Over the past 20 years, the League has consistently supported revenue solutions as part of balancing the state’s budget. The situation has become increasingly dire as the California economy continues to suffer from the current recession. This measure provides some increased revenue, at least temporarily, so that with prudent fiscal management and repayment of debt while the tax increases are in effect, the budget should be in good shape when they expire.”

Proposition 31: Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Proposition 31 is a large and somewhat vague conglomeration of proposals, some of which look good individually, but taken together have a vague and therefore concerning effect. It also has a “glaring omission. It does nothing to amend the state’s initiative process, which has had a huge role in tying the state’s budget process in knots by requiring spending for new programs without providing sources of revenue. ... Taken as a whole, the problems with Proposition 31 outweigh the potential benefits.”

In addition, it is not clear whether the provisions included would let local governments suspend state environmental requirements: “Clearly, there will be significant legal uncertainty and years of litigation if Prop. 31 passes.”

Proposition 32: Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Contributions to Candidates.

Banking on the dismay most of us feel about the Citizens United decision, which allowed free reign among corporations and special interests to contribute enormous sums of money in support of politicians, this is a cynical, deceptively written attempt to limit the abilities of unions to support political candidates, at the same time leaving plenty of loopholes for corporations.

“It looks like a campaign finance reform measure but unfairly targets one set of large campaign donors while giving other donors unlimited power. Its ban on payroll deductions for political giving will affect unions but not corporations, and even the restriction it places on contributions to candidates by corporations is full of loophole exemptions. It does not fix the problem of money in politics; super PACs and independent expenditure committees will continue to spend without limitation.”

Don’t be deceived by this crass attempt of supporters to penalize unions. Voters in this state voted against similar measures in June 1998 and November 2005. Let’s do it again!

Proposition 33: Auto Insurance Prices Based on Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage.

Here’s another one that looks good at first glance. Prop. 33 would allow insurance companies to try to lure away the subscribers of other companies by giving them discounts based on their length of coverage. This is unfair to people who have had coverage lapsed for legitimate reasons — serving our country, for example. Why would someone called into campaign after campaign in Afghanistan or Iraq keep paying automobile premiums while they were on active duty abroad?

And how would insurance companies be able to recover the costs of these discounted policies they offer? By charging higher rates to the newly insured, like your teenager who just got her first car! Current rates are sanely based on one’s driving record and other identifiable risks.

Consumer advocates strongly oppose this unfair measure. We should, too.

Proposition 34: Repeal of the Death Penalty, Replacing It with Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole.

Here’s one that calls out to our most fundamental values as people of faith. Why has it taken so long for us to repeal this arcane practice of executing people? We’re the last country in the free world to allow it. But if you can’t support it on moral grounds, maybe the practical reasons will sway you.

A study conducted by a retired appellate judge and longtime advocate of the death penalty found that California has “spent $4 billion since 1978 to maintain its death penalty while only 14 inmates were executed. ... The same study found that the state could save up to $130 million a year by abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life without the possibility of parole.”

Some of the money saved by the passage of this proposition would be allocated to investigating unsolved rape and murder cases in the state, and those sentenced to life in prison would work to earn money for restitution to a victims’ compensation fund.

Proposition 35: Human Trafficking Penalties.

This proposition is an important baby step toward recognizing the tragedy of human trafficking in this country and, at least at the state level, increasing penalties for this heinous crime. Proposition 35 would give more clout to prosecutors who are attempting to hold practitioners of human trafficking accountable for the harm they do by increasing penalties for those found guilty by as much as 400 percent.

Unfortunately, this measure would not provide sufficient training for law enforcement to recognize victims of human trafficking in the two hours of training it mandates. Too often police mistakenly identify the victims of trafficking as criminals instead of the victims they are, forced into prostitution and other apparent crimes. If police were trained to recognize and arrest the real criminals so that their identification and prosecution were more likely, that would be a greater deterrent than the increase in penalties.

As I said, this is just a baby step, but it’s a step in the right direction because it makes people more aware of the magnitude of this problem. We should support any measure that might discourage human trafficking.

Proposition 36: Three-Strikes Law. Sentencing for Repeat Felony Offenders — Revision.

The current so-called Three Strikes Law is flawed by the fact that any felony (even such things as petty theft) can count toward the three strikes necessary to sentence a person to 25 years to life imprisonment. This measure would revise the original law to work as it was intended in the first place.

Until we have a much-needed revamping of our flawed criminal justice system, this is a measure that would make a bad law a little better in that it wouldn’t require such Draconian sentencing for someone who has two priors, maybe long in their past, and then commits a third petty crime considered to be a felony. It’s another baby step toward a less harshly punitive style of justice. Not only is the current law unduly harsh, it’s expensive and has compounded our prison-overcrowding situation. It is also estimated that passing this proposition would save the state $70 million to $90 million a year.

Proposition 37: Genetically Engineered Foods Labeling.

This proposition would do exactly what it says it would do — require labeling on produce or processed food if it is made from plants or animals that have been genetically modified in some way. This proposition would give consumers more information on these specific types of food, so they can decide if they want to avoid such food. I didn’t find any strong arguments against this labeling requirement.

Proposition 38: Early Childhood Education.

Proposition 38 would earmark funds for K-12 education and some day care and preschool programs. It would not allocate any funds for higher education. This measure would be paid for by an increase in taxes (for 12 years!) for anyone making $7,300 or more annually, with even larger tax increases on those with bigger incomes. Since the funds collected would be outright earmarks, they would be outside the discretion of our Legislature, and this measure has no requirements for deficit reductions by the Legislature.

Proposition 38 would raise taxes on everyone for 12 years, whether these revenues are really needed or not with no penalty for waste or fraud. And the tax increase would not be accompanied by any requirement to improve school performance. This is a poorly written, poorly designed proposition that should be rejected.

Clearly, Proposition 30 is the better of the two propositions for education on the ballot this year.

Proposition 39: Tax Treatment for Multistate Businesses. Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Funding.

Proposition 39 would close a loophole created in 2009 when the Legislature allowed businesses doing business in multiple states, including California, to decide which method of calculating their state income taxes they would use. This enabled multistate corporations to choose a lower rate and has resulted in a $1 billion loss to state revenues. This proposition would close the loophole, restoring those funds to our annual budget.

For the first five years after the loophole is closed, half of the revenues from this measure would be given to the Clean Energy Job Creation Fund to support clean energy jobs and energy efficiency. The rest of the revenues would be deposited in the General Fund. After five years, all of the revenues restored by this measure would go to the General Fund.

A couple of the sources I investigated do not like the part of the measure that would earmark funds for a particular purpose. We have made great use of this type of proposal in California in the past, so that a significant portion of our annual revenues are firmly earmarked, which leaves them out of the possibility of consideration by our Legislature for providing funds where they are most needed. Although this is potentially a downside to this proposition, the merits of this proposition far outweigh the downside.

Proposition 40: Redistricting. State Senate Districts. Referendum.

A yes vote on this proposition would simply approve the work done by a commission created by “Proposition 11 in 2008 to prevent the Legislature from gerrymandering electoral districts.” The commission has done its work redrawing the districts more fairly. After an attempt to reject the new map was rejected by the state Supreme Court, “there is no valid reason to reject the new State Senate districts.” Please vote yes on Proposition 40.

— Lynn Kienzel is a member of the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which meets at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns.

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