I sent in my ballot on Saturday, after spending Friday evening discussing the propositions with a bunch of people over dinner at our house. There seemed to be broad consensus on them, which isn’t too surprising, given that I avoided inviting people I thought I might disagree with. I did that on purpose. I wanted it to be an analysis of the questions at hand, not a personal policymaking session. Ballotpedia had a lot of information on some of the propositions. I’m guessing it will only improve in future elections, and I think the wiki model is actually close to being perfect for coming up with summaries of contentious political topics. Here’s how I ended up voting:
YES on Prop 1A, a $10 billion in bonds to start building a high speed rail link between Northern and Southern California. The bonds (at least, $8 billion of them) will only be sold if we’re guaranteed federal matching funds, and existing rail infrastructure will be upgraded to feed into the high speed trunk line. I almost never vote for bonds, and I don’t understand how the anti-tax crowd can be convinced that bonds are any different (since they will, ultimately, be paid back with tax money… including interest, minus inflation). However, if ever there was something it makes sense to use bond financing for, I think it would be large scale infrastructure investments. The ultimate price tag on the high speed rail was estimated to be something like $43 billion in 2005. It’s likely to be more now as many commodities that go into large construction projects have increased in price since then, but they’ve been easing lately, so maybe it won’t be as much more as we would have thought earlier this year. Of course, huge projects like this also have a serious tendency to go over budget, and I would be amazed if this one was an exception. Now is also a lousy time to be going to the bond markets to get financing. Many municipal bond auctions aren’t even completing, and California in particular isn’t regarded as the best borrower in the world. All that said, if we can build a high speed rail system that’s time and cost competitive with flying, I’m for it. We subsidize the airports, the airlines, the highways and the automakers, but rail has largely been hung out to dry in the US, when it’s one of the most energy efficient modes of transportation we have. Long distance Amtrak sucks, but not because trains suck. They don’t own the rights of way that they operate on, and so they’re stuck in most cases trying to be some kind of tourist attraction instead of a mode of transport. I would love to be able to get to San Francisco in 2.5 hours, without having to rent a car or drive, or go through the gestapo style airport security, for the same price as a Southwest ticket. I don’t want to keep putting money into the freeway system that assumes everyone will drive, or into the airlines, which seem unlikely to move away from petroleum based fuels any time soon. Many countries with populations and economies and sizes comparable to California have efficient high speed rail systems. If we don’t start building it now, when will we? It’ll also be a good place to put all those unemployed construction workers. Not that I’m generally a big fan of giant public works projects… but if we have to have them, I think energy and transportation infrastructure would be a great place to blow the cash this time around. Anyway, I’m not super enthusiastic about the timing of this proposition, and I do have reservations about our government’s ability to actually make it work… but overall, I think it’s the right thing to do (though I would prefer that we just stopped subsidizing transportation, put a price on carbon, and let the markets figure it out… fat chance of that any time soon though).
YES on Prop 2, Standards for Confining Farm Animals. Requires more space to be provided for chickens, veal calves, pigs, etc. This was another fairly unenthusiastic yes vote. I think our food production system needs a serious overhaul, mostly for reasons of public health and sustainability, and not because I particularly care about whether animals are treated humanely. This proposition is certainly not that overhaul, and overall, I think it’s unlikely to have much of an effect one way or the other (despite the egg farmer’s violent protestations). It’s more of a vote of confidence – yes, please reform our agriculture system. I hate voting yes for that reason, and really would just prefer it was some kind of non-binding suggestion we were passing on to the legislature, instead of actually making policy. Ah, the dangers of direct democracy.
NO on Prop 3, a $1 billion bond measure for children’s hospitals. But it’s for the children! Actually, it’s for a bunch of corporations that don’t want to pay for their own capital improvements, don’t want to share their profits with their public investors, or give us seats on their boards of directors. A similar bond measure was passed in 2004, and they still haven’t spent all of that money. Again, I’m not saying I’m against healthcare for children, but I think that healthcare in the US is fundamentally broken, and this is not the way to approach fixing it.
NO on Prop 4, which would require parental notification and a 48 hour waiting period before a minor can get an abortion. This is a weird one. It doesn’t require parental consent, just notification. So you can run away from home, have your doctor sent your parents the notification, and get the abortion anyway. Three quarters of minors who get abortions do tell their parents. If you’re in the remaining minority, it seems to me likely that you have a good reason not to tell them.
YES on Prop 5, shifting the focus from incarceration to rehabilitation for non-violent drug offenders. Prisons are expensive ($46,000/person*year), and do a lousy job of fixing problem drug use. Treatment is much cheaper, and hopefully has a better chance. And hey, both NORML and George Soros support it.
NO on Prop 6, increasing penalties for “gang” related crimes, trying more juveniles as adults. Like “terrorist”, the word “gang” gets attached not only to legitimately gang related crimes, but also to other crimes in which the prosecutors want to be extra tough. I don’t think that’s right. I also generally disagree with optionally trying juveniles as adults, and think the option tends to be applied in a biased way (especially targeting non white people). If you want to reduce the age at which one is considered an adult across the board, I might be convinced, but I think giving prosecutors the freedom to apply the law in different ways to different people is a bad idea.
NO on Prop 7, changing California’s renewable energy portfolio standards. Absolutely everyone with an opinion is against this one: all the political parties (even the greens), the utility companies, the NRDC, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the taxpayer’s association and the chamber of commerce. It’s a huge piece of text, and it’s not really clear what it does, and that by itself is enough reason to vote no. It appears that it would both increase the renewable requirements, and apply them to the currently exempted municipal utility companies, but at the same time, try to prevent utilities from passing on the increased costs of renewable power generation (which is ridiculous). I’m sad to have to send the “we don’t like renewable power” message, but unlike with the chickens above, yes on 7 sounds like it would be a real mess.
NO on Prop 8, Eliminating the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. If marriage is essentially defined within the structure of religion, then it shouldn’t be codified in law. If it is codified in law, then its benefits and responsibilites need to be equally available to all people. Personally, I’d prefer the former option of making all personal partnerships “domestic unions” or some such with no constraints on who can enter into them except that you have to be a consenting adult, and leaving marriage to your church or other private, officiating authority. That’s unlikely, and so I think the California court’s decision is the next best thing, and it should be allowed to stand. Chris Messina makes the same argument better in this blog post.
NO on Prop 9, The Victims’ Rights and Protection Act of 2008. As a general rule, I think anything with an obviously emotionally charged title should be voted against, and this is no exception. As with children’s hospitals, who would want to vote against victims rights? Despite the title, Prop 9 apparently doesn’t create any new rights for victims, and does add additional bureaucratic overhead for the state and the criminal justice system.
NO on Prop 10, The California Alternative Fuels Initiative. Funded largely by T. Boone Pickens, Prop 10 would largely incentivize a switch from gasoline toward natural gas as a vehicle fuel. Other renewable fuels would also incentivized, but none of them are practical at scale at the moment. He would probably make money off the scheme (not that making money is bad). My problem with 10 is that it doesn’t incentivize fuel efficiency, and it wouldn’t incentivize electric or plug in hybrid cars. Oh, also, it’s funded with $5 billion worth of bonds. There’s some research and development money in there for renewables, but 58% of the money would go to cash rebates for people who buy or convert their vehicles. The right way to change which fuels we use is with a straightforward carbon tax. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of wrong ways to do it, and this is one of them.
YES on Prop 11, changing how California’s state senate and assembly districts are re-drawn. Having the boundaries of electoral districts be determined by an inherently partisan process is a lousy, and undemocratic idea, making it hard for whoever isn’t in charge to ever end up in charge. I think this proposal, while not perfect, is much better than what we’ve got right now, and would effectively require districts to be drawn by consensus among the politcal parties (and the unaffiliated). I think it would be even better if it was for the US congress too… but I know the Democrats would fight it tooth and nail if it was, and it would have no chance of passing. So I see this as a kind of trial run.
NO on Prop 12, extending the Cal-Vet mortgage program. Cal-Vet provides subsidized mortgages to California veterans. It’s passed on every ballot since 1922. My vote won’t make any difference. It’s another bond measure, to support anybody who has ever been in the military, not just those who have seen combat or overseas deployment, in buying homes in California. If we want such a program, why shouldn’t it be a federal thing, since the feds are the ones who create veterans. On the up side, the bonds generally get paid back, and so we’re not losing anything on the houses themselves…. though of course that might change in the next few months. We’ll see.
YES on Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase in LA County to fund transportation projects. Oh my goodness, a TAX! 65% of the money will go toward transit related stuff (e.g. light rail), and 20% to freeways and other automotive projects, and 15% returned to the cities, who will almost certainly spend it on car projects. I was annoyed that they categorically refused to include any call-outs for bike or pedestrian projects, since the cities are unlikely to allocate money for them, and lobbying every city to do so will be a giant hassle, and will make having an integrated bike network throughout the county impossible. But it does seem unlikely that anything more heavily aimed at transit would have a chance of passing at all, at leaset these days. We’ll see. If the car culture does change, at least the cities could actually decide to spend some of this money on bikes and pedestrians, and if Complete Streets is implemented well, or other similar more toothy legislation is passed by California, maybe we’ll get some of this money eventually.
NO on Measure TT, a $350 million bond for Pasadena schools. They say it’ll go to capital improvements, but that’s not binding. I don’t doubt that Pasadena’s schools are run down and underfunded, but I think the worst problems are endemic to our education system as a whole: teachers are not incentivized to teach well (tenure, and no merit pay) and parents are largely disengaged from their children’s education, and I don’t think we can fix either of those issues with money alone.
I voted a straight Democratic party ticket for both California and the US. Anthony Portantino for State Assembly, and Carol Liu for State Senate, though I admit I don’t really know much about either of them, and their websites suck. Hopefully Maplight.org will get their California site up to date here soon. Adam Schiff for US Representative, and Barack Obama/Joe Biden for President/VP. I do generally like Schiff, except when he votes for Disney and the other media companies in his district that want restrictive IP laws. I’m sure nobody needs to hear anything more about the presidential race at this point.
I hate voting for judges. Where are we supposed to get information on these people? I voted for anyone who wasn’t a criminal prosecutor. In races where they were both prosecutors, I didn’t vote.