Should we get rid of state propositions on the ballot? | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Should we get rid of state propositions on the ballot?

Uploaded: Oct 17, 2018
It’s that time of year again -- our biennial political happening – voting! This year we have some 11 state propositions on our ballots (#9 of 12 was removed), as well as four Palo Alto measures, contested city council and school board races, state and congressional races, and a gubernatorial challenge to boot.

Voting is extremely important to me. But I am becoming more and more disillusioned with all the state propositions always on the ballot – frequently put there by special interest groups and financed by PACs and other partisans. Moreover many of these propositions are devious in what they will accomplish and how all the money they will get if the measure passes will really be spent. Sometimes a “no” vote can mean, “yes,” if the measure is deliberately worded to mislead the voter. And that oftentimes happens.

We’ve now only less than three weeks before the election, so this is the time some of us pull out our absentee mail-in ballots and stare at the propositions. We grab for the state’s voter election guide and start with Prop 1, read the pros and cons, and then put a question mark in the handbook margin. On to #2, #3, etc.

Still confused, they see what local newspapers recommend, check their online site and then maybe pick up the League of Women Voters election handbook.

This year we are being asked to approve of millions of dollars of expenditures in California; the first four are bond measures, which means that interest payments will automatically occur if the bonds are approved (e.g. an $8-billion bond measure, will then include another $8 billion or so in interest.

Some people, I suspect, look at their ballots a day ahead of time and perhaps may consider Prop 1 – $4 billion in bonds for housing assistance programs. “Yeah, that sounds good,” they may think.
Prop 2 --$2 billion in bonds for individuals with mental illness. “Well, I’m not sure but I guess it’s okay.”
Prop 3 -- $8.9 billion for projects for water supply and quality, a fish and wildlife habitat and watershed land improvements. “I’m not positive what all that means but I sure do care for those fishes. So I’ll vote yes.”
Prop 4 -- $1.5 billion for funding construction at children’s hospitals and healthcare. “Yes! Children are important.”

Good. But do they realize they’ve just okayed $18.4 billion plus interest ($36.8 BILLION total -- $36,800,000,000) that we taxpayers are going to have to pay over the next decade or two?

My point is not whether the bond measures should or should not be approved, but rather look how fast voters just spent $36 billion– and this happens every time there are propositions on the ballot. That amount of money could, for example, provide a lot of new public transportation or whatever in this state.

Some other propositions are just plain misleading. For example in San Mateo County, Measure W promises that if we agree to a half-cent increase in sales tax, the money will provide for road improvements, less traffic, add express lanes, fix potholes, improve Caltrain, etc. There’s no hint of how they are going to accomplish all this. And the measure fails to state that half of the money will go to SamTrans salaries. Measure W is just a way to help out SamTrans, not get rid of congestion.

Measure F in Palo Alto – which claims it will bring high health care costs under control by capping what doctors and hospitals can charge is another big lie. It wants this city to monitor the bills accrued by each patient for each year – forever. Hospitals and clinics will have to cut services. The annual cost to Palo Alto, which has absolutely no expertise in health care costs, will be a couple of million dollars.

One of my blog readers says he never votes on the propositions because he doesn’t trust them and he’s worried about what they are really about. I can understand, but that, to me, is not quite the answer. They are on the ballot and if he doesn’t vote, he’s letting others decide for him.

The initiative and referendum process, which was adopted by California in 1911, was a great idea – bringing new form of direct democracy. If the legislature doesn’t do something people want, let us put a measure we want on the ballot.

The concept was great but the execution has been corroded in recent years. Big money is taking over; crazy notions can get on the ballot (like dividing California into three states).

Has the referendum process been damaged? Do we want to continue deciding state measures this way? If not, do we – and can we – change things? What would be better?

Let’s discuss. Tell me what you think.

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Comments

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 17, 2018 at 12:46 pm

yes, yes, yes.

Apart from the fact that we get much too much junk mail about them as well as the tv commercials, it must be much too easy to get this stuff on the ballot.

I have no knowledge of dialysis, for example, and having to educate myself on such a subject is something I just don't want to do. I do have a lot of sympathy for those who need it, but why on earth are the general public weighing in on such a topic when really it is the medical community, the patients and possibly insurance companies who are the ones who understand it. Certainly not us.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by S H Maga mon, a resident of Community Center,
on Oct 17, 2018 at 1:23 pm

"But do they realize they've just okayed $18.4 billion"

Versus the expectation of getting needed improvements for free?

Sure we need to fix a lot of things (require identification of Soros type dark money sources, etc..) but I'm good with voter approved fixes.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 17, 2018 at 3:00 pm

Most ballot propositions are fairly transparent (and self serving for a particular special interest group)... and if you still have questions about whose interests they really serve, just look at the "sponsored by" fine print in the TV and print political ads. I don't have a problem with the "issues" propositions as they really reflect the only direct way for voters to have a say on issues that they may (or may not) care about. The special bond propositions are extremely problematic. The barrier to getting those approved is far too low. General obligation bonds are financed from the general fund (i.e. taxes). So it is extremely disingenuous to say we are going to spend billions on some targeted special interest "without raising taxes" so they don't need to meet the 2/3rds threshold for tax increases. Ultimately you either need to spend less on something else (not going to happen in California) or future tax increases are being baked into the system (or eventually bankruptcy/forced cuts down the road). Like promising pension benefits to public employee unions (bills that come due after the current politicians are long gone) instead of higher current salaries (paid for immediately while the politician is in office and accountable for the consequences), passing bonds only appears painless until it collapses under the weight of accumulated debts.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sophia Anderson , a resident of Los Altos Hills,
on Oct 17, 2018 at 5:32 pm

(blog removed - not relevant to topic)


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by RickMoen, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Oct 17, 2018 at 8:12 pm

Ms. Diamond, that's a conundrum, all right. I've been working on ways to vote smarter since over 40 years ago when I got the right to vote (thank you, 26th Amendment). On balance, I think it remains very feasible to do informed voting and make Gov. Hiram Johnson's pride and joy (the initiative process) work for public benefit. It just requires some diligence and skepticism.

Back in the '70s, I started with your good ideas of checking newspaper endorsements and the good services of the blessed LWV. I still worried that sneaky issue wording and insufficient knowledge of the legal sausage-making would occasionally result in my getting gamed. (That should always be a background concern, in my view.)

As I kept grinding away at the problem in the decades since, one newer tool has been surprisingly helpful -- and I know this may sound naive in the era of social media madness: the Web. Starting in the middle 2000s, I started collecting for each votable issue in my area a wide range of informed opinion from the Web, reading the carefully, and sending out compendiums of those, and, for each issue separately, how I intended to vote and why (confining my partisan comments to their own marked-off sections), and sending all of that in e-mail to my family and close friends. After hearing to my surprise that they were popular, I started posting them before each election on my personal Web site. (I don't want to be guilty of promoting my Web site here, but it's findable by anyone interested.)

In my experience, there's an amazing subculture of articulate and well-informed people writing about these issues, including the propositions. Sure, they have agendas; that goes without saying. But I've found it <em>much</em> easier to be well-educated about ballot issues in recent years, than when I started.

As it happens, I dropped off my ballot today at the S.M. County Government Center in Redwood City, and feel pretty confident that I made good choices. I personally think it's not that difficult, given some time and though, and help from credible sources on the Web.

Rick Moen
rick@linuxmafia.com


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by wild wild west, podnah..., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 19, 2018 at 8:03 am

>>>I have no knowledge of dialysis

You don't need knowledge of it - it takes about a minute to realize this prop is put up to protect patients.

I'm sorry you don't have that minute. I understand life can often be too hectic or confusing for some to perform their civic duties.

If you are not too confused at the moment, perhaps ballotpedia can help:

-----

California Proposition 8, the Limits on Dialysis Clinics' Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative, is on the ballot in California as an initiated state statute on November 6, 2018.[1]

A "yes" vote supports requiring dialysis clinics to issue refunds to patients or patients' payers for revenue above 115 percent of the costs of direct patient care and healthcare improvements.

----


"The state's largest kidney dialysis providers " including industry giants Davita Dialysis, Fresenius Medical Care and U.S. Renal Care " have contributed $99 million collectively to fight the proposition"


The Kidney Kowboys don't want their Wild West to have sensible regulations.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 19, 2018 at 8:31 am

My point is more along the practice of putting such items on the ballot and expecting the voters to make decisions they should be in no way making. I was using dialysis as an example of the way those of us with no knowledge or experience are given a power over something we can't be expected to decide. Sometimes the uninformed public cannot be trusted to make rational decisions, a particularly Brexit like situation may evolve.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by long view, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Oct 19, 2018 at 2:49 pm

long view is a registered user.

The paid signature gatherer industry needs to go. There is too much incentive for people paid per signature to lie to get the signature their corporate funders want. If the legislature can't bring itself to ban paid collection of signatures, perhaps it will take... a ballot initiative!


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Brooks, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 19, 2018 at 3:33 pm

"The paid signature gatherer industry needs to go."

Yes.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 19, 2018 at 5:32 pm

>> The initiative and referendum process, which was adopted by California in 1911, was a great idea " bringing new form of direct democracy.

I wouldn't say it was a "great idea". I would say that the proponents had "good intentions". Not the same thing. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

>> The concept was great but the execution has been corroded in recent years. Big money is taking over;

Because there were massive unintended consequences.

==

As for myself, I vote NO on every proposition that I can. Every once in a while, I'm forced to vote in favor due to the specific circumstances, e.g., a NO vote might be misinterpreted as endorsing some kind of discrimination. But, except when I'm forced to, I vote NO on each proposition. I think the process is inevitably highly corrupt.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Support Schools - Voting NO on Measure Z, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Oct 20, 2018 at 12:11 pm

@Diana,
You have just concerns about all the funding we are being asked for through propositions, but I bet you're going to vote yes on Measure Z in Palo Alto. Schools! It's money for Schools! We should just give them whatever blank check they ask us for, nevermind that it hurts our kids when they don't get what we are promised but their parents are sacrificing for it.

Democracy functions on checks and balances, and I wouldn't take that away. What we probably need is to educate our youth better in civics. Heck, we can ourselves make a commitment to better educate ourselves.

I am a local parent, yet I am against Measure Z. I can't say that in public, because people conflate that with being against schools. Yet we have many recent examples, including the last school tax measure, where the money did not go to what was promised, and our kids (and their families) were the losers.

You can vote NO on Measure Z without any worry that the schools won't get the money, because it's clear they will just ask again. But when the electorate says NO, we also have that as the only example of when the district listens to the community. The district should

1) Give us a more specific bond that lays out where the money will go more specifically so people can better decide, and also hold them to it.

2) Try a capital campaign with the many local billionaires who did well with the recent tax changes while local families in the middle took a brutal soaking.

3) Give the new Superintendent, who has a reputation of being a good fiscal manager,the opportunity to evaluate our situation and improve the measure. Remember, we are still paying for past asks that didn't give us what was promised.

But I bet you're still going to vote Yes, even knowing that it could hurt families instead of helping their children, just because the bond is not written to ensure we get what is promised and because no one locally has the courage to come out against a request for school funding (even though there is ZERO chance they will not come up with a new measure asking again).

Would you want to restrict the district's ability to keep making these proposals to the community just because there are so many of them? I wouldn't want to restrict the electorate's rights even though I was one who warned that we should vote NO on that last tax measure that was immediately misspent (and never reduced class sizes as promised), and even though voting NO never means the district doesn't get the funds approved, because they always ask again (but if we say NO, they are more prone to listening to the community before asking again).

We have the err on the side of giving the electorate some ability to be a check and balance on the legislature, or we suffer too many of the ills of absolute power.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by voter, a resident of College Terrace,
on Oct 21, 2018 at 10:26 pm

Completely agree with the writer! Just before reading the article, I completed and mailed my ballot. I voted NO to all the bond propositions 1-4. Don't we have a state government and budget that should deal with these expenditures! I also voted NO to measures W and F. We pay the highest tax of any municipality. But I don't think our counties are run better than any other low tax county in the rest of the country (measure W). It is also completely ridiculous to expect that the city should get into the business of regulating healthcare costs (measure F).


 +  Like this comment
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Oct 22, 2018 at 12:49 am

^@voter, my Palo Alto ballot has no Measure W. Is College Terrace special?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by voter, a resident of College Terrace,
on Oct 22, 2018 at 8:36 pm

Oops! I meant measure A (the county sales tax renewal), not W!


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