Sugi Sorensen's Voter Guide 2000
back to Sugi's home page

I. Ballot Measures

Prop 32 No Veteran's Bond Act of 2000 more info
Prop 33 No Legislature. Participation in public employee' retirement system. Legislative constitutional amendment. more info
Prop 34 No Campaign contributions and spending. Limits. Disclosure. Legislative initiative amendment. more info
Prop 35 Yes Public works projects. Use of private contractors for engineering and architectural services. Initiative constitutional amendment and statute. more info
Prop 36 Neutral Drugs. Probation and treatment program. Initiative statute. more info
Prop 37 Yes Fees. Vote requirements. Taxes. more info
Prop 38 Yes School vouchers. State-funded private and religious education. Public school funding. more info
Prop 39 No School facilities. 55% local vote. Bonds, taxes. Accountability requirements. more info

Prop 32   Veteran's Bond Act of 2000
NO   Would provide a bond issue of $500 million "to provide farm and home aid for California veterans."
  Although ostensibly designed for a noble goal, to assist veterans in obtaining low-interest loans to purchase homes and farms, the Cal-Vet program is fraught with problems. In principle, it is not the purpose of government to provide charity in the form of transfer payments or tax breaks to any constituency, no matter how seemingly deserving. While the Cal-Vet Farm and Home Loan Program is supposedly self-supporting (i.e. the veterans who receive the loans pay the principal and interest back as well as pay for the cost of administering the program), the bond is still a general obligation bond, meaning that it is backed by the state. Thus taxpayers will have to pay any amount not paid by veterans participating in the program each year.

For this $500 million bond measure, principal and interest payments (assuming a rate of 5.5%) would come to about $34 million per year, or $858 million over the 25-year life of the bond.

The other problem with the Cal-Vet program is that the issuing of government bonds competes for investor money in capital markets. And since the government attracts bond buyers by exempting interest earned as tax-free, this is $500 million siphoned away from private capital markets. Banks and financial institutions are better suited and more efficient at lending money to inviduals.

Further Info Links: None

Prop 33   Legislature. Participation in public employee' retirement system. Legislative constitutional amendment.
NO   Would allow legislators to participate in the Public Employees' Retirement System.
  This is a clear attempt to circumvent the limitation imposed by Proposition 140, which passed in 1990. Proposition 140 set new term limits on state legislative offices and also prohibited legislators from earning any new retirement benefits other than Social Security. Proposition 33 proposes to circumvent this by allowing State Assemblymen and State Senators to participate in the state Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS), which provides retirement benefits to most state government workers.

The problems are numerous. First, it is not the responsibility of taxpayers to provide for the retirement benefits of our elected representatives, especially since they are limited to terms of six years in the Assembly and eight years in the State Senate. Equating public service with state employment is a specious comparison. Remember that state legislators are already entitled to Social Security benefits just like everyone else. The proposed constitutional amendment would make legislators unequal participants in the PERS program, eligible to receive full retiree health benefits within a 10 year vesting period as opposed to other state employees, who have a vesting period of 20 years for the same benefit. Why are public servants superior to public employees?

Second, this proposition was put on the ballot by vote of the state legislature. Any time this happens one should be suspicious. Ask yourself why they didn't just pass a law to provide the same benefit? The answer here is because our legislators were already voting themselves irresponsible perks -- over the last 10 years state legislators have voted pay raises for themselves totalling 90%. Voters passed Proposition 140 to stop such irresponsibility. And now the only way legislators can escape those restrictions is through a ballot measure.

Lastly, the ballot measure is a constitutional amendment. Amending the state constitution is the only way the legislators can escape the restraints we voted on them. The state constitution, like our US Constitution, is not a document to be trifled with lightly. Amendments should be reserved for important changes in legal principle, not loopholes to allow legislators to vote themselves bigger perks.

Further Info Links: None

Prop 34   Campaign contributions and spending. Limits. Disclosure. Legislative initiative amendment.
NO   Would limit campaign contributions and loans to state candidates and political parties.
  Although being sold ostensibly as "campaign finance reform", this is another ballot measure passed by the state legislature to circumvent existing or soon-to-be rules.

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 208, which established limits on campaign contributions to candidates, voluntary limits on campaign spending, and further restrictions on fund-raising. Enforcement of 208 was blocked by the courts after the Proposition was challenged in court. Opponents of Proposition 34 believe Proposition 208 will be reinstated given a recent Supreme Court decision upholding a similar initiative in another state.

Proposition 34 is being offered by the current legislature to substitute more lenient campaign finance rules in place of 208, should the courts uphold that Proposition. For example, proposed campaign contribution limits under 34 are higher than they were under 208, and some limits from 208 are repealed altogether.

The problem is that both Proposition 208 and the current Proposition 34 are freedom-limiting solutions to a non-problem. The perceived problem is that unrestricted money corrupts the election process. The real problem is that the focus is entirely upon the wrong people. Fraud and blackmail laws are already in place that prohibit the quid pro quo purchase of votes from, or undue influence on a legislator. The focus should be on clear acts of fraud or corruption, not on abridging First Amendment rights because we feel we can't trust politicians to behave ethically. There are strict reporting laws already on the books about campaign contributions. If you feel a legislator's vote has been purchased, file charges against the scoundrel or vote him/her out of office.

Further Info Links:
  • Yes on 34
  • Californians Against 34

  • Prop 35   Public works projects. Use of private contractors for engineering and architectural services. Initiative constitutional amendment and statute.
    YES   Would eliminate existing restrictions on state and local contracting with private entities for engineering, architectural services; contracts awarded by competitive selection; bidding permitted, but not required.
      This is an example of an unfortunate, but appropriate use of the ballot initiative process. It is appropriate because it was placed on the ballot by the petition process to force our legislature to make a change it has been unwilling to do in session. At issue are how public works projects are handled. Under the current California State Constitution, services provided by state agencies generally must be performed by state civil service employees. In some cases the state may contract with private services to obtain services, but these contracts are governed by byzantine rules and a quasi-competitive process. For example, state and local governments do not use a bidding process for most contract services.

    The proposed constitutional amendment would allow state and local governments to contract with qualified private entities for architectural and engineering services for all phases of a public works project. While the proposed change seems flawed in that it focuses only on a narrow set of services, it is a step in the right direction in opening up the state's overly restrictive public works contracting. As a principle, the government is responsible for road and other public works construction, but they should contract out these services as much as possible to the private sector.

    It is telling that major organizations opposing this proposition are the public employees' union for Caltrans engineers, other public employee organizations such as the California Teachers' Association, and a host of Democratic legislators and local officials.

    The fiscal impact is much in dispute but seems favorably disposed to save California taxpayers millions of dollars. The warnings by Prop 35 opponents that construction projects will be delayed and taxes may go up hundreds of millions of dollars seem ill-founded. After all, if there is indeed a backlog of thousands of public works projects, then CalTrans is not doing its job properly and should have its monopoly on projects forcibly broken up.

    Further Info Links:
  • Yes on 35
  • No on 35

  • Prop 36   Drugs. Probation and treatment program. Initiative statute.
    NEUTRAL   Would require probation and drug treatment, not incarceration for possession, use, and transportation of controlled substances and similar parole violations, except sale or manufacture. Authorizes dismissal of charges after completion of treatment.
      On the surface, this appears to be a reasonable first step toward ending the war on drugs. However, further investigation reveals this is an imperfect solution to the problem. The proposition would amend state law to change the penalty for specific categories of drug offenses from prison or jail to drug treatment and supervision in the community instead. The general category of drug offense affected includes "nonviolent drug possession." Drug offenses outside the scope of this proposition would include possession for sale, producing, or manufacturing of illegal drugs.

    The fiscal impact, as assessed by the independent legislative analyst, is that the state would save between $100 milion and $150 million annually after implementation from reduced prison operations costs. In addition, an additional one-time savings of between $450 million and $550 million is estimated from avoidance of one-time capital outlay costs for prison construction.

    A neutral recommendation is given because whether you support or oppose this measure depends on your beliefs about our current drug laws. If you believe current drug laws are immoral and that people engaging in private activity that does not harm anyone else or their property should not be arrested and imprisoned for these activities, then vote yes. If you support the 'War on Drugs' and believe incarceration is an appropriate penalty for these drug offenses, then vote no on the proposition.

    Further Info Links:
  • Yes on Prop 36
  • No on 36

  • Prop 37   Fees. Vote requirements. Taxes.
    YES   Would require 2/3rds vote of the State Legislature, or a majority or 2/3rds of the local electorate, to impose future state, local fees on activity to study or mitigate its environmental, societal or economic effects. Would also redefine such fees as taxes.
      Placed on the ballot by initiative, this measure would stop a current trend by state and local governments to impose taxes by calling them fees. The problem is that it is typically much easier to create or increase a fee than it is a tax -- a tax requires a 2/3rds vote of the Legislature at the state level or a 2/3rds local voters at the local level while a fee generally requires only a majority vote of the Legislature or local governing body.

    Proposition 37 would amend the State Constitution to classify as "taxes" some classes of government charges that would otherwise be classified as "fees." Proposition 37 affects fees related to health, environmental, or other "societal or economic" concerns. This would make it more difficult for state and local governments to impost new regulatory charges.

    The proposition should be passed because it stops the general principle of hidden taxation, which is the imposition of regulatory fees on companies which are passed on to customers through higher prices, but which never appear to the consumer as a tax. Although a seeming matter of semantics, at stake is a much larger issue between government and the people. On two previous occasions California voters have passed initiatives that require the 2/3rds vote of the State Legislature or localities to impose new taxes or tax increases. Government has circumvented the wishes of the people by passing hidden taxes in the form of regulatory fees.

    Further Info Links:
  • Yes on Prop 37
  • Taxpayers Against Polluter Protection

  • Prop 38   School vouchers. State-funded private and religious education. Public school funding.
    YES   Would authorize annual vouchers of at least $4,000 per pupil for private/religious schools.
      Proposition 38 would require the state to offer an annual scholarship called a voucher to every school age child in California. The vouchers would be paid to private schools selected by parents. Voucher money could only be used for tuition and other educational fees at approved private schools. The proposition also limits restrictions that the state and local governments can impose on a private school that participates in the voucher program.

    Vouchers are needed to break the government's near-monopoly on education. The current state of education allows parents to send their kids to private schools, but they still have to pay for equivalent public education through property taxes. In other words, if you send your kids to private school now, you have to pay twice. This proposition is a first step toward redressing this unfair double-charge. The problem is that it is only a first step -- much more needs to be done to break the government's public education monopoly.

    In states where similar voucher programs have been implemented, test scores have improved in both public and private schools. This is because public schools must compete whereas before they had no incentive to improve the quality of their services.

    The main argument of Prop 38 opponents is that the public school system should be fixed by spending more taxpayer money on them, and not trusting parents with the freedom to make their own educational choices. The problems with this argument are multiple and manifest. First, it is insulting to citizens to presume that they can't be trusted to make decisions for themselves. Second, the problem with public schools is not a lack of funds. Even though per-child spending (adjusted for inflation) on public education is at an all-time high, the quality of public education is at an all-time low. While there are multiple reasons other than money why public schools are failing, the appeal of a voucher system is that it does not proscribe untested theories to fix the problem -- it allows for the free market to devise multiple solutions, and for parents as customers to select schools that work.

    Further Info Links:
  • Yes on Prop 38
  • No on Prop 38 Committee

  • Prop 39   School facilities. 55% local vote. Bonds, taxes. Accountability requirements.
    NO   Would lower the voting requirement for passing bond measures for repair, contruction or replacement of school facilities and classrooms from 2/3rds local vote to 55%. In addition, the proposition would allow property taxes to exceed 1%.
      Prop 39 would amend the State Constitution to lower the voting requirement on passage of bond measures for education construction from 2/3rds of local voters to 55%. In addition, it would amend the constitution to allow state property taxes to exceed 1% of assessed property value.

    Sadly this is the most destructive and deceptive measure on the ballot this year. It is deceptive because it is being sold as a measure to fix crumbling classrooms and improve accountability. This could not be further from the truth. All of the supposed accountability protections touted by supporters of Prop 39 were added after the language of Proposition 39 was filed with the state Legislature In point of fact all Prop 39 does is make it easier for citizens to approve school bonds and easier to repay them by busting the cap on property tax increases.

    As mentioned above in the reasons to approve Prop 38, the problem with our public school system is not a lack of funds. Making it easier to get more money through public bonds would only exacerbate the current spending problems.

    In general, bond measures are an abomination. It is an abrogation of our elected leaders' responsibility to spend the money they already collect from us in taxes. By issuing a bond measure outside of their normal legislative process, state legislators do not have to spend from their alloted budgets. Worse still, legislators use bond measures to fund projects dear to taxpayers that they know are hard to turn down, like school construction, clean water, hospital care, freeways, and veterans' issues. This is by design -- they know voters are compassionate and care deeply about such issues, and are therefore unlikely to turn down the bond.

    A perfect analogy is an alcoholic who spends his paycheck on alcohol, then borrows money to pay for food, shelter, and baby food. To make matters worse, bond measures are doubly insidious because California taxpayers have to pay interest on the bonds. Don't make it easier for our State Legislators to spend irresponsibly.

    Further Info Links:
  • Yes on Prop 39
  • Save Our Homes Committee (No on 39)