Here’s a brain teaser for you — try to find a consistent frame of reference that makes sense of all the California ballot measure results from yesterday’s election. It’s not easy.
Some parts fit together pretty well. Propositions 22 and 26 are part of a consistent pattern of California voters asking government to keep its hands out of our wallets unless they ask nicely and we say yes. Prop. 22 keeps state government (meaning the legislature) from taking money away from local jurisdictions to help balance the state budget. It was sold as protecting local government resources. As I noted in a previous post, the unmentioned major beneficiary will be redevelopment agencies. I wonder why the no on 22 campaign didn’t play that up more. I find it hard to believe, in between their taking money away from other local agencies and being able to exercise eminent domain to take property away from citizens, that voters have a warm spot in their heart for redevelopment agencies. [That’s not to say that they never do anything worthwhile. To give them their due, for example, Emeryville’s redevelopment agency has had a big hand in transforming that city from truckyards and factories into a retail powerhouse.] Prop. 26 also makes it harder for the state (or local agencies, for that matter) to collect money in the form of fees. The complaint was that there were fees being created that were really taxes, and it was a subterfuge to get around Prop. 13 and Prop. 218’s voter approval requirements. So now most fees will ALSO require a 2/3 popular vote. The defeat of Prop. 21 also fits with the “keep your hand out of my friggin’ wallet” attitude of California voters. Interestingly, for both this and Prop. 26, the Bay Area’s attitudes differed from the rest of the state’s. Here’s a link to the voting map for prop 21 on the Secretary of State’s website: http://vote.sos.ca.gov/maps/ballot-measures/21/ . We in the Bay Area are apparently a bit more willing to pay the fare when it comes to government services.
This might all seem consistent, but at the same time voters also adopted Prop. 25, which eliminates the 2/3 majority requirement to pass the state budget. Thus it’ll now be easier for the legislature to pass a budget, but harder for them to have it survive the laugh test of, “So where are you going to find the revenue to make this budget balance?” Look for many more applications of smoke and mirrors to produce a “balanced” budget in the future. Also look for the state budget deficit to continue to grow, since Californians seem to think they can have all the services they want without having to pay for them.
Props 20 and 27, like props 21,22, and 26, but unlike prop 25, also showed voters’ distrust of the legislature. In 2008, the voters narrowly passed prop 11, taking legislative redistricting out of the (self-interested) hands of the legislature and putting it into the hands of an independent “citizens’ commission”. This year, the legislature tried to convince voters that they should reverse the decision. No such luck. In fact, the voters turned around and took congressional redistricting out of the legislature’s hands as well. Perhaps, with the exception of prop 25, the theme might be that the legislature is not to be trusted with doing much of anything right. Arguably, even prop 25 could be said to reflect that attitude. i.e., “OK, you don’t seem to be able to handle passing a budget with a 2/3 majority. We’ll make it easy for you — just get something out with a simple majority; and if you can’t handle that, we’ll take away your pay because you clearly aren’t earning it!”
Then we’ve got two “lifestyle” initiatives. Prop 19, that would’ve legalized recreational marijuana use, and prop 23, which would have suspended the state’s global warming law.
On the former, early polls seemed to show voter approval, but two things appeared to turn the tide. First were a bunch of articles pointing to flaws in the initiative’s language that would result in litigation and unintended consequences. Second was the U.S. Attorney General’s public announcement that he didn’t care what California did; he was still going to have MJ users, growers, sellers, etc. arrested and thrown in prison under federal narcotics laws. This could, perhaps, have stirred up a states’ rights oriented state like Alaska or Mississippi to say, “Oh yeah? We’ll see about that! See you in court!” But … California is not a big states’ rights bastion, and with law enforcement groups up and down the state saying it was a bad idea, the voters apparently had second thoughts.
Prop 23 was a different story. For one thing, Californians have long liked to think of themselves as being an environmentally conscious group. After all, we have Yosemite, the redwoods, the sequoias, Lake Tahoe, etc. We were also one of the first states to block offshore oil drilling after the big Santa Barbara oil spill, and Californians have bought more hybrid vehicles, not only in toto but on a per capita basis, than any other state. So it only stands to reason that, having passed landmark legislation to try to curb global warming, Californians would not readily turn around and say, “Oops, we made a mistake. Let’s put that law in the deep freeze for twenty years or so until it gets REALLY hot.” It also didn’t help that it came out very early (thanks to California’s campaign finance disclosure laws) that almost all the money financing prop 23 was coming from out-of-state oil companies. Hey, what the heck, they were in Oklahoma or inland areas of Texas. It wasn’t their coastline that was going to disappear under water as sea levels rose. Bottom line, Californians decided they didn’t believe the oil companies (who have, of course, tremendous credibility already — almost as good as Enron’s).
One thing that still leaves me scratching my head is that in spite of what appears to be a set of almost Tea Party-like attitudes about government spending, Californians still elected an entire set of Democratic state office holders. Like I said at the start of this post, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a consistent frame of reference for California voters.