Why Isn’t Proposition 22 a Slam Dunk with Voters?

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It seems as though voters would find a “yes” vote for Proposition 22 to be an easy decision.  After all, the proposition would end the state’s ability to decide that “we’re in a crisis” and could raid taxes dedicated to transit funding (as well as other local public services such as the police and fire departments) leading to the massive service cuts that we’ve seen locally and across the state.  Not surprisingly, transit advocacy groups such as the California Transit Association have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to see the initiative pass, and local groups such as the Southern California Transit Advocates have made passage a top electoral priority.

Yet, newspapers from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Sacramento are lining up against the ballot measure.  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hasn’t quite declared opposition, but has repeated the basic argument against the measure:

I think that one of the problems the state is facing is too much ballot-box budgeting. What happens when you do this, you break up the budget into lots of silos.

In other words, because the state has been raiding transit, and other locally collected and dedicated tax funds, for so long that creating holes in the state budget by putting them back where they were originally dedicated would damage the state.

Screen shot 2010-10-06 at 11.34.16 AMMost of the arguments are a variation of this theme.  Teachers unions complain it would balance the budget “on the backs of students” while the “vote no” argument in the official voter guide argues that passage “leave us all in greater danger from fires, earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters. It also means cuts in emergency medical services, forcing longer response times if your family needs a paramedic—or perhaps no paramedic at all in a major emergency.”

In other words, whether or not an organization is for or against Proposition 22 depends on whether your favorite issue is the one receiving funds that weren’t dedicated for it or one that is losing those funds.  There also doesn’t seem to be a partisan divide on the issue.  For example, Republican Senate Candidate Carly Fiorina urges a “no” vote.  Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Meg Whitman is voting “yes.”

When it comes to messaging, it would appear the opponents have found a more personal touch.  While opponents use language painting a clear image that passage could have on school children, proponents language is a lot more bureaucratic.

What has been absent from the debate has been a discussion of what the raids have had on transit and transit riders.  Every major transit agency in the state has seen slashes in service that have literally left people stranded without a way to get to their jobs, stores, or anywhere.  As has been pointed out by the Bus Riders Union, these sort of cuts seem to happen to areas where people are more transit dependent, directly affecting their ability to earn a living and be a part of society.  Instead, arguments made by proponents focus on the fairness of the bait and switch of telling voters they’re voting for a tax that will pay for one thing and then spending it on something else.

Meanwhile, newspapers are divided in their endorsements.  While the Los Angeles Times urges a “no” vote, the Los Angeles Daily News urges a “yes.”  The Times bases a lot of their opposition around the idea that too much money is going to redevelopment agencies, and perhaps schools and other social services would be a better use of those funds.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle is also urging a “no” vote.  Their argument is that “ballot box budgeting” has led the state into this fiscal disaster, and more of it isn’t going to make things any better.  The Chronicle’s argument is the opposite of that put forward by the Daily News who argues that voters and municipalities are better equipped to make decisions on how tax revenue should be spent than politicians in Sacramento.

The timing of a ballot initiative giving more power on fiscal decisions to municipalities than to the State appears to be poor.  Municipalities such as Bell and Vernon have become a national poster child for waste, fraud and abuse while they’re leaders and bureaucrats reaped windfall salaries.  An opinion piece by the head of the California Small Business Association makes this point.  So does an editorial in the Fresno Bee.

Of course, it’s not like the state legislature has been earning high marks for their budgeting prowess either.

In the end, people are faced with two decisions when voting on Proposition 22.  Do they feel that ballot propositions dedicating funds towards certain projects are worth protecting and do they support the legislature’s and governor’s decisions regarding how those funds are spent.  Policemen, firefighters, transit riders, teachers, students and millions of other people are awaiting their decision.