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

10 6 10 yes

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.

  • I’m going to vote for Prop. 22.
    However, in some ways I do agree with the opponents. California HAS allowed too much budgeting to be done by proposition and initiative, rather than by the legislature doing its job.
    And education is as guilty of doing this as transportation is. Just look at Prop. 98. (Or even the granddaddy of all ballot box budgeting, Prop. 13.)

    A lot of the opponents of Prop. 22 aren’t necessarily anti-transit, but they are opposed to relying too heavily on initiatives and constitutional amendments.

    Towards that end, I’m also voting for Prop. 25, because I think a majority rule budget would kill a lot of the horse trading with obstructionists which is at the heart of California’s budget mess.

  • I agree with the Chronicle. The reason this state is so screwed up when it comes to the budget is because all these propositions limit what can and cannot be done.

    On the other hand, transit funds seem to the the very first in line to be cut, so something needs to be done to stop that.

    I’m still undecided.

  • This is amazing to read. The idea that the state can arbitrarily steal money from local governments is BS and denies local control over local funds. If the state can’t balance its budget without said raids (which have been ruled ILLEGAL) then that’s TS for the state. They can raise taxes or cut spending, or maybe reform itself, but the raids on local funds have to stop – all it does is distribute Sacramento’s irresponsible spending across the state and force local governments to take a hit because the Legislature and the Governor are too stupid to get their act together.

  • Prop 22 ain’t all it’s cracked up to be

    Although transit is a worthy cause, Prop. 22 will mainly shield the very redevelopment agencies that have caused horrific levels of corruption and gentrification across the state. The state would be better off taking the sales tax revenues away from unaccountable redevelopment agencies.

  • Carter R

    It’s worth noting a couple things, firstly that Prop 22 is a constitutional amendment, so it would be quite binding and difficult to undo (which if you’re for 22 is probably what you want, and if you’re against 22 makes you like it even less).

    Also, I have misgivings about ballot box budgeting, but it alone is not the single cause of our states problems. Especially, the big inherent problem are the initiatives that require spending but don’t establish a revenue source – right?

    Imperfect example: no one is complaining that Measure R forces LA County to spend money on certain projects, because the voters chose to raise the sales tax.

    Ultimately, it’s more a perfect storm combination of ballot initiative budgeting, a super-majority for passing a budget, gerrymandered districts, and the Prop 13 property tax freeze that has CA’s budget in such a mess.

  • C Hoffman

    If we have already said yes to putting money into a certain item then we should stick to it. Our schools have had a new tax, a new proposition, a new initiative, a new every election and yet they scream they have no money. Why? Because they were raided. Hundreds of millions that went where? Some cosmic blackhole. I like the idea that once money is in a budget it’s there. You have a problem somewhere else? Don’t raid . Figure it out. Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul. It’s the first step to bankruptcy. Any middle class housewife knows that. Or at least, they used to.

  • Joe

    If Meg Whitman and the Daily News are for it, I’m against it. Ballot-box revenue constraints are not the way to sustainably fund transit and other local services.

  • Chuck

    I read it, I found my self FOR it, then I saw who endorsed it. Oh no! Have I turned into a Republican?!?! Maybe it’s time for a little common sense in this State.

    Yes, Prop 22 limits the Legislature from being creative with our money. It’s amazing to me that these people we vote into office forget so quickly that they are not a separate entity from us, they work for us. When they don’t have the character to stick to their word, “ballot box budgeting” is our only recourse. It limits the State Legislature’s authority to look us in the eye and say that we need more taxes for “X”, while their fingers are crossed behind their back and they steal it for “Y”.

    Prop 22 would not be necessary if honest people were serving the people. Instead, what they are serving the people is not what was on the menu. I’m tired of that and might even vote for every non-incumbent on the ballot.

    Now that I think about it, I’m so mad I may have turned into a Libertarian!

  • As a user of public transportation in Los Angeles and a supporter of Prop 22
    and a progressive advocate, I have devised a handy mnemonic
    “CA Jingle” of the progressive Yes’s and No’s of the 2010 California ballot propositions to enable voters to easily recall
    — and to easily share in conversation — the consensus sequence of progressive Yes’s and No’s of the 2010 California ballot propositions with this very symmetrical and easily-recalled and shared “CA Jingle”:

    NO YO YO
    NO YO YO
    NO YO yo *

    (* This last minimal Yo is here just to complete the jingle’s rhythm, and, since it follows the final measure, prop 27, it corresponds to no proposition.)

    This jingle, along with a short explanation, would make a great Twitter message in support of Proposition 22 and the other progressive positions on the ballot. I have invited the League and/or the Yes on Prop 22 campaign (www.savelocalservices.com) to use this as a Tweet and in an e-mail to your lists and colleagues
    — and possibly as well on T-shirts.

    The California Courage Campaign has produced a handy chart of recommendations from nine organizations, including CREDO Action, the California Democratic Party, California Federation of Teachers, California Labor Federation, California League of Conservation Voters, California Nurses Association, Calitics, and the League of Women Voters that unfortunately includes a No on 22, at http://www.couragecampaign.org/page/share/2010VoterGuide.

    I’ve recommended to the Campaign that they reverse their No on 22 to a Yes, because that would be a better call . . . and a Y on 22 would enable the Campaign’s use too of this great easy-to-remember-and-share ‘CA Jingle’!

    But in case they don’t do that, I offer the mnemonic jingle to the League of California Cities’ Save Local Services campaign and to the Yes on 22 campaign via their webform at http://www.savelocalservices.com/node/8.

  • cj

    I agree with C Hoffman. All I know is the highways in California are the worst in the Union and mass transit is in need of expanding even in Sacramento. However, since the State is so accustomed to patching the budget with raided money it might be wiser to faze in Prop 22’s requirements.

    Still undecided and researching.

  • Reading the voter guide text for the proposition one can see that the issues involved are complex – even if you have a position on state raiding of local revenues. If it’s difficult for a planner (like me) to see how it could affect localities, imagine how it would appear to someone with little policy experience and perhaps scant understanding of how state-local financing works (or doesn’t, really). And isn’t that the problem with ballot-box budgeting?
    My perspective is that whatever starves redevelopment agencies of revenue, or checks their ability to obligate future taxes, such as when twenty years of tomorrow’s receipts fund questionable developments today, is a good thing. Choose your metaphor: are redevelopment agencies cancers metastasizing in local communities? Octopuses strangling communities of the services they need for years to come? Whatever clamps down on these agencies can only be a good thing.

  • Richard Swan

    After reading the various comments above I come to the following conclusion:

    This is a very complex issue. I don’t understand it. If I don’t understand a proposition I vote no (after making sure that “no” doesn’t mean “yes”).

    I don’t understand this. I’m voting “NO” because I don’t want to be a part of a “solution” I don’t understand–especially when it becomes a constitutional amendment. We elect legislators to sort this stuff out.

    I’m wary of the notion that the State is taking away money the “belongs” to other entities–“Really?”

    Ballot box budgeting is a very bad idea.

    Truly independent redistricting of the State and simple majority for passing budgets would go a long way to cleaning up our problems. So would term limits and if we could only find a viable way to publicly fund elections and keep ALL the outside money away. The legislators need to learn about statesmanship.

    Seems like Prop 13 was a very unlucky number. I bought my house 14 years ago. My neighbor pays 250% more property tax than I do. Who is raiding who?

  • Gotta agree with Richard Swan here. There are just too many unknowns and too much complexity to fully investigate and understand this measure.

    Against it: Americans for Prosperity AND the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club! How about the Pleasanton Tea Party AND Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia?

    What about: Fiorina Against, but Whitman For?

    Can you say “Politics makes strange bedfellows?”

    I usually wait until the day before the election, then take a lot of time going over candidates and propositions. It’s taken me more time to investigate prop 22 than I needed to decide on all other races and propositions COMBINED – and I still can’t decide on the merits! So I have to go with voting No due to uncertainty. This is one case where I can’t see the grass on the other side of the fences, much less whether or not it’s greener!


California Streetsblog Voter Guide

At long last, Tuesday is election day. Voters throughout California, and the rest of the country, will head to the polls to vote on Congressional, Senate, Governor and Statehouse races. California voters have a lot of big decisions to make, including several statewide races and ballot propositions. Streetsblog has covered the races throughout the last […]

SoCATA Backs Prop 91

What little conventional wisdom exists about Proposition 91, says that Prop. 91 is a ballot measure without any supporters. In the past couple of months, the California Alliance for Jobs, The League of Women’s Voters, LAist, and just random people around the Internet have all urged people to vote against Proposition 91. What’s especially weird […]

Metro Board: Let the People Vote on Extending Sales Tax

Just after high noon, the Metro Board of Directors voted to place a ballot proposition on the November 2012 ballot to extend the Measure R sales tax’s horizon year from 2039 until 2069.  Los Angeles County voters passed the Measure R half-cent sales tax in 2008 to pay for a massive extension of the county’s […]