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by inoljt

The Socially Conservative State of … California?

11:34 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

California Flag

Does California live up to its socially liberal reputation? Statistics suggest otherwise.

California is generally thought of as a very liberal place. The Democratic Party is certainly doing well; Republicans are at an all-time low almost everywhere in the state.

This applies to social positions as well. The stereotype is that Californians are very socially liberal. California is, after all, home to San Francisco and Berkeley – the natural environment of the godless hippie and homosexual. Hollywood is also located in California, and Hollywood’s not exactly a bastion of social conservatism.

It may surprise some, then, to note that in the past four years Californians have voted against gay marriage, marijuana, and the abolition of the death penalty. These positions were debated in three successive propositions. Each time the socially conservative side won. Here are the numbers:

Proposition What It Proposed Socially Conservative Side Socially Liberal Side
8 No to Gay Marriage 52.2% 47.8%
19 Legalizing Marijuana 53.5% 46.5%
34 Abolishing the Death Penalty 52.0% 48.0%

Each of the propositions had different things going on. Gay marriage was widely expected to win, and it shocked liberals when the people said no. Legal marijuana at first appeared to have majority support. But as the details of the proposition for legal marijuana came out (it was said to be badly written), its numbers plummeted. On the other hand, few paid attention to Proposition 34. The abolishment of the death penalty was never expected to pass, and it surprised few when it didn’t. Yet the end results are remarkably similar for the different contours that the propositions took.

From the numbers, it looks like there’s a socially conservative majority of 52% to 53% of Californians.

Ironically, the social conservatism displayed here might be a side-effect of the same forces behind the Democratic Party’s rise. The growing Hispanic and Asian vote leans strongly Democratic; it’s why the Republicans are collapsing in California. At the same time, Hispanics and Asians (especially immigrants) are – as Republicans never tire of saying – are often socially conservative. South-Central Los Angeles might give the Democratic candidate 80-90% of the vote. That doesn’t mean that it will support gay marriage, legalized marijuana, or the abolishment of the death penalty.

It’s too bad that Republicans can’t channel this social conservatism amongst immigrants into support for the Republican Party.


Read the rest of this entry →

by inoljt

Vote No on California Proposition 39: Multistate Business Taxes

3:31 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

This is the tenth part of a series of posts analyzing California’s propositions:

More Ballot-Box BudgetingProposition 39 is a typical example of ballot-box budgeting. Tax X, spend on Y. In this case, X equals multistate businesses and Y equals clean energy.

The proposition raises taxes on multistate businesses in California through a subtle method. Right now those businesses can choose between two ways of calculating their taxes. They can be taxed based on the number of sales, property, or employees the business has in California (the “three-factor method”). Or they can be taxed based only on the number of sales (the “single sales factor method.”)

Proposition 39 changes it so that multistate businesses can only be taxed through the latter method. This would raise their taxes.

Of the money raised, $550 million is given to green energy for five years. In the post on Proposition 34, this blog argued:

This is the type of terrible policy which the proposition system is famous for. One hundred million in spending by Proposition 34, ten billion in spending by a proposition here, five billion in tax cuts by a proposition there – it’s no wonder California has trouble balancing its budget. Ballot-box budgeting like this is disgraceful.

The same logic holds here. This blog would be more inclined to support the proposition if the revenue raised was left for the legislature to direct as it willed. As it is, the proposition’s micromanagement of its funding is just another reason to vote against the proposition.

An Easy No

Fundamentally, California voters don’t have enough information to know whether or not this proposition is a good idea. Is it a good idea to make it so that multistate businesses pay taxes based on the “single sales factor method” rather than being able to choose between the “single sales factor method” and the “three-factor method”? Beats me.

The logic against Proposition 39 is similar to that against Proposition 31, and it’s worth repeating that logic here. If this policy change were proposed in the legislature lawmakers and their staff would probably have access to studies, surveys, and analyses on whether or not it would be better for the general welfare if multistate businesses paid taxes only based on the “single sales factor method” or if they paid taxes based on a choice between the “single sales factor method” and the “three-factor method”. Those studies and analyses would probably run up into the dozens of pages.

But voters just have two pages of all-caps arguments for or against this change (the legislative analysis makes no judgement on which policy is wiser). For such a major change, it’s not enough.

The legislature should be setting tax policy, not the proposition system.


by inoljt

Vote No on California Proposition 38 – Molly Munger’s Tax Initiative

1:09 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

This is the ninth part of a series of posts analyzing California’s propositions:

An Unfortunate Proposition…

There are two revenue-increasing propositions before the public. There is Proposition 30, the good one backed by Jerry Brown, and Proposition 38, the bad one. You should vote yes on Proposition 30 and no on Proposition 38. Unfortunately, that’s probably going to confuse a lot of people.

Proposition 38 is pushed by Molly Munger, a well-meaning attorney (funny how so many of the propositions have such well-meaning intentions yet bad consequences).

Basically, it’s an income tax increase. The tax increase is pretty huge; it catches even lower-income residents. Individuals with income over $7,316 and families or joint filers with income over $14,632 will have their taxes raised. The chart below, taken from the legislative analyst, explains in more detail:

Current and Proposed Personal Income Tax Rates Under Proposition 38
Single Filer’s
Taxable Income a
Joint Filers’
Taxable Income a
Taxable Income a
Tax Rate b
Marginal Tax Rate b
$0–$7,316 $0–$14,632 $0–$14,642 1.0%
7,316–17,346 14,632–34,692 14,642–34,692 2.0 0.4%
17,346–27,377 34,692–54,754 34,692–44,721 4.0 0.7
27,377–38,004 54,754–76,008 44,721–55,348 6.0 1.1
38,004–48,029 76,008–96,058 55,348–65,376 8.0 1.4
48,029–100,000 96,058–200,000 65,376–136,118 9.3 1.6
100,000–250,000 200,000–500,000 136,118–340,294 9.3 1.8
250,000–500,000 500,000–1,000,000 340,294–680,589 9.3 1.9
500,000–1,000,000 1,000,000–2,000,000 680,589–1,361,178 9.3 2.0
1,000,000–2,500,000 2,000,000–5,000,000 1,361,178–3,402,944 9.3 2.1
Over 2,500,000 Over 5,000,000 Over 3,402,944 9.3 2.2

a  Income brackets shown were in effect for 2011 and will be adjusted for inflation in future years. Single filers also include married individuals and registered domestic partners (RDPs) who file taxes separately. Joint filers include married and RDP couples who file jointly, as well as qualified widows or widowers with a dependent child.

b  Marginal tax rates apply to taxable income in each tax bracket listed. For example, a single tax filer with taxable income of $15,000 could have had a 2011 tax liability under current tax rates of $227: the sum of $73 (which equals 1 percent of the filer’s first $7,316 of income) and $154 (2 percent of the filer’s income over $7,316). This tax liability would be reduced—and potentially eliminated—by personal, dependent, senior, and other tax credits, among other factors. The proposed additional tax rates would take effect beginning in 2013 and end in 2024. Current tax rates listed exclude the mental health tax rate of 1 percent for taxable income in excess of $1 million.

In contrast, Proposition 30′s income tax only affects individuals with income over $250,000, joint filers with income over $500,000, and head-of-household’s with over $340,000.

The revenue raised goes mostly to education, with the rest to repay state debt. Proposition 38′s revenues go to a new fund called the California Education Trust Fund. There are three ways the revenue is distributed: to schools, to ECE (Early Care and Education) programs, and to state debt. The amount given to each each differs per year, although schools get the majority and ECE gets the least. Of the money given to schools 70% goes to education program grants; 18% goes to low-income student grants; and 12% goes to training, technology, and teaching materials grants. Of the amount given to ECE programs, a minority goes to restoring cuts in current ECE programs and the rest goes to expanding the programs (e.g. 51% goes to subsidized preschool for children aged three to five form low-income families). The rest pays state debt. From the legislative analyst:

Allocation of Revenues Raised by Proposition 38
Schools 60% 60% 85%
Early Care and Education (ECE) 10 10 15
State debt payments 30 30a a
Totals 100% 100% 100%
Growth limit on allocations to schools and ECE programs a No Yes Yes
.a  Reflects minimum share dedicated to state debt payments. Revenues beyond growth limit also would be used to make debt payments.

It’s all very long and complicated. In the California official voter information guide, the legislative analysis of Proposition 38 is the longest. Reading Proposition 38′s legislative analysis made my head spin (even more than Proposition 31′s legislative analysis). I don’t like voting for propositions that make my head spin.

…Which Might Actually End Up Cutting Education!

Somewhat amazingly, Proposition 38 might not prevent huge education cuts next year. This is because the legislature passed a series of spending reduction called “trigger cuts” that would take effect if Proposition 30 was not approved. These include $5.354 billion from schools and community colleges, as well as $250 million each from the University of California and California State University systems. Tuition would certainly be raised at California state universities under these trigger cuts.

If Proposition 38 is approved and gets more votes than Proposition 30, then those education trigger cuts will still take place.

That means that under Proposition 38, college students at California state universities will still have their tuition raised (as well as their taxes). There will be both huge tax increases and huge spending cuts for education this year. Then next year there will be huge spending increases for education. That’s a terribly unstable situation.

Remember: Proposition 30 is the good proposition, Proposition 38 the bad one. Vote yes on Proposition 30 and no on Proposition 38.


by inoljt

Vote No on California Proposition 36: Three Strikes Law

11:31 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

This is the seventh part of a series of posts analyzing California’s propositions:

A Tough Proposition

Proposition 36 is a tough proposition. There’s a strong case for voting yes on this proposition. Out of all the proposition recommendations made in this blog, this one is made with the most hesitancy.

Proposition 36 substantially weakens the Three Strikes Law. This is a famous tough-on-crime California law derived from another proposition (on a side note: there are way too many propositions out there). A serious or violent felon, if convicted of a new felony, gets twice the sentence. A two-time serious or violent felon, if convicted of a new felony, gets life. The Three Strikes Law is one of the toughest (if not the toughest) in the nation.

Under normal circumstances, this blog would unstintingly argue against voting yes on Proposition 36. Voters should never approve propositions that make big changes in subtle, complex things such as the length of prison sentences. Even if a change would be for the better, that is a job best left to the normal process. There is a reason why a legislature exists, after all: to draft laws. Legislators spend their entire lives on these issues. Voters spend a couple of hours or seconds reading a crazily complicated proposition that makes huge changes in the state. Generally, propositions on complex issues should only be approved if they fix a crisis.

Unfortunately, the normal way doesn’t work in this case. The legislature does not have the power to change the Three Strikes Law. This is because the proposition which approved the law explicitly prohibited this. So California voters are left in the unattractive position of deciding felony prison sentence lengths themselves.

There is also something quite wrong with California’s prison system, for which the description “crisis” would not be ill-fitted. They are famously overcrowded and a recent Supreme Court decision ordered California to reduce the population. The Three Strikes Law has certainly contributed to this negative situation. Finally, the proposition would save California several tens of millions of dollars per year – not something to laugh about during a budget crisis.

Nevertheless, there is also something good to say about the Three Strikes Law. California’s crime level over the past decade and a half has substantially decreased over the past two decades after the enactment of the law. Other states in the country have also followed California’s Three Strikes Law, and overall crime in the nation has been steadily declining for the past two decades. Of course, a number of other factors were behind this as well. But the Three Strikes Law’s aim was to reduce crime – and crime has indeed decreased.

More fundamentally, this proposition still would change the very complicated issue of felony prison sentences. That’s an issue that the vast majority of people are not qualified to deal with. The last clause definitely includes this blogger as well. That’s why this blog recommends a qualified “No” on Proposition 36.


by inoljt

Vote No On California Proposition 35: Human Trafficking

8:55 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Livingstone was confronted by the slave trade and campaigned to bring an end to human trafficing

Livingstone was confronted by the slave trade and campaigned to bring an end to human trafficing (Photo: Aly1963/flickr)

This is the fifth part of a series of posts analyzing California’s propositions:












  • Vote No on Proposition 35 – Human Trafficking




What Proposition 35 Really Does

Proposition 35 is almost certain to be approved by California voters. It bans human trafficking. Who isn’t against human trafficking?

But there are actually a number of reasons to vote against Proposition 35.

Human trafficking is already banned by California law, of course. This is actually kind of obvious; it would have been a really incredible oversight if human trafficking was not previously illegal in California.

What Proposition 35 actually does is that it changes the current law. It increases criminal penalties for human trafficking.

What’s wrong with that, you might ask? The vast majority of Californians would support an increase in penalties for human trafficking.

The thing is that the federal government deals with human trafficking, not the state government. The legislative analyst states that:

Currently, human trafficking cases are often prosecuted under federal law, rather than California state law, even when California law enforcement agencies are involved in the investigation of the case. This is partly because these types of crimes often involve multiple jurisdictions and also because of the federal government’s historical lead role in such cases.

That is, because human trafficking often crosses state lines, usually the federal government deals with it. This is why there are only 18 individuals convicted of human trafficking in state prison, as of March 2012.

So this proposition handles something that’s not the state’s responsibility.

In addition, this proposition mostly deals with something that the typical voter has little knowledge about: proper penalties for criminal activities. Most voters have no idea whether the sentence enhancement of great bodily injury should be six or ten additional years in jail, which is one change this proposition proposes. I certainly don’t.

There are people who are qualified to set prison sentences. These are the experts and the lawmakers, who spend their whole lives studying these issues. People like you and me, who just spend a couple of hours (or even worse, seconds) reading about this proposition, are not. Prison sentences for criminal activities are – yet another – activity that would be best left to the legislature to deal with, rather than the broken proposition system.

Why to Vote Against Proposition 35

Proposition 35 sounds great. Punish human trafficking! Let’s do it!

But human trafficking is not handled by the state of California – it’s handled by the federal government. So Proposition 35 is mostly irrelevant.

Proposition 35 changes prison sentences for human traffickers. But sentences for criminals should be set by the experts and the legislature. They shouldn’t be set by voters who have only thirty minutes in the ballot box to vote for ten propositions, half of which they don’t understand.

Proposition 35 sounds too good to be true. It is.


by inoljt

Vote Yes on California Proposition 34: Death Penalty

12:31 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

The Death Penalty

Proposition 34 is fairly simple: it repeals the death penalty.

This is one of those simple propositions. It’s easily understandable, and (unlike some propositions out there) nobody is trying to trick Californians. The average voter can easily understand what this proposition does.

It’s also why this blog is not going to spend a lot of time on this proposition. The death penalty is something that most people have already made their minds about. It’s either morally right or morally wrong. Nobody reading this is going to change their mind about the death penalty.

The Financial Implications

It’s with respect to the fiscal impact that there is something to be said about Proposition 34.

Let’s start with the bad news. Proposition 34 adds a total of one hundred million in grants to local law enforcement agencies. It does this mainly to attract votes.

This is the type of terrible policy which the proposition system is famous for. One hundred million in spending by Proposition 34, ten billion in spending by a proposition here, five billion in tax cuts by a proposition there – it’s no wonder California has trouble balancing its budget. Ballot-box budgeting like this is disgraceful.

But the good news is that Proposition 34 does save the state a lot of money, if approved. California requires decades of appeals before a person convicted of the death penalty is actually killed. The purpose of this is to make it so that the state actually never executes anybody. Unfortunately, this is expensive; all the appeals cost more than a hundred million per year. Proposition 34 will save that money. And with California’s current financial difficulties, that’s quite helpful.


So this blog endorses Proposition 34 because it saves the state money, despite the proposition’s thick-headed spending grant.

A side note: In making this recommendation, there is no ulterior motive here. With respect to whether the death penalty is morally correct or not, I really have no opinion and don’t know the answer. It’s not an issue that arouses my passion, although it’s understandable that many people are very passionate about this issue. This recommendation is made purely on the fiscal implications of Proposition 34.


by inoljt

Vote No on California Proposition 32: Union-busting

9:01 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

This is the third part of a series of posts analyzing California’s propositions:

What Does Proposition 32 Do?

It kills unions.


It’s pretty simple. Proposition 32 is mainly aimed at weakening unions. It’s billed as a campaign-finance reform proposition, but it’s pretty clear that the main target is labor unions.

One facet of Proposition 32 aims to permit “voluntary employee contributions to employer-sponsored committee or union if authorized yearly, in writing.” California unions mainly depend on automatic union dues. By making those automatic union dues voluntary, this clause would greatly weaken unions. That is, of course, the point of the proposition.

Another part of the proposition prohibits funds deducted from payrolls to be used for political purposes. As it turns out, about the only organizations that use payroll-deducted funds in politics are unions. The legislative analysis states that, “Other than unions, relatively few organizations currently use payroll deductions to finance political spending in California.” Corporations don’t use them. So while Proposition 32 supporters state that both union and corporate political spending will be limited by the proposition, in reality only unions are affected.

There are reasonable-sounding parts of Proposition 32. It limits, for instance, political donations by government contractors, which seems to make sense. Although the legislative analyst notes that those government contractors could be “public sector labor unions with collective bargaining contracts.” So perhaps that clause is just another way to gut unions.

Even If You Don’t Like Unions, You Should Still Vote No on Proposition 32

Most people reading this post, I suspect, are highly in favor of unions. Still, even a person who isn’t a big fan of unions ought to vote no on this proposition.

It is true that there’s a lot to complain about with respect to unions. Unions are very powerful in California, and it’s understandable when conservatives dislike that fact. State pensions seem to have some hard-to-defend practices, for instance (which this proposition doesn’t address). In researching for this proposition, I was shocked to discover that some workers (such as teachers) have to pay union dues even if they hate their union.

But there’s a time and place to address these grievances, and that’s not the proposition system. Propositions are meant for egregious wrongs and things which can’t be fixed by the normal system. This purpose unfortunately has been subverted in recent years by the explosion of senseless propositions. Unions may be bad, or they may be good. But even if they do more harm than good, the proposition system isn’t the place to kill unions.

So even if you’re not the biggest fan of unions, like me, you should still vote against Proposition 32.


by inoljt

Vote No on Proposition 31: Changes to State Budgeting

2:23 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

This is the second part of a series of posts analyzing California’s propositions:

Jerry Brown - Caricature

(Photo: DonkeyHotey/flickr)

Good Intentions…

Proposition 31 is a well-intentioned proposition. Unlike several of the propositions out there today, it’s not funded by special interests or companies looking to make a profit. It’s a proposition funded by California Forward, a group legitimately dedicated to reforming California’s budget. The folks at California Forward put a lot of time and thought into drafting this proposition; it’s basically a collection of reforms in the budgeting process that they think would best help the state.

Moreover, there are good things in Proposition 31. For instance, the two-year budget cycle contained in the proposition sounds like a good idea.

But I Don’t Understand It!

California has lots of propositions, and they generally do more bad than good. Indeed, a wise voter ought to reject the good majority of propositions that are put forward each year. That’s the philosophy that informs the approach this blog takes towards propositions.

A wise voter ought to be especially cautious with a proposition he or she doesn’t understand. If you don’t understand what a proposition does, or if you’re extremely confused by its wording, you should almost always vote no.

This proposition is both extremely complicated and quite confusing. There are a lot of big changes which have big, unknown effects on the state budget. The legislative analyst writes that the fiscal effects “cannot be predicted” quite a bit in its analysis. That’s worrying.

Take one part of the proposal. The proposition shifts quite a lot of authority to local governments. For instance:

Under this measure, counties and other local governments (such as cities, school districts, community college districts, and special districts) could create plans for coordinating how they provide services to the public. The plans could address how local governments deliver services in many areas, including economic development, education, social services, public safety, and public health. Each plan would have to be approved by the governing boards of the (1) county, (2) school districts serving a majority of the county’s students, and (3) other local governments representing a majority of the county’s population. Local agencies would receive some funding from the state to implement the plans (as described below).

There’s a ton of information packed into this short paragraph.

This change is made under the assumption that local goverments are more efficient. If it were proposed in the legislature lawmakers and their staff would probably have access to studies, surveys, and analyses on whether or not local governments actually are more efficient than the state government. Those studies and analyses would probably run up into the dozens of pages.

But voters just have this short little paragraph on one facet of the many facets of Proposition 31. For such a major change, it’s not enough.

Perhaps all the changes in Proposition 31 would be of great benefit. Perhaps they would be of great damage. I don’t know, especially since I have such a hard time understanding Proposition 31.

That’s why Californians should vote no on Proposition 31, come November 2012.


by inoljt

The Success of Proposition 25 in California

8:43 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Sacramento, California Capitol Building

Sacramento, California Capitol Building (Photo: rltherichman on flickr

Until 2011, California’s budget process followed a very unfortunate pattern. Democrats, who control the legislature, would propose the general outlines. California’s budget required a two-thirds supermajority to pass it in the legislature, however, which Democrats do not have. So any budget would need Republican support.

Republicans would then make a series of demands for their support, demands which Democrats would find unacceptable. The two sides would then be stuck at an impasse. This would last for months, until finally (long after the deadline) some type of compromise would pass. The whole process would then begin anew the next year.

In 2011 all this changed. California passed its first on-time budget since 2006. This budget was only the sixth budget in the last twenty years which has been on-time. The accomplishment is all the more substantial given that it happened in the middle of a recession. In the past, budgets passed before the new fiscal year only during the good times – when revenues were much higher than spending.

Proposition 25, which passed in 2010, is responsible for all this. The proposition did two things to improve the process. Firstly, it annuled the supermajority requirement. From now on, budgets only require a simple legislative majority to pass (like forty-seven other states). No longer can a small minority hold the budget hostage until they get what they want. Read the rest of this entry →

by inoljt

What It’s Like to Be a Republican Legislator in California

1:47 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

The California State Capitol Building (photo: Daniel Mayer)

I recently had the opportunity to visit California’s State Assembly and watch the legislature in action. I think this opportunity provided me a deeper understanding of the problem ailing California politics.

The first thing to know is that, if you’re a Republican legislator in California, you are always, always losing. The Democratic Party always sets the agenda. Then a Democratic Assemblyman will introduce a bill. Sometimes the bill is uncontroversial – something like National Mitochrondria Day. Other times the bill is heatedly partisan.

When the bill is partisan, the Republicans will stand up and argue against it. They will be heated. They will be angry – indeed, Republican legislators generally have a much angrier tone than their Democratic counterparts. They will talk about how the Constitution is being violated, how America’s Founding Fathers would look aghast at the bill, how America is a country of liberty, and how the bill is infringing upon America’s freedoms.

And then, when voting time comes, the Republicans lose. The bill they so hate inevitably passes. This is because California is a Democratic state, and the Democrats therefore have a majority. The result is that day in, day out Republicans are losing. They lose every single time. They spend every single minute in the legislature losing.

Except on one issue. California, you see, requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes (and, until recently, to pass the budget). There are barely enough Republicans in the chamber to deny Democrats the two-thirds majority.

So here, on this one issue, a Republican legislator can win. And what an important issue! Taxes and budgets, after all, are the most important priority for any state.

The California Republican Party blankly refuses to allow tax increases of any kind. Not a dollar, not a dime, not a cent. It never, ever cooperates with the Democratic Party.

It probably feels very good, too, for Republican legislators so tired of losing all the time. How immensely satisfying it must feel for a California Republican legislator to win a victory. Republicans can even tell themselves that they’re doing the state good, since high taxes are of course what’s ruining California.

What’s really hurting California, however, is the legislative gridlock that results from the Republican Party’s refusal to compromise. The party knows that California is a Democratic stronghold, so it will never hold power. But because California requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes (and, until recently, pass a budget), Republicans can be hostage-takers. That is essentially the only role that California’s Republican Party has.

Eventually the Democratic Party will gain the necessary two-thirds majority. They are already very close, and California is trending left. Then Republicans will truly have no power. One hopes that will provide them enough incentive to change their ideology and politicians in a way that garners more support from California’s diverse population. Otherwise, the party will wither away into nothingness.