by Jon E. Christensen
There’s more voter guides out there than fleas on my dog, and that’s considerable. Of course they all share the same thing in common – the producers of these guides want you to vote their way. Often times it’s difficult to identify the motive behind the guide. Who produced it and why? This guide is produced by me, a citizen because the direct democracy found in California’s initiative process demands the responsible concern of, well, us, and I’m trying to contribute. So let’s discuss the initiatives.
It might help to know California is the largest of only 12 states that allow citizens, through the petition process, to place initiatives on the ballot for a direct vote of the people. There are 12 Statewide initiatives on this year’s ballot. Of the 12 initiatives six impact the state budget in no small way. These six initiatives want to add $17.3 Billion in debt obligating the state to $1.03 Billion in new ANNUAL debt payments AND compels the legislature to appropriate $970 million. In total these initiatives, if approved, and there’s a very good chance they will be, will increase the State’s budget gap by another $2 Billion. I’m convinced Californian’s have ignored the news of the State’s budget problems, or for that matter the world’s financial crisis.
The state has budget problems? Oh really? The Governor is calling the legislation back into special session to deal with it. State operations at this moment are functioning on a $5 Billion loan; a loan to cover day to day operations. Not build a prison or a hospital or a road. Builds nothing. It’s a hole, getting deeper.
At a point, to be responsible is to show some discipline. We need to admit we are in trouble. We cannot do those things we should do, even those things we need to do. As a democracy, especially one with an initiative process, we must manage our way out of this, as a community, as a state. Not as teachers and police; not based on your narrow personal interests.
Believe me, I am very conflicted. For the most part I support the reasons why the proponents want the money. But we only get to make so many trips to the well, we must use the resources efficiently. The idea may have merit, but the language in the initiative could be flawed. Like Proposition 7, the Renewable Energy Generation Initiative. I, like millions of others, totally support this idea. It’s something we do want to do. But most of the organizations that have been promoting Renewable energy are against this initiative because they, as do I, find the details and wording problematic, confusing. Passing this initiative could actually get in the way of renewable energy because of the resulting court cases. Proposition 1A is similar; a great idea but in this case, bad timing.
Proposition 1A; High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act, was placed on the ballot by the legislature. I love trains. I believe a good train system can and will improve our quality of life. And some do argue that we need to start someplace and Prop. 1A is a start. The plan is to sell $9.95 Billion in bonds; 90% of the funds are earmarked for specific projects with first priority to constructing a high-speed corridor from LA Union Station and the San Francisco Transbay Terminal. About 10% ($950 million) will be spread among California’s existing rail agencies.
Proponents claim the debt will be covered by passenger fares. Let’s check it out. With estimated operating costs of about $1 billion and estimated debt service of about $647 million per year, debt service will be 39% of the combined expenses.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle the proponents say a one-way ticket from LA to SF will cost $55. At $55 a ticket, assuming 39% or $21.45 goes toward paying off the debt, to pay a debt of $647,000,000 a year the high speed train would need 30.3 MILLION passengers. That number is absurd; it’s twice the annual passengers for everything going in or out of San Diego’s International Airport.
But, not to worry, the proposition you are about to approve appropriates the entire debt cost, whatever it may be from the State Treasury. Our broke and broken State Treasury.
There’s Proposition 3, the Children’s Hospital Bond Act; $980 million in General Obligation bonds with a debt service of $64 million a year, paid from the State’s General Fund. In 2004 another initiative authorized $750 million in bonds for the state’s Children’s Hospitals of which, according the California State Government, as of June, 2008 $347 million of that money remains unallocated. Proposition 3 duplicates most of Prop. 61’s language, targeting the same nonprofit and university based hospitals, including the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
A Children’s hospital saved my son’s life when he was 16 months old. Children’s hospitals are worthy things. But in case no one was paying attention, the recent global financial meltdown was centered on credit, or the lack there of. With almost $350 million still sitting in the bank, and the State’s budget with a hole big enough for a cruise ship to sail through, it appears some one did not get the memo. We have a financial emergency more than a children’s hospital emergency. Use the money already borrowed.
Propositions 5 and 6 I consider opposing teams playing the same game. Prop. 5 wants to enhance Proposition 36, the initiative passed in 2000 to divert first time drug offenders into treatment programs rather than jail. That program never really took off. In fact today you have higher odds of being sentenced to state prison on a conviction for a drug offense (18.4%) than you do for a violent crime (17.6%). Propositions 5 and 6 do not directly borrow any money, per se. Proposition 5 simply tells the legislature they must appropriate $460 million for treatment programs. The fiscal logic is that diverting drug users to treatment is cheaper than prison in the short term and avoids costs in the long term. But since prisons are not subject to budget constraints and spend what they need; and they spend more than is budgeted every year, Proposition 5 at best slows the rate of cost increase.
Proposition 6 is the Law Enforcement reaction to Proposition 5 and Proposition 98, the one the earmarked 40% of the state budget for education. It’s a direct end run around the legislature to get the voters to order that law enforcement get a half a billion dollar increase. And also commits the State to capital construction
We all know how well tying the hands of our representatives in Sacramento works for us. And make no mistake, earmarks take away discretion and makes an already complex process even more so.
So, if you haven’t already voted, please the total financial picture of the State. An initiative puts the power in your hands. Please, act responsible.