California Voter Guide for Nov. 6, 2012, Los Angeles Weekly
Confused about the measures and races on Tuesday's ballot? This California Voter Guide for November 6, 2012 contains a summary of all state measures and several key races. It does not take a position but does touch on controversies, polls and analysis.
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Proposition 30: Jerry Brown's Tax Hike
Governor Jerry Brown's $6 billion to $9 billion annual tax hike is flagging in the polls as voters learn more about the legislature's role in deciding how the money gets spent. According to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, as of late October, the proposed quarter-center sales tax hike for all Californians and the proposed graduated income tax on everyone earning more than $250,000, was generating only 45 percent support from likely voters. (It needs 50 percent plus one vote to pass. At the same time, it must also beat, in total votes, Molly Munger's $10 billion annual tax hike plan, Proposition 38.)
Under Proposition 30, Brown has promised that $5.4 billion in pending cuts to the schools -- which he and the state Legislature have approved but not enacted -- will not be made. Billions also would flow to the General Fund controlled by the Legislature. Brown's measure would make California's sales tax the nation's highest, which would bring in $1 billion or so annually. The rest of the money would flow in from an income tax hike, lasting seven years, on those who earn more than $250,000 annually.
Brown wrote Proposition 30 with two major special-interest groups -- the California Federation of Teachers and the Courage Campaign -- after those two groups refused to back Brown's original tax plan and threatened to take theirs to the ballot. Brown wanted a much simpler "Millionaire's Tax" hike, plus a sales tax hike, but the powerful special interest groups wanted to tax those earning $250,000 and up, not just millionaires.
Small business activists have fought back, saying that thousands of entrepreneurs and family companies who employ small numbers of workers and who earn in the $250,000 to $350,000 range will be slapped with painful new taxes. Advertisements by well-funded anti-tax groups have made a dent in Brown's message, telling voters that the California Lottery was created for the schools, but when the money poured in the State Legislature reduced existing school funding to pay for other things. Yet another turnoff for some voters is the money being spent both for and against Proposition 30 by huge special interest groups: wealthy government employee unions back the tax hike, while multimillionaire anti-tax advocates oppose it. Together they have spent an incredible $115 million.
Go here, to Maplight Voters Edge California, to view the latest money flowing for and against Proposition 30 and other measures.
Go here for L.A. Weekly's in-depth look at how and why Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 tax hike came about, and why it's being hurt by Molly Munger's Proposition 38 tax hike.
Proposition 31: Streamlining State Budgeting
This should-be-important-but-it's-so-wonky bill would force the California State Legislature to approve budgets that cover two years instead of one, also putting restrictions on the legislature to stop it from approving its budgets behind closed doors. It would create rules to prevent the legislature from devising new programs that are not covered by the budget -- one of the legislature's worst habits. (The California State Legislature has a 21 percent approval rating.)
Proposition 31 would also hand more control and money to local governments, enabling them to respond when the legislature orders or expands programs that the locals must enforce or oversee. However, Prop. 31 is a change to the state Constitution that critics say will spawn lawsuits, new costs and confusion. Its backers have not been able to promote it with a message that is easy to grasp. It is strongly backed by California Forward, a "good government" group that lacks the tens of millions of dollars being spent on other measures. California Forward spent just $800,000 on Prop. 31.
Proposition 31's passage is unlikely. The most recent Public Policy Institute of California poll found support from likely voters at just 24 percent, with 48 opposed, and a huge 28 percent undecided.
Proposition 32: Politicking with Union Dues
Prop. 32 is an attempt to stop California's government employee unions, as well as other unions and some companies, from automatically deducting union membership fees and other fees from worker paychecks -- and in turn spending that money on political causes that the employees may or may not agree with. Seeing it as a direct hit on their enormous power and influence in Sacramento, the big government and labor unions have poured in $69 million to defeat it, saying it would tie labor's hands while allowing corporate special interests to thrive. The California Teachers Association has invested $21 million; SEIU $13 million, California Federation of Labor $6 million.
But spending nearly as much to pass this law -- $60 million so far -- are some heavy-hitters who argue that the unions, not California voters, are now in control of the California State Legislature. Major proponents include multimillionaire Charles T. Munger Jr., a physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator who has spent $36 million thanks to his vast inheritance (his dad is Warren Buffett's partner); and Los Angeles billionaire Jerry Perenchio, who owns a big stake in Univision.
According to the late October Dornsife USC/Los Angeles Times Poll, this measure is unlikely to pass, with likely voters opposing it 46 percent to 40 percent.
Go here, to Maplight Voters Edge California, for the latest on money being spent for and against Proposition 32.
Proposition 33: Car Insurance Continuity Rule
Let's say you've kept your car insurance intact for five years, but during that time you switched to a new company. When that happened, you lost the chance to get a five-year continuity discount from your insurer. Proposition 33 would allow you to be rewarded with a discount for being a longtime member even if you switch around during the five years. The five-year continuity rule is one of 16 factors that insurance companies are allowed to use, under state law, to figure how much you owe in premiums. (Some others are the "good driver" discount, and how few or how many miles you put on your car.)
This measure has sparked controversy because it would let insurers compete and draw away customers from one another by adding the discount to their bag of goodies. Groups representing the poor note that discounts for the longtime insured who hop companies would have to be paid for by upping premiums on people who had let their insurance coverage lapse for more than 90 days in the past five years.
Proposition 33 is the longtime personal obsession of George Joseph, chairman of Mercury General Corp. The last time he tried this in 2010, Proposition 17, it was narrowly defeated, losing 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent. It looks worse off this time, according to recent polls.
Proposition 34: Ending the Death Penalty
Probably one of the major nail-biters as election numbers roll in will be Proposition 34, to end the death penalty in California. This measure was far behind in polls over the summer and early fall, only to surge to within a few percentage points of passage in October. Proposition 34 would retroactively reduce the sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole for California's 727 Death Row inmates. They are all housed at San Quentin, including infamous serial killers such as Dating Game Killer Rodney Alcala, Night Stalker Richard Ramirez and torture-murderer Charles Ng.
Proposition 34 offers a couple of inducements to voters, by requiring convicted Death Row murderers to work in prison and to contribute to victim restitution funds. The nonpartisan California state Legislative Analyst's Office says that if passed, the law could save the state up to $130 million a year. Voters reinstated the death penalty in California in 1978, and since then 13 inmates have been put to death.
Virtually every major law enforcement organization in California opposes an end to the death penalty. One thing that may be driving the late shift in voter sentiment is the success of The Innocence Project and other similar efforts in freeing scores of men sitting on Death Row or in prison for life who were mistakenly convicted of crimes they did not commit.
Proposition 35: Expanding Definition of Sex Trafficking
Advocates of Proposition 35 include both the California Democratic Party and the California Republic Party and many political and law enforcement leaders, as well as social workers and counselors who deal with the tragic consequences of child sex abuse. The proponents say California has a major sex-trafficking problem and that stricter laws are required to stem it. They've raised about $3.6 million.
On the other side, critics from within the sex industry -- and, surprisingly to some, several victims' rights organizations -- say that sex trafficking is a much tougher nut to crack than is dealt with in Proposition 35. Some sex workers are angry about the expansion of the definition of trafficking to anyone who benefits financially from prostitution, regardless of intent, which could be used to target them. Several newspapers have come out in favor of the measure, but a few key newspapers -- including the Sacramento Bee and Riverside Press-Enterprise -- are opposed.
Proposition 36: Softening Three Strikes Law
Proposition 36 would dramatically and retroactively alter California's three-strikes law so that nonviolent and less serious offenses would no longer be counted by prosecutors and the courts as third strikes. Of some 9,000 prisoners currently serving life in prison, about 3,000 would qualify to go before a new judge and seek a rehearing on their third strike. While some prisoners' efforts will be rejected -- such as violent criminals whose third strike was a "terrorist threat" of promising to kill a wife or ex-boss -- many others are expected to be freed if the law passes. The classic examples of unfair Third Strikes are men who stole petty items from stores, but were sent away for life because of the violence or seriousness of their first two convictions.
California's is the toughest Three Strikes law in America, approved in 1994 when the statewide murder rate was double what it is today. Voters rejected a rollback of Three Strikes in 2004, Proposition 66, but that effort was widely criticized for including fairly severe crimes in the list of lesser crimes that would no longer count as the third strike.
Sentiment for softening Three Strikes is, like the sudden surge of people who have changed their minds about the death penalty, tied to the victories scored in recent years by The Innocence Project and other similar efforts. Scores of men have been freed from Death Row or from life sentences after being convicted of crimes they did not commit or crimes for which new evidence surfaced. Former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti cited this as a key reason he now supports softening Three Strikes. Many police unions and law enforcement groups oppose Prop 36; many newspapers endorse it.
Proposition 36 looks very solid for passage, with recent poll showing 63 percent support.
Proposition 37: Labeling Some Foods Genetically Modified
Proposition 37 would require all food made from plants or animals with genetically modified ingredients--40 to 70 percent of grocery store foods, according to studies cited by the State's legislative analyst--to bear a label stating that fact. It would also prohibit that food, or other processed food, from being marketed as "natural."
The law would be enforced through civilian lawsuits. Anyone (even if they have not experienced damage or loss) could sue anyone violating the law, from the grower to the retailer, and seek damages equal to the retail price of every unlabeled package of every product, in addition to attorney and investigation fees. Using civilian lawsuits as the main enforcement mechanism minimizes the law's cost to taxpayers. But some worry it could result in frivolous lawsuits, like the thousands filed in the wake of Proposition 65 -- the toxic warning law that has peppered California buildings and other spaces with signs warning of cancerous materials.
If voters approve this measure, it will be the nation's first law requiring the labeling of GMO foods. GMO labeling is required in other countries, including all members of the European Union, as well as Australia, Brazil, China, Japan and Russia.
Proposition 37 appeared to be a shoe-in for most of the campaign season, but the ballot measure has lost ground in recent weeks. The latest polls suggest that an advertising blitz from the No on 37 campaign -- and widespread newspaper editorials against it -- have eaten away support for the ballot measure. A USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll shows supporters still ahead 44% to 42%, but a California Business Roundtable and the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy conducted at the same time found 50.5% of likely voters opposed and 39.1% in support.
To learn more about some potential consequences of Prop. 37, read L.A. Weekly's recent article "Proposition 37 Genetically Modified Food Fight."
Proposition 38: Income Tax Hike to Fund Schools
Molly Munger's Proposition 38 would increase state income taxes for all Californians on a sliding scale, then funnel most of that $10 billion directly to classrooms -- explicitly bypassing the widely distrusted California State Legislature, whose approval rating hovers at 21 percent. Californians would pay 0.4 percent on taxable earnings of $7,600, equaling a few dollars per year for very low earners. It would rise to 2.2 percent for those with taxable earnings of more than $2.5 million. The highest earners would pay an average of $77,000; a person earning $25,000 to $50,000 would pay $54 or so per year.
Proposition 38 is in direct competition with Proposition 30, Jerry Brown's $6 billion to $9 billion tax hike plan. (Only one of the two competing tax measures, Proposition 30 or Proposition 38, can become law. Both could fail. To pass, one measure must be approved by more than 50 percent of voters, as well as winning the most total votes.)
Only Munger's tax revenues, not Brown's, would be safeguarded from legislative meddling -- a popular idea voiced by focus groups before Munger and the non-profit Advancement Project decided to put this measure on the ballot. However, late polls showed Munger's tax has the support of only 41 percent of voters, meaning it is very unlikely to be approved.
Click here for L.A. Weekly's in-depth look at why Jerry Brown embraced Proposition 30, a tax that wasn't his original idea, and how Proposition 38 is acting as a spoiler.
Proposition 39: Repeal 2009 Tax Break for Businesses
Prop. 39 would repeal a 2009 state law approved to provide business a break during the recession. Existing law allows multistate businesses who have property and payroll outside California to use a tax liability formula that provides favorable tax treatment for them. This measure would require multistate businesses to calculate their California income tax liability based on the percentage of their sales in California. Many multistate firms would pay higher taxes if this measure is approved by voters. In an interesting twist, proponents are earmarking some of this tax hike revenue specifically for use to fund energy-efficiency projects and clean energy jobs.
Proposition 40: Undo Citizen Redistricting of State Senate Districts
Proposition 40 is one of the most confusing ballot measures in a year of confusing ballot measures. It was written by California Republican Party leaders who felt the GOP got shortchanged when the California Citizen Redistricting Committee drew new voter district lines for California. But now, GOP leaders in California have changed their minds and are no longer campaigning for this measure. Confused? Here's more: the ballot language asks voters if they like the California state Senate lines created by the citizen committee. If a majority of voters say Yes, the citizen committee lines stay in effect. If a majority of voters say No, it means voters have invalidated the existing voter district boundaries -- and the intricate redistricting process must start over.
Los Angeles-Area Races and Measures:
California Congressional District 30
Brad Sherman vs Howard Berman
The battle for the West San Fernando Valley has been one of the most heated and expensive in the country. Rep. Howard Berman, a distinguished veteran of Capitol Hill, is at risk of going down to defeat at the hands of Rep. Brad Sherman, the hot-tempered tax attorney. The two Democrats were pitted against each other by redistricting -- the borders of their existing voter districts were redrawn and they ended up on the same turf. Though they have few substantive differences the campaign has been vicious.
Berman has the backing of most of his Congressional colleagues, but Sherman has stronger ties to the local community and before redistricting he represented a bigger share of the new 30th District. Sherman finished first in the June primary, defeating Berman by 10 points.
The key event of the runoff was a debate at Pierce College, in which Sherman grabbed Berman and challenged him to a fight, saying "You want to get into this?" The Berman campaign has exploited the moment for all its worth, putting it in TV commercials and mailers, but it may not be enough to save his 30-year career.
Los Angeles County District Attorney
Jackie Lacey vs Alan Jackson
D.A. Steve Cooley is retiring after three terms in office, and the favorite to succeed him is his top deputy, Jackie Lacey. If elected, Lacey would be the first female and first black D.A. But for the most part, her differences with Cooley stop there. Lacey is a Democrat, but she supports the death penalty and has vowed to continue to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Her opponent is Alan Jackson, who is one of the office's top prosecutors. His fiery courtroom demeanor would not be out of place on Law & Order, and it has helped him win convictions in high-profile cases, including the Phil Spector murder trial. Jackson is a Republican. Unlike Lacey, he opposes driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. He has also called for the repeal of the state's controversial realignment law, which reduces prison overcrowding by diverting inmates to county jails.
Measure B Los Angeles County
Condoms During Sex on Porn Sets
Measure B is an initiative by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to mandate condom use on sets of porn shoots in 85 of 88 cities in L.A. County (Long Beach, Pasadena and Vernon, which have their own health departments, would be exempt). Although the city of L.A. has a similar law on the books, that one only applies to permitted on-location shoots. The countywide measure would make condoms the law on all adult video sets.
Opponents say the law would, in effect, institute workplace rules meant for medical settings, meaning that face masks, dental dams, goggles and gloves would be required in porn to prevent the transmission of blood-borne pathogens. The language of the measure says it would "require use of condoms for all acts of anal or vaginal sex during production of adult films ... " However, it does present links to federal workplace safety laws that require blood-borne compliance. The AHF insists this is about condoms for anal and vaginal sex only, but the No on Measure B folks have had a good time warning that adult video could soon be produced with surgical masks, gloves and other protection.
Truth be told, condoms are already the law -- federal and state law. AHF just wants the county to enforce it via a massage-parlor-like permitting process. In endorsing a No vote, other publications have said Measure B would create more questions than answers at a time when governments don't have the cash for extra enforcement. The adult biz says consumers won't buy condom porn. AHF says it just wants adult workers to be safe.
Measure J Los Angeles County
Sales Tax Hike for Transit, Extended to Year 2069
Measure J is one of the more strange tax hikes in memory, with advocates claiming that it is not a sales tax hike because it merely extends an existing tax -- until long after most current voters are dead. In fact, this is a hike -- it will take billions more dollars from every consumer and future consumer in Los Angeles County for another 30 years beyond the sales tax hike approved by voters in 2008, Measure R.
Big, Los Angeles-centric transit projects were launched with Measure R money by the Metro transit board. Although the $40 billion from the 2008 tax hike was supposed to be spread more or less equally across the county's dense regions, 35 percent is being spent in Los Angeles. Only 5 percent is going to dense, growing San Gabriel Valley.
The 2008 Measure R, voted in with a bare supermajority, raised the L.A. County sales tax by one-half percent to 8.75 percent for 30 years. Most of the billions being generated have been earmarked for 12 public transit projects. But the Metro board's and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's emphasis on complex and pricey rail and subway lines that take decades to complete means L.A. County's taxpayers won't see most of the key projects completed until 2030 -- and well beyond.
So Measure R's 2008 proponents are now asking Los Angeles County consumers to extend the sales tax hike on themselves from 30 to 60 years. They say they will use that promised, nearly permanent, tax stream to borrow against, then funnel the loans into such favored projects as the Los Angeles Purple Line Westside Subway Extension.
This plan has attracted critics with a wide range of concerns, key among them that Metro has shorted the bus service used by most transit riders -- millions of people in fact -- in order to pursue its favored, costly, rail line projects used by far fewer riders. Meanwhile, the pro Measure J side has poured money into ads to persuade voters that this is also a jobs bill. Some critics find it suspicious that public officials would ask for an extension 26 years before the existing sales tax hike expires.
For more information on Measure J, please read L.A. Weekly's articles:
""Measure J Transit Tax -- Too Soon?
'Temporary' hike would last to 2068, after most current voters are dead""
"Measure J Transit Tax Hike: Bus Riders Oppose it, Saying Metro Funneled 2008 Measure R to Fancy Rail, Starving Working-Class Bus Lines"
Measure MM and Measure HH
Parcel (Property) Tax on Homes South of the 101
Measure MM and Measure HH are perhaps the most secretive and bizarre property tax hikes on the November 6 ballot. These proposed "parcel taxes" boost taxes for only a small collection of homes sprinkled from Woodland Hills to the Hollywood Hills, who are being asked to bear the burden of improvements to parkland, trails and open space used by millions of California residents.
It is still unknown how the autocratic Joe Edmiston, who runs the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) and the related Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC), quietly placed this tax on the ballot without a vote of any known elected body in California.
Moreover, the media have failed to explain why, under Measure MM and Measure HH, a few thousand land owners are going to be taxed for improvements to huge, vast public lands used by millions of hikers, campers, visitors and others.
For more information on how Joe Edmiston draws in millions of dollars and controls a huge budget, please read LA Weekly's stories:
"Stop-Sign Cameras Ticket 70,000 in Los Angeles Parks"
"Stop Sign Camera Tickets in L.A. Lead to Demands to See Drivers' Bank Accounts"
"Map of $175 Stop-Sign Cameras to Avoid in Los Angeles and Santa Monica Mountains"
California Assembly District 39
Richard Alarcon vs Raul Bocanegra
Democrat and career political aide Raul Bocanegra has a chance of knocking off Democrat and career politician Richard Alarcon - an L.A. City Councilman facing 17 counts of perjury and voter fraud for allegedly living outside of his City Council district. They are vying to represent mostly Latino residents in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
But if Bocanegra wins, voters will not likely see a new kind of politician. Bocanegra is an ultimate insider who came up inside the local and state Democratic Party system, working as an aide for then-L.A. City Council President Alex Padilla, then for Alarcon, and now as chief of staff to controversial California State Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes.
That last credit is especially troublesome: Felipe Fuentes is often considered the worst legislator in California, allowing dozens of special interest groups to quietly "ghost write" laws that benefit them, but have Fuentes' name on the bill -- and Bocanegra has been guiding that ship.
Since Bocanegra has heavy backing from the Dem establishment, he may feel more beholden to Sacramento and Los Angeles power brokers than to voters.
For more details, please read the L.A. Weekly article ">Assembly 39's Dilemma: Alarcon, circling the drain over corruption charges? Or yes-man Bocanegra?."
California Assembly District 50
Betsy Butler vs Richard Bloom
This race has become a referendum on whether Democrats in Sacramento are too beholden to the California Teachers Association and other teachers unions. Over the summer, Butler and three other Democrats -- Mike Eng, Wilmer Amina Carter and Das Williams -- effectively killed (by refusing to vote on it) Senate Bill 1530, authored by Democratic state senator Alex Padilla, which would have allowed school districts to more easily fire teachers who committed physical abuse, sexual abuse or drug-related acts upon their students. Padilla had aimed to correct a system that makes it hard to fire such as alleged sex pervert Mark Berndt of Miramonte Elementary Schools. (Berndt could not be easily fired, so Los Angeles Unified School District secretly paid him $40,000 to leave. He now faces trial for 23 felony counts of lewd conduct.)
L.A. Weekly in July exposed the controversy over the four abstentions by Democrats who killed SB 1530.
Then, CNN's Anderson Cooper picked up the story, forcing Butler to respond to critics on her campaign web site. Now the question is whether her teacher sex pervert vote will kill Betsy Butler's career.
Butler is backed by money from California Democratic Party honchos -- $1.3 million -- while her opponent Richard Bloom had raised $507,000 as of late October. And Butler has been endorsed by numerous Democratic Party leaders. But her opponent Bloom, the popular mayor of Santa Monica, may have a chance despite all the money behind Butler.
California Assembly District 51
Luis Lopez vs Jimmy Gomez
Jimmy Gomez and Luis Lopez are both progressive Democrats seeking to represent the 51st Assembly District, which runs from Eagle Rock through Silver Lake and Echo Park and on to East L.A.They both went to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and both work in the health sector.
But Gomez has the advantage in endorsements and money in large measure because he is the political director for the United Nurses Associations of California, which is heavily involved contributing to Sacramento politicians. Lopez works for AltaMed, a non-profit clinic that does not have a campaign war chest.
Lopez has argued that he is the "homegrown" candidate because he grew up in the area, while Gomez hails originally from Riverside. But Gomez was able to lock up the endorsement of the Democratic Party, which, along with his other advantages, makes him the front-runner.