Thursday, October 27, 2005
STATE PROPOSITIONS | Special Election Initiatives
Among the politicians in our state and nation, there are some who are deeply committed to pubic service, and some who are deeply cynical. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is neither—though he is as arrogant as the worst of them.
His instinct to reform the political process in Sacramento has merit, and the initiatives that he has placed on the Nov. 8 ballot are aimed at very real problems, but they are at their heart dishonest.
The chest-puffing, cigar-chomping Governator brags that he wants to turn Sacramento upside down. That in itself would be just fine. If the four initiatives that make up his special election were, as he claims, designed to break up partisan gridlock, and take control of the state away from special interests and deliver it to the people, Arnold’s arrogance would be admirable.
But in fact, Schwarzenegger’s propositions are designed merely to wrest power from elected Democrats and labor unions.
If he is successful, Schwarzenegger’s hubris could lead to
our state’s downfall. Each of these propositions attacks a
serious crisis—Schwarzenegger is right about that. But each is
PROPOSITION 74: No
The “Put the Kids First Act” pretends to solve the state’s genuine education crisis by laying blame for the problem on teachers. It would make it harder for new teachers to achieve tenure, and make it easier for any teacher to be fired.
And it would ignore the real causes of the crisis in education.
California spends less per pupil than 43 other states. At the same time, the state’s growing and changing population places unique burdens on the education system.
The governor’s ideological bias blinds him to the fact that our schools and teachers need more—not less—support.
This proposition would make it harder for the state to attract people of quality to the teaching profession. Worse—it would distract the state’s voters from the kind of real reform that our state’s education system needs.
PROPOSITION 75 : No
Prop 75 would make it harder for public employees’ labor unions to use their dues for political purposes. It would do this by forcing the unions to poll their members before giving any money to a political campaign.
It would thus curtail the ability of the unions that represent teachers, police, public-health nurses and firefighters to influence politics and policies that affect their members’ lives.
On the surface, it seems reasonable to give government workers the right to micro-manage the way their unions spend their dues. But until PG&E ratepayers and all other consumers are given the same right, a law like this is simply unfair. (PG&E, along with many of California’s biggest corporations, is a big contributor to Schwarzenegger and his Republican allies, while unions—public and otherwise—give mostly to Democrats.)
This is pure partisan politics—cynical and hypocritical. Gov. Pete Wilson (who’s political allies staff the Schwarzenegger administration) tried to pass a similar law in 1998. It failed, and this one should too.
PROPOSITION 76: No
In his state of the state address in January, Gov. Schwarzenegger showed his true colors as a hard-right conservative on economic matters: “We don’t have a revenue problem,” he said. “We have a spending problem.”
The problem with that analysis is that it is rooted more firmly in political ideology than in economic fact.
The fact is that the state is still hamstrung by a legacy of tax-cutting measures, and profoundly hamstrung by a belief among some Californians that we should not have to pay taxes to help run the state.
At the same time, the state faces unprecedented financial obligations that do, in fact, deserve a hard look.
But Prop 76 would take democracy out of the budgeting process and, in the crunch, hand decision-making power over to the governor. It would also force spending cuts that would primarily hurt children in schools.
This isn’t good government—it isn’t even good business—and it deserves to be defeated.
PROPOSITION 77 : No Endorsement
Two years ago, the Democrat-controlled legislature drew new voting districts, and in doing so eliminated the only state senate seat representing the Monterey Bay area. Fred Keeley, one of the best politicians to ever represent this area, was literally redrawn out of the district. As we said at the time: “It took a loose team of powerful men—each with his own agenda—to deprive Monterey County of representation in the state senate.”
(This is why our state senator’s home district is almost 200 miles away.)
The governor has pointed out that this was done purely to protect the seats of sitting lawmakers—and he’s right. He has pointed out that this kind of thing leads to gridlock in state government—and he’s right about that too.
Finally, Schwarzenegger says reapportionment should be taken out of the hands of the legislature. Right again.
This is a problem that needs to be fixed. And we could support a proposition to turn over the authority to draw voting districts to a panel of judges, as this one does.
But buried in the details of this proposal is a troubling clause.
According to current law, voting districts are supposed to reflect “communities of interest.” The Monterey Bay area is clearly a “community of interest.” In other parts of the state, Latinos scattered across two counties might share interests, and thus deserve the chance to elect someone who shares their concerns.
The Schwarzenegger proposal would delete from the state constitution requirements that the panel of judges deciding districts pay heed to communities of interest. That is one reason why the League of Women Voters and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (along with most of the state’s progressive political organizations) oppose it.
On the other hand, the proposition is supported by CalPIRG and Common Cause—two eminiently respectable government reform organizations—who believe there are other laws, such as the Voting Rights Act, that will protect minorities’ voting rights.
The Weekly’s editorial board could not come to consensus on this vexing issue. Voters will have to decide for themselves.
OTHER STATE PROPS
PROPOSITION 73 : No
The “Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor’s Pregnancy” requires the state to notify parents before a girl under 18 can receive an abortion.
That seems like an easy one—of course the parents should know.
If only life were that simple.
We all must hope that parents are involved in such a difficult decision. We should pray that all girls facing such a choice would involve their mothers, even their fathers. But if they feel that they can’t, for whatever reason, we should not demand that the state do it for them.
If that were the only thing this proposal did, we would oppose it. But Prop 73 would also redefine abortion, in California law, as “causing the death of an unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born.” That would certainly lead to further indignities against the legal principle which holds that every individual woman is free to make these decisions on her own—without state interference.
PROPOSITION 78: No
PROPOSITION 79: Yes
These two propositions will compete at the polls. Because they deal with the same issue—prescription drug costs—only one will become law.
Prop 78 is sponsored by Big Pharma—the drug companies. It was placed on the ballot to defeat Prop 79, a bill that would force Big Pharma to sell drugs to the state at a discounted rate.
California spends about $4 billion on prescription drugs every year. All of these prescriptions are purchased one at a time by uninsured Californians on Medi-Cal.
But even though it spends all that money, the state does not receive a bulk-purchase markdown. We pay retail.
Health-care plans like Blue Cross, as well as other and government agencies, buy their prescription drugs at prices they negotiate with the drug companies—way below retail. But an uninsured Californian, walking into a pharmacy, pays the sticker price, which is then picked up by Medi-Cal.
Prop 78 would ultimately force drug companies to discount drugs sold to uninsured Californians. Prop 79 would encourage the drug companies (but not force them) to do the same.
We’re talking about a lot of money here. The drug companies can absorb the loss better than the state can. Vote no on 78 and yes on 79.
PROPOSITION 80: Yes
Remember California’s deregulation-caused power crisis of 2003, and the Enron scandal that followed it? They may be distant, painful memories—but force yourself to remember, and vote yes on Prop 80.
This proposition would return some authority over electric utilities to the state Public Utilities Commission. Crucially, it would ban large energy consumers—such as big industrial users—to drop out of the utility network and buy power directly from small suppliers.
Big power buyers were favored under the state’s failed deregulation scheme. This initiative would fix that.
The initiative would also mandate that the PUC regulate energy reserves to prevent future blackouts. And it would create regulations to lower power plant construction costs.
Another provision would require electric companies to get 20 percent of their supply from renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, by the end of 2010, seven years ahead of the current schedule.
This represents a step by Californians to reassert public control over our collective destiny. Although it’s the least-publicized measure of this election, it alone is worth a trip to the polls.
MEASURE C: No
The biggest project ever proposed for the county, Rancho San Juan would create a new city, almost half the size of Marina, on 2,500 acres of agricultural land between Prunedale and Salinas.
Measure C, if approved, will green-light this massive development, including thousands of homes, a golf course and retail centers.
It’s a bad idea for Monterey County. Rancho San Juan would increase traffic by putting an additional 70,000 car-trips on area roads every day. It would pump hundreds of additional acre-feet of water from an already-overdrafted aquifer. And it would cost county taxpayers a lot of money—to pay for sheriff’s deputies, new schools and the like.
Who supports Rancho San Juan? The project developer and the majority of County Supervisors. Late last year, the Supes ignored the recommendation of their own Planning Commission—which gave the massive project a unanimous thumbs-down.
The city of Salinas, already strapped to pay for services, is dead-set against this mini-city just outside its borders. Some 16,000 residents have since signed a petition asking the Supes to kill the project.
In September, county planners unveiled a scaled-back version of Rancho San Juan on their Web site. Because of this smaller proposed project, some county officials will tell you that Measure C is moot. Don’t listen to them. Rancho San Juan is bad for Monterey County, and a resounding “no” vote on Measure C will send a strong message to the Supes when they review the new Rancho San Juan plan: The public doesn’t want it. Don’t approve an unpopular, bad project twice.
MEASURE V: Yes
At the corner of South Main Street and Blanco Road in Salinas is a larger-than-life cutout of a young, cross-legged girl reading a book. It could be simply another whimsical work of art by the legendary local artist John Cerney. It’s more. Right near the dark-haired girl’s sweet face, and barely visible, is a tiny campaign sign urging a “yes” vote on Measure V to fund city services, including its three libraries.
Salinas is a city in dire financial straits, fiscally victimized by such things as the state’s invasion of local coffers and vehicle license funds, leaving behind a deficit of more than $9 million. Library funding is just a small fraction of what the city stands to lose if the half-cent sales tax doesn’t pass.
Salinas’ murder rate is more than twice the national average and other crimes are also far above the national average. Still, as the population grows and crime rates creep up, the ratio of sworn police officers to residents has declined to a new all-time low. The cash-strapped city can’t afford to keep up with its own growth, scaring off new businesses and shoppers and further fueling the financial crisis.
On top of that abysmal reality, toss in the fact that there’s also been a reduction or complete annihilation of recreation centers, school crossing guards, fire departments, street maintenance, park maintenance, graffiti abatement, sidewalk and street repair, etc.
Measure V will bring in $11 million annually for the city, and will sunset out after 10 years.
Nobody likes tax hikes, but the alternative is downright dreadful: status quo. Or worse.
MONTEREY PENINSULA WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT
MEASURE W: Yes
If approved, Measure W will authorize the water district to conduct a detailed study of public water ownership. The study will cost $550,000. It’s a small price to pay with huge potential benefits.
Across the US, 85 percent of residents own their own water systems. It’s not a strange or unique situation, as Cal Am would have Peninsula ratepayers believe.
On a gut level, it seems only fair and right that the public should own the water, but it also makes fiscal sense. And now is the time for Peninsula ratepayers to do it.
First, there’s the issue of rate increases. Cal Am wants to double rates now, and triple them in five years. Most of that money would be spent on much-needed repairs to the current system—repairs that are long overdue. But Cal Am’s got a built-in profit margin of about 10 percent. Cal Am’s bottom line is literally its bottom line. Removing this profit margin would mean savings for local folks.
There’s also the accountability issue. Right now, if there’s a leak on, say, Carmel Valley Road, you’ve got to call Illinois to report the leak. Operators in Illinois don’t know Carmel Valley Road. Public owners are more accountable for system maintenance because they have to be.
In San Mateo County, the elected president of the now publicly-owned water company says customers stop him at the Post Office and in the grocery store, or call him at home to ask about leaks, or just to pose general questions about the water situation. “We bump into our neighbors all the time,” he says. “If they don’t like the way we’re doing our job, they elect someone else. We get to handpick the people who are going to be making the financial decisions.”
If Peninsula residents are going to buy the water system—ever—we need to act now. Cal Am’s system is old. Its pipes leak and its pumps are outdated. The San Clemente dam is seismically unfit, and it’s silted up. Cal Am could also face penalties for 10 years of overpumping the Carmel River. All of these will factor into the company’s cost, and will drive it down significantly.
Additionally, if our water system was owned by a public agency, we would be eligible for state and federal dollars to decommission the dam, and to build a desalination plant. As a private company, Cal Am isn’t. This means ratepayers will foot the bill.
Publicly-owned systems can also issue debt for infrastructure improvement at lower rates than private companies can. Public systems are also tax exempt. Again, these things means lower costs for ratepayers.
Measure W won’t slow down or stop any future desalination plant at Moss Landing—or any future water supply project, for that matter. But finding a long-term water solution and fixing the existing problems will cost a lot less under public ownership.
CARMEL UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
MEASURE A: Yes
The Carmel High School cafeteria stinks. Serving meals in the space used for wrestling and dance classes does nothing to enhance its aroma. The Carmel Middle School Biological Sciences Habitat, on the other hand, smells just great. But without a roof overhead, it’s hard to teach classes in it. Carmel River School has no place for kindergartners to eat lunch when it rains, or for the whole school to assemble inside. And for all the students in the Carmel Unified School District, there is no theater for dance, music and drama classes. Kids would love to dive on into the Carmel High swimming pool, but it’s falling apart, short, and only four feet deep. Maybe they could swim down the access road to Captain Cooper School in Big Sur—every winter the road washes out.
Even though the bond that passed in 2000 modernized many classrooms, the district is still sadly lacking in school facilities that meet state standards, including a modern library and computer center for the high school. Measure A will provide $21,500,000 of bond money—that’s $10 per $100,000 assessed property taxes—to update buildings and construct new ones. And some buildings—like the Carmel Middle School science classroom—will be green, made out of sustainable materials. The new buildings should do more than boost morale: although test scores are improving, the district is far from meeting its academic goals. With proper teaching structures and modern facilities for sports and the arts, students are much more likely to succeed—and thrive.