Prop 31 and Prop 32: A Guide to Complicated Ballot Propositions in California


The domination of presidential politics in this election cycle overlooks the number of important propositions being voted on across the country, and particularly in California. The direct democracy system of California, which allows laws and constitutional amendments to be passed by popular vote in ballot initiatives, has come under fire recently for the influence of big spending donors in the process. Such influence inherently undermines the original intent of system to cut out the role of special interests found in the legislature. Furthermore, voters are often unwilling to sift through the fine print of the propositions in order to get from what the initiatives claim to do to the sometimes distant result of their actual effects.

Here's a quick breakdown of what one cautious voter (me) has gathered about four of the more complicated propositions on the California ballot this year.

Prop 30: Prop 30 has the well-deserved title of the most well-known ballot initiative this year, and that's because Governor Jerry Brown actually wrote this year's budget on the assumption that prop 30 would pass. Without a majority vote, which would increase taxes on individuals earning over $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes by a penny for every $4.00 for four years, $6 billion in budget cuts would automatically take place, mostly affecting education. 

The most interesting component of prop 30 is its conflict with prop 38, which is sponsored in large part by the wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger, outlines an alternative solution to raising money for education through a 12-year raise on income taxes in California. The result is that even if both measures pass only the one with the most votes will prevail. 

It is best, therefore, to vote for either prop 30 or 38, but not both. I (along with the Los Angeles Times) recommend prop 30 over 38, which offers a more comprehensive solution to California's budget problems.

Prop 31: This initiative comes under the category of "not what it seems." While the measure offers to repair some genuine problems in California politics, writing the law into the state constitution is not the right solution. Some of the changes it compels: 

-a two-year budget cycle

-prohibition of expenditures over $25 million without identifies revenues or cuts

-power to governor to cut budget unilaterally during declared fiscal emergencies

-publication of bills at least three days prior to legislative vote

-allows local governments to alter their application of state laws

Such changes appear to be great solutions, but here George Skelton outlines how such solutions fail to improve how the legislature governs. And for those in favor of California's environmental regulations, the ability of local governments to bypass state laws is an unwelcome prospect.

Prop 32: Another controversial initiative, prop 32 purports to cut government ties to special interests by prohibiting unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. While Mitt Romney has not actually endorsed the proposition, he has offered a similar measure during his own campaigning. 

However, provisions already exist that protect workers in unionized industries from being forced to contribute to political causes. The SF Gate reports: "Unions collect dues from members and non-members in the same workforce and must notify all of them each year about their right to claim refunds of the portion allotted to political causes. Members who want refunds must first resign from the union but, like non-members, will still be represented by union negotiators at the bargaining table."

As eager as I am to see reform when it comes to money and politics, the only way to make politics more fair would be to make reform even. This measure is drastically one-sided, disarming unions while leaving the power of corporations and individuals to finance politics mostly intact.

But don't take my word for it. Ballot initiatives propose complex laws and constitutional amendments that may be much more complicated to undo than to send into effect. Direct democracy is a powerful tool for the governed but can only be successful with a cautious electorate that takes the time to understand the nuances of each measure. If you do decide to read the expanded analysis of the propositions, take note that the pro and con arguments found at the end of each description are written by groups with special interests and not checked for facts or accuracy. And most importantly, VOTE. 

Many in California think their votes don't matter since the presidential race is considered over before it begins, but the race for the propositions is far from over and every vote really does count.