Propositions – June 2012

Only two propositions this Primary season – Propositions 28 and 29. 

Proposition 28: Restructures Term Limits to Maximum of 12 Years in Either House.

Recommendation: Weak Yes

At Politomuse we are not fans of term limits.  We feel imposing an arbitrary limitation on the number of times voters can select a particular candidates disempowers voters, creates a power vacuum (due to an absence of experienced legislators) that is gleefully filed by lobbyists and special interests, and otherwise removes qualified individuals from the pool of potential candidates.  We think that voters are ultimately responsible for their own decisions and that voters stand in the best position to decide if a particular candidate is well suited for office.

Why Are We Term Limit Polito-Haters?

Put simply, not only do we not feel that seniority is necessarily a detrimental characteristic when it comes to legislators and elected officials.   We feel that like in most other professions, experience can be a very positive attribute.  We don’t “buy” the argument that private sector lawyers, business leaders, prosecutors, teachers, or plumbers necessarily have a better skill set for running the state then do elected officials who understand how to negotiate, draft legislation, and plan state legislative activities without running afoul of local, state, and federal laws and systems.  We believe that governmental experience can lead to the development of a better understanding of the intricacies of the California political system.  We feel that voters bear the responsibility for voting out bad elected officials and that the system should not be “stacked” to automatically “fire” elected officials once they reach a pre-set level of experience and proficiency.   For those who argue that such simplistic thinking is not “practical” we offer this very practical observations:  The advent of term limits has dramatically increased the influence of lobbyists in Sacramento because those lobbyists now are the real source of “nuts-and-bolts” knowledge and institutional memory.  So, the “practical” outcome of term limit has been to increase the role and power of special interest groups – exactly the opposite of its stated intent.

But PolitoMuse Urges A “Yes” Vote?

Unfortunately, the fight over the existence of term limits has been lost.   California voters have already imposed term limits prohibiting candidates from serving more than 6 years in the state assembly, 8 years in the state senate or a total of 14 years combined.  Proposition 28, is billed as a further reduction in limits – down to 12 years from the previous 14.  However, those 12 years can be served in either the assembly or the Senate. Since we generally oppose limits we view the ability to serve a longer term in at least one of the legislative houses as a marginal improvement over the existing system.

Overall, this initiative is a “trade off” of decreasing the overall time of service by an experienced official in exchange for increased time in a particular house.  We think this is marginally positive for the state.

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Proposition 29: Imposes $1 additional tax on each pack of cigarettes

Recommendation: Weak No

This proposition seeks to raise the taxes on cigarette sales from $1.88 ($1 of which goes to the federal government) to $2.88 per pack of cigarette (and automatic corresponding raises in tax on other tobacco products).  The money is earmarked for cancer and tobacco-related disease research and prevention programs, law enforcement, and the creation of an administrative bureaucracy to oversee distributions.  Overall, Politomuse feels this initiative presents a solution searching for a problem and for that reason we urge a no vote.

It is hard to argue in favor of cigarette smokers and even more distasteful to find oneself siding with “big tobacco.”  Unfortunately, we feel that is what the proponents of this initiative are counting on.   This measure raises funds to be funneled into a newly created government entity called the California Cancer Research Life Sciences Innovation Trust Fund (CCRLS).  The CCRLS then has five subsidiary funds (see voter guide pp. 14-15) that set forth percentage allocations for monies into various types of tobacco related disease (1) research, (2) research facilities, and (3) prevention as well as two smaller funds for (4) administration and (5) law enforcement .  The individual funds then allocate the monies to different research entities.   A newly formed committee consisting of nine individuals 4 of which are appointed by the Governor, three of which are UC Chancellors, and two of which are appointed by the director of the Department for Public Health.  The Committee decides how monies are distributed out of the five funds (consistent with their stated objectives).

The Opposition to this proposition correctly states that no money from this initiative would go to treat cancer patients.  While that is true, we think it misses the point.   The problem with this initiative is that it isn’t really focused on addressing a particular issue.  It does not funnel money into public health care, treatment or even research.  Instead, it appears to create something of a slush-fund for a few very distinct groups who are obviously keenly interested in passing the measure.  Tracing the money and the CCRLS committee membership is telling.  First, only 20% of funds go to an established public health system (the Department of Public health’s smoking cessation programs).  5% of funds oddly go to law enforcement – something us cynical politomuses suspect might be more of an effort to curry political support than anything related to curing cancer.  The remaining 75% of funds go to various grants and loans that the CCRLS committee will dole out – back into the industry from whence the committee members came.  Moreover, after the research institutions (some of which are likely to be affiliated with the UC entities’ chancellors that are sitting on the committee) receive their anticipated several hundred million dollars, this initiate does not have any provision requiring transferring or even sharing any intellectual property rights stemming from any discoveries.   In short, this money is truly intended to be a gift, not an investment.

The total tax load on cigarette packs if this measure passes would be around 50% of the total cost to consumers ($5 current average cost per pack of cigarettes and assumed $6 average cost with increase based on Legislative Analyst data).  While we generally approve of “sin taxes,” because they use the negative aspect of taxation as an intentional disincentive to conduct that which society wishes to discourage, we are uncomfortable with a nearly 50% tax rate on this particular product that funnels money toward a pre-set body of special interests with no real indication that the money is being directed toward the area of greatest need.  If these funds were instead directed toward funding existing underfunded medical programs at the state or federal level we would probably support it.  But this initiative instead strikes us as a prototypical special interest group seeking to funnel money away from a disfavored class of people (smokers) into the pockets of a particular group.  We do not think that is good policy.  We would urge voters to vote down this initiative that would force a group of consumers to “donate” money to these worthy causes and instead direct their positive inclination to help those suffering from cancer inward and themselves donate to one of these top-rated charities:  www.bcrfcure.org , http://www.cancerresearch.org/, http://bcconnections.org/, or any of hundreds of others.

And if you’re interested in following an interesting comment volley checkout our Comments section of our original post here

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