How I’m voting on California ballot measures

California June 2018 Election

Californians vote on five ballot measures on June 5. Here’s how I’m voting on them:

YES: 69, 71

NO: 68, 70, 72

68: Issues $4 billion in bonds for parks, environmental protection, and water infrastructure

Prop 68 is a $4 billion general obligation bond, to be repaid from the state’s General Fund at $200 million per year over 40 years ($3.8 billion in interest, or about 4 percent per year if borrowed immediately in full). It directs $2.8 billion to parks, hiking trails, and beaches; the remainder funds clean water and flood protection projects.

These are important projects, but they can be paid directly from the General Fund rather than locked up in a 40-year bond. General obligation bonds should be reserved for large upfront expenditures, or projects that require sustained funding. None of these meet the former criterion, and only a small part might meet the latter, in particular the clean water projects.

General obligation bonds have another pernicious effect: they perpetuate the myth that we can vote for expenditures without accompanying taxes. I’m more than happy to pay more in taxes for clean water, especially if it disproportionately benefits low-income communities. But since Prop 68 doesn’t increase taxes and California lacks the deficit flexibility of the United States, the measure’s cost is other state expenditures like education, healthcare, and antipoverty programs, the top uses of our $125 billion General Fund. If it passes, it will hinder the Legislature’s ability to fund projects that could be of higher priority over time.

69: Directs gas tax revenue to transportation projects

Prop 69 ensures that last year’s 12-cent gas tax solely funds asphalt work and transportation projects, as was promised. While this is a bad use of funds — to combat congestion and climate change, we should be investing in transit, not roads, and the General Fund could use the $1.9 billion it will earmark — it’s important to hold the trust of voters, who accepted the tax under these premises. The gas tax is a tool of its own for addressing climate change, and if Prop 69 keeps it politically viable, it’s worth passing.

70: Requires a one-time two-thirds vote to use revenue from the cap-and-trade program

Prop 70 requires a two-thirds vote to allocate funds from the cap-and-trade program, beginning in 2024. Too much of our budget is already hamstrung by supermajority requirements; Prop 70 would only worsen matters. I agree with the vast majority of organizations and newspapers in opposing it.

71: Changes the date for when voter-approved ballot measures take effect

Prop 70 waits until all votes on ballot measures are counted before the law taking effect, avoiding legal issues if results change between election night and final vote tallies. It’s simply good governance.

72: Excludes rainwater capture systems from property tax assessments

Property tax assessments currently exclude solar panels and fire sprinklers; Prop 72 adds rainwater capture systems to that list. While I’m skeptical that rainwater capture systems are as cost-effective as other solutions like improving agricultural irrigation systems, I’m all for them if they address droughts. But the way to encourage their use is accurate water pricing, just as carbon pricing is the way to promote solar panels.

Property taxes are already far too low, especially due to Prop 13. Prop 72 gives yet another tax break to homeowners at the expense of local governments and schools, and in particular richer ones who pay for these systems. Even if these losses are estimated at only a few million dollars per year, the regressive measure should be rejected.

See my votes on San Francisco’s ballot measures here.

Written by

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.

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