Taxing Disney’s Castle
Cutting Through The Noise On California’s Propositions
Originally intended as a way for citizens to have direct input into the lawmaking process, the initiative process is now buried by Big Money.
- Professor Mary-Beth Moylan
At the turn of the last century, the California government was controlled by the Southern Pacific Railroad. “Bribery was the accepted method of doing business in the state capitol.” As part of the movement to fight back and regain control, reformers ran for election and pushed through the changes that were needed. These included amending the state constitution in 1911 to allow initiatives, referendums, and recalls. The first significant statewide initiative in California abolished the poll tax in 1914.
In 2020, the experiment in citizen democracy has largely failed. Today’s modern-day equivalents of the railroad industry have taken over the initiative process and poured money into trying to influence results. With the 2020 election still weeks away, “more than half a billion dollars has been spent on the 12 statewide propositions that voters will decide on this year.” Of this, $200 million has been spent on “Proposition 22, a ballot initiative bankrolled by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and the like to override a new state law that requires their ride-hailing and delivery drivers to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors.”
Trying to cut through the deceptive advertising and scare tactics, I looked at each of these propositions. This is what I found and how I decided to vote. Your results may vary.
PROP-14 Stem Cell Research
Authorizes bonds continuing stem cell research.
I have two criteria that I use in considering the support of bond measures. The first is the appropriateness of the debt; is the measure the municipal version of credit card debt, which should be avoided whenever possible, or is it more like a mortgage, which is necessary to cover the cost of purchasing a long-term asset? Prop 14 clearly falls into the mortgage-like category as the benefits of this spending will last long after the funding has been repaid. The use of long-term funding is further bolstered by the fact that the measure also includes the possibility that the projects it funds may result in future revenue for the state.
Having passed that hurdle, the next consideration is the soundness of the investment. If we had a well functioning federal government, this proposition would not be necessary. As the opponents point out in the official voter pamphlet: “the National Institute of Health provides $1.5 billion a year to grants to fund the same type of research.” Unfortunately, this funding is under constant attack due to the fact that stem cell research has been sucked into the never-ending battle over abortion rights. Just last year the Trump administration drastically slashed funding for this type of research. Therefore, this proposition is needed to ensure that California continues to be a leader in innovation.
PROP-15 Schools and Communities First Funding Measure
Increases funding sources for public schools, community colleges, and local government services by changing tax assessment of commercial and industrial property.
This proposition would restore balance to property taxes that are paid by large corporations. It is a much-needed update to PROP-13 that would eliminate loopholes that favor the top 10% of the state’s commercial properties while keeping in place protections for all residential properties, including those that provide rental income. The resulting revenues will help increase educational funding so that California is no longer ranked “at or near the bottom” of education spending when compared to other states. “California funds education at a level of about 72% of the national average, and less than half that of New York.”
The argument against passing this measure is so weak that the official opposing statements in the Voter Information Guide resorted to disjointed fear-mongering. It is logically inconsistent to claim that the initiative will force “businesses that are barely surviving now to lay off employees and raise prices” while also complaining that “most funding won’t arrive until 2025”, but they did so anyway. They also argue that “PROP-15 hurts family farmers and [that] we all will end up paying higher costs for groceries including milk, eggs, and meat” when the wording of the measure specifically states that it “makes no change to existing laws affecting the taxation or preservation of agricultural land.” The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association warns that “Prop 15 is a direct threat to homeowners” when the actual text makes clear that “all residential property is exempt so homeowners and renters will not be affected in any way by this measure.”
PROP-16 Affirmative Action
Allows diversity as a factor in public employment, education, and contracting decisions.
In a perfect society, we would all be judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin, the nationality of our ancestors, or by our religion or lack of one. The events of 2020 have reminded us that we are not perfect and that the “all men are created equal” promised by our founding parents remains aspirational. PROP-16 would bring our union closer to being “more perfect” by allowing our public institutions to ensure that they reflect the diversity of our state.
PROP-17 Voting Rights For Parolees
Restores the right to vote after completion of a prison term.
The right to participate in our democracy should be unalienable, even to those who have broken the law. PROP 17 takes an important step forward by allowing those on parole the right to voice their opinion at the ballot box.
PROP-18 Expansion Of Voting Rights
Amends the California Constitution to permit 17-year olds to vote in primary and special elections if they will turn 18 by the next general election and be otherwise eligible to vote.
Allowing this subset of 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections would have the benefit of establishing “a lifelong habit of voting” and having “a positive impact on voter turnout for people of all ages.” Even with this change, our voting age would still be higher than Brazil, “Austria, Nicaragua, Argentina, some states in Germany and a canton in Switzerland [who] have all lowered their voting age to 16.”
PROP-19 Property Tax Reform
Changes certain property tax rules.
As a result of PROP-13, the amount that Californians pay for property taxes is inequitable. Since the measure caps the increase in the assessed value of a property at two percent annually, homeowners achieve a tax benefit by staying in their homes for longer amounts of time. As a result, neighbors with identically valued homes may have vastly different tax bills.
This system was supposed to benefit senior citizens on fixed incomes. However, it also serves to trap them in their homes because moving into a more suitable home or one closer to their families could trigger a huge increase in their tax bills, even if their new home has a lower real value. Additionally, victims of wildfires can also be subjected to a higher property tax bill if they replace their homes on a different lot.
PROP-19 provides some resolutions to both of these problems. Seniors and other eligible property taxpayers will be provided with expanded opportunities to avoid huge property tax increases if they move. Those inheriting a property that they do not move into will also have the property’s value reassessed, eliminating a loophole that contributes to inequity.
PROP-20 Reversing Course on Criminal Justice Reform
Restricts parole for certain offenses currently considered to be non-violent. Authorizes felony sentences for certain offenses currently treated only as misdemeanors.
The murder of George Floyd helped renew the focus on the inequities in our criminal justice system. This has given birth to the “Defund The Police” movement that calls for a rethinking of how we approach crime and punishment by focusing on the causes of crime rather than relying on brute force. Our jails should be reserved for the most violent offenders and be the punishment of last resort.
PROP-20 takes us in the opposite direction, reclassifying crimes so that “people who commit certain theft-related crimes (such as repeat shoplifting) could receive increased penalties (such as longer jail terms).” Our country already has a higher incarceration rate than any other country. This initiative would worsen the situation without fixing any of the underlying problems.
PROP-21 Rent Control
Expands local governments’ authority to enact rent control on residential property.
Under current state law, many municipalities are prohibited from enacting rent control laws. This initiative removes this prohibition while also setting standards for how rent control can be enacted.
Many of the complaints raised by opponents of this proposition ignore the fact that PROP 21 does not enact rent control, it simply allows municipalities to do so. It is localities, not the state’s electorate, that will decide what these laws will look like.
PROP-22 Reversing Worker Protections
Exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing employee benefits to certain drivers.
As the gig economy continues to grow, the state legislature modernized our labor laws so that ride-share drivers are provided with the same protections as other employees. Since Uber, Lyft, and Doordash rely on cheap labor to boost their profits, they put this proposition on the ballot to prevent their drivers from getting “standard benefits and protections that businesses must provide employees.”
Rideshare companies are spending over $184.3 million to persuade voters to pass their profit-protecting proposition. “Uber contributed $50 million, Lyft provided $48 million, DoorDash contributed $47 million, InstaCart provided $28 million, and Postmates provided $11 million.” It seems to me that this money could have provided a lot of benefits for drivers.
PROP-23 Dialysis Center Regulation
Establishes state requirements for kidney dialysis clinics. Requires on-site medical professionals.
If the commercials are to be believed, this initiative will mandate the closure of dialysis centers and kill the patients. In reality, it would require them “to have a doctor on-site during all patient treatment hours.” Given the amount these centers are spending on advertising, they seem to have the money needed to ensure that patient safety is protected.
PROP-24 Addresses Consumer Privacy
Amends consumer privacy laws.
Our rapidly changing technological landscape demands that laws be updated to protect consumer privacy. This initiative attempts to do so but limits the ability of the legislature to fix issues that develop over time. In a rapidly shifting landscape, this is a really bad idea. When the Republican Party and Green Party both oppose a proposition, it is a good signal that something is seriously wrong with the execution.
PROP-25 Preserves The Elimination Of Cash Bail
A referendum on that law that replaced money bail with a system based on public safety and flight risk.
“Innocent until proven guilty” is a basic tenant of our judicial system. Yet, many poor people who cannot afford bail are kept in prison while awaiting trial. This proposition would enshrine a law eliminating the cash bail system and give judges the authority to determine the accused’s eligibility for release as they await trial based on public safety, not their ability to pay.
All Californians should have received their mail-in ballot. They can either be mailed in or dropped off when voting centers open at the end of the month. Alternatively, you can vote in person at these voting centers.
Whichever way you decided to vote on these propositions, make sure to do so by November 3, 2020. Your voice deserves to be heard.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.