News & Analysis of Economic, Racial, Gender Justice and More

FEATURING SONALI KOLHATKAR – Californians this year face a whopping 17 statewide measures on their November 8th ballot. The number and complexity can be overwhelming and so today, as a special segment just for our California audience I’ll be going through these measures, so have your sample ballot handy if you want to take notes. I cannot endorse any positions on the measures but I can give you enough information to try to help you make your own decisions.

Proposition 51 is a School Bond measure that will provide $9 billion in funding for K–12 School and Community College Facilities. While both Democrats and Republicans support the measure Gov. Jerry Brown opposes it. Of the $9 billion for modernizing existing schools and building new schools, half a billion will go toward facilities for charter schools – a small amount overall. The state PTA and League of Women Voters have backed the measure, as has Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom.

Proposition 52 is the Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program – an admittedly obscure issue that voters might wonder why they are being asked to decide. California has usually charged private hospitals a fee to cover the increased costs of Medi-cal benefits. The legislature has extended the charging of this fee every few years. If Prop 52 passes that fee would become permanent. California Health Foundation and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are among the supporters of the measure while the SEIU opposes it.

Proposition 53 involves statewide voter approval of so-called Revenue Bonds. If Prop 53 passes, any public works project costing $2 billion or more that relies on revenue bonds for funding, will rely on voter approval. The idea is that every time the state wants to build major infrastructure like bridges and dams, voters will have to have a say. Gov. Jerry Brown vehemently opposes prop 53. The measure’s author is a wealthy farmer from Stockton named Dean Cortopassi who is opposed to state spending on Brown’s pet projects such as high-speed rail. Cortopassi put up $4 million of his own money to get this one on the ballot. The conservative anti-tax group, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is in favor of Prop 53.

Proposition 54 is officially called the “Legislature Legislation and Proceedings” initiative. According to the state Attorney General, Prop 54, “Prohibits [the] Legislature from passing any bill unless it has been in print and published on the Internet for at least 72 hours before the vote, except in cases of public emergency.” Opponents of Prop 54 say it helps special interests buy time to lobby against legislation they don’t like. The measure was written by Charles Munger Jr. the son of a billionaire and almost all the funding in favor of Prop 54 has come from Munger’s pocket. Munger has become the California Republican Party’s biggest donor.

Proposition 55 is the Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare measure. It is simply an extension of Prop 30 which passed in 2012, extending personal tax increases for people earning more than $250,000 a year. The tax revenues fund education and healthcare to the tune of about $6 billion a year. If Prop 55 does not pass, that tax on higher income Californians will be phased out in 2018. If Prop 55 does pass it will extend the tax to the year 2030. The voter information guide explains that, “if this measure passes, a single person with taxable income of $300,000 would pay an extra 1 percent on their income…. This works out to a tax increase of $370 for this person.” In other words, if you like the idea of taxing the rich, you’ll like this measure.

Proposition 56 is the “Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement” measure. According to the LA Weekly, “Proposition 56 would increase California’s tax on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and so forth by $2,” and the revenues from that tax, “would go mostly to pay for health care services for low-income individuals and families covered by the Medi-Cal program.” It is not clear from the ballot summary how much of the revenue would fund law enforcement. Cigarette companies such as Phillip Morris are predictably spending big to defeat Prop 56.

Proposition 57 is the “Criminal Sentences Parole Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing” measure. According to the LA Times Prop 57, “would allow more prisoners a chance at parole and give additional authority to prison officials to award good-behavior credits.” There are strong emotions on both sides of this proposition with the tough-on-crime crowd contending that if it passes, Prop 57 would mean the early release of dangerous criminals. The measure’s language specifies however that it would apply only to non-violent criminals. Prop 57 is intended to, among other things, reduce prison overcrowding which has plagued California for years.

Proposition 58 The “English Proficiency Multilingual Education” measure captures the battle over bilingual education in the state. If Prop 58 passes, it will overturn the controversial Proposition 227, which passed in 1998 and was called the “English in Public Schools” Initiative. Prop 58 will open the door to public school instruction in languages other than English. The proposition is authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara and backed by the California Teachers Association. It is opposed by the state Republican Party.

Proposition 59 is officially known as the “Corporations, Political Spending Federal Constitutional Protections Legislative Advisory Question.” Informally it is being called the Overturn Citizens United Act. If passed, Proposition 59 would give elected state officials the authority to work toward a constitutional amendment to overturn the controversial Supreme Court decision on limitless campaign spending. Prop 59 is supported by a large coalition of progressive groups in the state as well as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. It won’t directly overturn Citizens United but will empower and encourage the state’s lawmakers to do something about it.

Proposition 60 is the “Adult Films, Condoms, Health Requirements.” Initiative. A large portion of adult films are produced in California and prop 60 is strongly supported by Derrick Burts, a porn industry figure who says he contracted HIV through unprotected sex on a film set. California already requires porn stars to wear condoms on set but the rule is rarely enforced. Opponents of the measure say it would open the door for civilians to file suits against performers. Supporters say it is a necessary health regulation.

Proposition 61 is a measure that has received national attention for it’s focus on big pharmaceutical companies. It is the “State Prescription Drug Purchases. Pricing Standards.” measure. Pharmaceutical companies have been protected under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, from having their drug prices slashed leading large state governments like California being unable to use their purchasing clout to negotiate lower drug prices. If Proposition 61 passes, that will change. This measure has had the most amount of money spent on it – the vast majority – about $100 million spent by the Pharmaceutical industry to beat Prop 61. Many ads falsely claim it will increase drug prices for veterans. Prop 61 is another one of those measures that has received strong support from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Proposition 62 and also Proposition 66 are grouped as they’re both about the state’s death penalty. The LA Times took a clear position to end the death penalty and described the two measures like this: “Proposition 62 would end the practice altogether, converting existing death sentences to life without parole and closing the largest death row in the nation. Proposition 66 takes the opposite approach, offering a menu of supposed reforms that proponents say would slash the decades-long delays between sentence and execution.” In other words prop 62 keeps death row inmates alive, prop 66 speeds up their deaths. Depending upon your death penalty politics you would want to vote yes on one and no on the other or vice versa.

Proposition 63 involves gun control. It is the “Firearms, Ammunition Sales.” measure authored by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. California has among the strictest gun control laws in the nation. If Prop 63 passes, it would apply similar restrictions on those buying ammo as those who buy guns. The measure would also make it a felony charge for stealing firearms among other things. Advocates of gun control support Prop 63 while those who claim the Second Amendment covers their right to buy any amount of guns and ammo at any given time obviously oppose it.

Proposition 64 is the Marijuana Legalization initiative whose supporters are hoping that second time’s a charm. In 2010 California voters narrowly voted down a similar pot legalization measure, Prop 19. If passed Prop 64 on this year’s ballot will legalize the growing and selling of recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana has already been legal in California for years. It is estimated that the measure would bring in at least a billion a year in new tax revenues to the state. Among those backing the measure are former Facebook President Sean Parker, and philanthropist billionaire George Soros.

Proposition 65 and Proposition 67 are both focused on… plastic bags! Prop 65 is the “Carryout Bags and Charges” initiative while Prop 67 is the “Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags” Referendum. It is fitting that we end with perhaps the most confusing set of measures. Both propositions 65 and 67 in theory support a ban on plastic bags in California but differ on how the 10c charge that retailers collect for paper bags would be used. Prop 65 would specify that the revenues collected would go into an environmental fund while prop 67 would allow retailers to cover their costs and educate consumers. According to KPCC, “The plastics industry spent $5 million putting Propositions 67 and 65 on the ballot. Environmental groups say Prop 65 is merely a ploy to confuse and mislead voters… If both measures pass, it’s unclear if they would work together or if only the one that wins the most votes would take effect. Another catch: Legal experts say Proposition 65 could nullify the bag ban.” Currently many California cities have already banned single-use plastic bags but the legislature is considering a state-wide ban. Environmentalists are interested in eliminating plastic bags say they’re voting No on 65 and yes on 67.

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