The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, February 29, 2004

A California Measure and Proposition Guide for Libertarians

or for anyone else who has the strange belief that his salary belongs to him and not the Franchise Tax Board

Short Version: See what the Mercury News recommends and do the opposite

Long Version: As above, with the following helpful commentary:

Vote yes on Prop. 55

Tough economic times means setting priorities, and spending wisely.

Fixing the deplorable condition of some of our public schools should be a top priority. California's kids deserve a clean and safe learning environment, free from unsafe wiring, leaky roofs and bathrooms that don't work. Proposition 55, a $12.3 billion school bond on the March 2 ballot, will help make that happen.


Prop. 55 is the second installment of a two-part $25.3 billion package for renovation and new construction that will bring campuses up to par. The first part, Prop. 47, was approved two years ago by voters as a promise to upgrade public schools that suffered from years of neglect and deferred maintenance. Now, it's time to seal that deal by passing Prop. 55.

Virtually all of Prop. 47's funds are already allocated -- and without Prop. 55 crucial repairs won't be made.


Skeptics should be assured by Prop. 55's built-in protections against misuse of funds, which includes an independent oversight committee and regular state and local audits.

This is the first recommendation on the Merc's editorial page. This article makes a good start for my post, because it is an encapsulation of the Mercury News' ossified liberalism; there is no school bond that the Merc cannot say yes to.

So two years ago Prop 47 raised $13 billion to renovate California schools. How many students are there in California? Five million? That's $2600 per student, which would be $5200 for the residence of Floyd and Sherry McWilliams if we were allowed to issue bonds to repair our residence. That should have been plenty, especially considering that school budgets already contain funds for routine repairs and maintenance.

I am one skeptic who is not "assured" by the "independent oversight committee" and audits. Will any of those performing "oversight" lose their jobs if Prop 55 money is wasted or spent frivolously? Will anyone suffer financially?

Vote yes on Measure 2

An extra dollar a day for bridge tolls should be easy for South Bay voters to approve: Most of them cross the Bay mainly for weekend getaways, not for daily commutes to Silicon Valley jobs.

Yet the extra toll -- bringing the total to $3 a day -- will mean an additional $125 million a year for road and transit projects around the Bay that will benefit everyone. Regional Measure 2 deserves strong support in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Mateo counties, as well as the four other Bay Area counties that will vote on it March 2.


Regional Measure 2 is not a tax, it's a user's fee. That means it needs a majority vote to pass, not two-thirds -- but the projects it funds must directly benefit bridge users. The list was compiled by a public advisory committee with broad representation from business, environmental and social equity interests. It appears to meet the legal test.


I don't like to see government power increased, and anyway the state is spending its money on much more frivolous activities. I would vote no, but I don't have a serious problem with bridge tolls because they are, as the Merc noted, user fees.

(By the way, I feel somewhat dishonest for hiding this closing paragraph:

State and federal spending cuts now endanger the transportation improvement plan agreed upon by Silicon Valley and the rest of the Bay Area. Regional Measure 2 is a way to take control locally and maintain progress through bad times. Vote yes.

but I have only the best intentions: If President Bush finds out that federal spending was cut, he's sure to restore the funding, and then ask Senator Kennedy how much more money should be spent. Shh! Nobody say anything!)


sic: The headline does not tell you which measure is referred to - FM

Billed as a way to save money on construction projects, San Jose's Measure D slipped quietly onto the ballot -- with the help of a cadre of lobbyists for the building industry.

It's seductive. Who doesn't want to save money? But the measure to allow what's known as design-build contracting has a fatal flaw: It removes the requirement for competitive bids without substituting any alternative guarantee of public scrutiny over who gets taxpayers' money.

At stake just in the next few years are multimillion-dollar projects, like libraries and fire stations, and one nearly $2 billion project: the massive reconstruction of San Jose's airport.

If this measure passes, there will be nothing in the city charter to prevent contract awards based on cronyism or political payoffs. It's not worth the risk. Vote no.

The council voted to put Measure D on the ballot on Dec. 2 with no discussion. There's no opposing ballot argument because people who have concerns didn't find out about the measure until it was too late to file a statement.

The process smells as much as the charter change proposal.


Well. I dislike the Merc's opinions, and I dislike demonization of developers. But big-city politicians are always and invariably scum who try to enrich their pals at the public's expense -- and while insulting the public's intelligence to boot. Nice catch by the Mercury News.



Measure A on the March 2 ballot would lead to positive changes for the kids in juvenile probation system. It also would lead to more public accountability and more professional management of the county probation department.

The measure amends the county charter so the probation chief reports to the county executive instead of the Superior Court. It creates an advisory board, including a cross-section of the community, to keep an eye on the workings of the juvenile hall.

The judges are opposed to Measure A. They want to retain control of the probation department, which runs juvenile hall and the youth ranches. The 800-person department also supervises about 12,000 adult and juvenile offenders in the community.

The judges say Measure A is a power grab by the county supervisors, an effort to save face after allegations of excessive force and other problems at juvenile hall. But the judges are the ones trying to save face.

Opponents of Measure A are right about one thing: It is, if not a power grab, certainly a power shift. But that would be a positive change, for the department and the community.

Judges aren't trained managers, yet under the current structure they are responsible for a large department with union contracts, buildings to maintain and a difficult mission. The presiding judge, who is ultimately responsible for probation, rotates every couple of years, so there is little continuity.

Judges wield absolute power over juveniles from the time they are arrested and taken to juvenile hall, through their sentencing, confinement and probation period. If there are problems with conditions at the hall, to whom can a youth complain? Even the Juvenile Justice Commission, which is charged with inspecting juvenile facilities, is appointed by the judges.

Measure A would put probation where it belongs: under the county executive, a professional manager who is accountable to publicly elected officials. Changing the culture at the hall would be easier with increased public scrutiny.


Asking a Libertarian to comment on Measure A is like asking a vegetarian to judge a barbeque contest. Okay, sure, the judges run the Juvenile Authority badly, so we'll give control to the county, who will also run it badly. (And the "advisory committee" makes its appearance again. Anything tastes better when you add a committee!)

Majority rule isn't a blank check; vote yes on Prop. 56

In 47 states, the Legislature can pass the budget with a majority vote. Not in California.

In 39 states, a majority of the Legislature can raise taxes. Not in California.

In California, one-third of the legislators can stop what two-thirds of the legislators think is a good budget or a good tax for California.

And stop it they do, as budget deadlocks drag on through the summer.

California voters should end this invitation to gridlock. They should pass Proposition 56 on March 2. Under Proposition 56, the budget, and taxes related to it, could be approved by 55 percent of the legislators.

Sponsors call Proposition 56 the Budget Accountability Act. Proposition 56 would dock the pay of legislators and the governor for every day the budget is late. It would put information about the budget in statewide ballot pamphlets, and post on the Internet the budget-related votes of legislators. It would mandate a better budget reserve.

While all that is accountability of a sort, it's not the most important sort.

In most years, one party in the Legislature has 55 percent of the members. The majority party would bear the responsibility for drafting and passing a budget. And it would be fully accountable for it when voters go to the polls.

If Proposition 56 were just about the percentage needed to pass a budget, it wouldn't be as hotly opposed as it is. What the opposition is really worried about, and what the proponents are playing down, is the lower majority for passing taxes.

Opponents are right that if Proposition 56 passes, it will be easier to raise the income tax, the sales tax and others -- but not property taxes. They call this a ``blank check.'' Since when is majority rule a blank check? If it is, why aren't all of those 39 majority-rule states ahead of California in taxes?


The comparison with other states is pointless. California already spends enormous amounts of money, and if the barrier to raising taxes is lowered, the state will spend even more. (Of course higher taxes are not guaranteed. But the outcome of Prop 56 cannot be to make the state spend less!)

And I'm not interested in watching the state spend itself to oblivion, and waiting a year or two or four for the Republicans to come pick up the pieces. Considering how woefully incompetent the Republicans have been at providing opposition, my wait may be eternal.

If Prop 56 is not a blank check, then why is the Mercury News agitating for it?

County libraries: Measure B is an easy yes

This recession seems so deep and so damaging that we tend to forget about the last one, in the early '90s. But for local libraries, 1994 was rock bottom.

The state had taken away 40 percent of the Santa Clara County library system's operating budget to balance its own books. Libraries were closing one or two days a week, eliminating story hours, cutting programs for seniors. It was grim. But county leaders mobilized, formed a joint powers authority and asked voters to pay a special tax to save their libraries -- and 71 percent said yes.

The result is the excellent library system that nine cities and the unincorporated areas of the county rely on today. But the special tax that provides 21 percent of the libraries' budget is about to expire -- so on March 2, voters in areas with county libraries will be asked to continue their support by voting for Measure B. It should be the easiest yes vote ever cast.

Libraries are fundamental to America's promise of equal opportunity and access to information. They're needed now more than ever: Use of the county system has grown by nearly 80 percent since 1994. The libraries have some 3.5 million visits a year.

The new parcel tax, kicking in when the old one ends in 2005, would be $42 a year for a single home or condo, less per apartment and more for a business. Let's see, $42 will buy -- what, one new hard cover, maybe two? Three or four paperbacks? Yet just $42 per home will maintain what's now rated the best library system of its size in the country.


If these libraries are so great, why is their funding in such danger? The reason is that whenever government's spending is cut, it responds by threatening the most useful and visible public services. The voters are continually blackmailed: "Raise your taxes or there will be no more libraries. Raise your taxes or there won't be firemen. Raise your taxes or we'll shut your local school."

No to blackmail; No on B.

Parcel taxes deserve a yes

Of course they deserve a yes! They're taxes! At least the Merc felt obliged to explain further:

A half-dozen area school boards have placed parcel taxes on the March 2 ballot. Each would enable a district to continue vital programs, or in the case of the Union School District, keep open schools threatened with closing.


See what I mean about blackmail?

Don't gamble; vote yes on Props. 57 and 58

The choice that voters face March 2 with Propositions 57 and 58 comes down to this: Pass the $15 billion bond and the spending limits, or gamble that the Legislature will suddenly find the courage to compromise.

Of those options, we recommend the propositions. Both must pass for either to take effect.

It would be nice to insist that the state pay its bills now. It would be nice to hold the line against using bonds for operating expenses, instead of for investments in highways, parks and schools.

But without any borrowing, the taxes and cuts required to close the budget gap would rip the safety net of public services and squeeze all taxpayers.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been the driving force behind the plan, and his description is generally accurate. Just like a household that has spent recklessly, the state is getting a loan to refinance various debts and pay them off over a decade (Proposition 57) and then is cutting up its credit cards (Proposition 58).


Why yes, I remember hearing that Schwarzenegger warned of "catastrophic cuts" if 57 and 58 did not pass.

Sign me up for some of that!



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