Funny, It Doesn’t Look Bluish

The initial results in California last night make my state seem like a sane drop of blue in the country.  Jerry Brown won for Governor; Barbara Boxer was re-elected; and Proposition 23, which would have reversed the state’s landmark climate change law, was resoundingly defeated.  Voters also approved Proposition 25, which allows the state budget to be approved by a simple majority — although retains the 2/3 requirement for tax increases.

But look closer.

Voters rejected Proposition 21, which would have raised the state’s vehicle license fee by a mere $18 to support California’s beleaguered state park system (which currently has a maintenance backlog of more than $1 billion); they approved Proposition 22, which prevents the state taking transportation monies from local governments and whole bunch of other stealth things to tighten the state’s budget; and most importantly, they approved Proposition 26, another stealth initiative sponsored by Chevron, Philip Morris, and Anheuser-Busch, which erases the distinction between “fees” and “taxes”, might undo this year’s budget deal, further restricts the state’s ability to raise revenue, and probably emasculates the state’s environmental agencies (potentially making the victory in Prop 23 meaningless).

Essentially, then, the voters have given formal political power to the Democrats, and told them to fix the state’s problems.  They then have tied the Democrats in a series of straitjackets and thrown them into the Pacific Ocean.

Good luck, Jerry; you’re going to need it.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

18 thoughts on “Funny, It Doesn’t Look Bluish”

  1. Failure to raise money and mount a proper campaign against Proposition 26 (nobody even polled the damn thing) will go down as one of the biggest political blunders by progressives in California history. The sexiness of opposing Prop. 23 blinded all the usual liberal suspects to the importance of 26.

  2. Agreed entirely. I'd also add Prop 19 on that. Soros comes in with $1 million for it; absurd. But absolutely right about 23.

  3. This is a continuation of the slow-motion disaster that started with Prop. 13. If you look at the county-by-county votes, there are enough sane people who understood the implications to vote against 26 in the urban cores of SF, LA and even Sacramento. But OC and the rest of the hinterlands gave big majorities to the "Yes" vote and gave it just enough margin. And this is going to affect the urban cores much more than the rest of the state.

  4. The voters don't trust the politicians, nor are there effective institutions to monitor politicians' conduct in office. It's not like a Media exists, to monitor what Sacramento does, in detail. The promises of Arnold, an independently wealthy celebrity, to be a trustworthy tribune proved hollow.

    In our post-modern, post-ideological era, politicians don't have any way, short of tea-party craziness, to affirm a philosophical committment to certain values or goals, which might resist corruption. (Brown's theme — that he has nothing left to live for, but being governor one last time — pushed the bounds of good taste.)

    With Sacramento in thrall to business corporations and public employee unions, and no institutional mechanism to monitor conduct, people feel they have no control, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to trust our elected representatives.

    It's a small "c" constitutional problem, for which no easy solution is apparent. A news media not financed by corporate advertising and focused on something other than local trivia — local tv news in Los Angeles has become an absurd parody — might help. But, how to get there? A society with greater civic involvement by membership organizations, not based in business interests, or even based in business interests not overwhelmed by giant, predatory corporations? Again, how?.

  5. It's the flood the zone approach – put out so many propositions that we can't focus on any, maybe one or two.

    I'm sick of the proposition system in California, but there is no way out.

  6. As for the rejection of 21, I think as much as anything it represents the idea that this kind of thing is ridiculous to have a proposition on. See Kevin Drum on that here: "This initiative increases the vehicle license fee by $18 and applies the revenue to maintaining state parks. It's a hard one to vote against since it's fully self-funding and fiscally defensible, but we just can't keep doing stuff like this. Every year we pass ever more initiatives that set up special funds or earmark revenue for special purposes or demand that the legislature allocate spending in a certain way. Then we complain that the budget is a mess. We really have to stop doing this, even in a good cause."

    I agree with it completely.

  7. Sebastian —

    Kevin and you are right in an ideal world; but I disagree with you and he strongly in this world. The voters are simply not going to agree to give the Legislature money and trust them to spend it wisely. They just won't; they haven't since 1978. The only thing to do are these sorts of things. Now, maybe your point is that the voters won't go for these sorts of things, either, but I'd chalk that up to among other things the failure of progressives to get behind this, and the opposition of most of the state's newspapers on the grounds that you say. Then these same folks will bemoan the voters' failure to support giving money to the Legislature. Let's support these things; get some good public services; increase peoples' faith that the public sector can do things; THEN see if they trust Sacramento.

  8. Dear California Voters:

    Thank you for rejecting a woman who was on the wildest of spending sprees. Thanks for telling big oil to take a hike and keeping AB 32 in effect. Thanks for finally coming to your senses and allowing the legislature to pass a budget on a simple majority.

    But please slap yourselves for putting California at a disadvantage for giving an unformed 14-member commission the job of drawing up federal districts. Please also slap yourselves for taking two steps back for approving Props 22 & 26 which may prove to undo any benefit Prop 25 may have provided. But finally, please take a cold shower for failing to punish backroom deals by letting Prop 24 slip through your hands.

  9. "Then these same folks will bemoan the voters’ failure to support giving money to the Legislature. Let’s support these things; get some good public services; increase peoples’ faith that the public sector can do things; THEN see if they trust Sacramento."

    And then what are we going to do when we need to change all these piece-meal budget items? Have 50 propositions to change them all? No. Initiatives should be policy level. Figuring out the exact policy rates for car insurance, or the fees for vehicle registration aren't appropriate for initiatives, and if we foster a political ethos where people vote against such things reflexively, we'd be MUCH better off. Prop 19 and 20 were appropriate policy level questions. 21, 23, 24 weren't at all. 22, 25, and 26 really aren't either, but they are made necessary by previous proposition stupidity. And 27 was just the anti-20.

    "But please slap yourselves for putting California at a disadvantage for giving an unformed 14-member commission the job of drawing up federal districts."

    You are confusing California voters with Democrats. They aren't identical categories. California won't lose any votes in Congress if the districts are drawn fairly. For truly California-centric questions, that, combined with the likelihood of more moderate members there should be no disadvantage at all. From the point of view of state voters acting in their best interest as a state, there isn't a downside to making gerrymandering more difficult.

  10. Sebastian, I think you're letting voters off much too easily. If people don't like a fee, they can support someone else for city council the next time. They had plenty of tools at their disposal to deal with the situation. Prop. 26 was just to help big, polluting corporations that one would think would just pass the costs on to consumers anyway. As a consumer, I fully expect that to happen, and it should, 'cause you know what? I drive a car, ergo, I *should* help pay for pollution.

    The system doesn't work because voters don't understand it.

  11. In Montana, we voted down the opportunity for a constitutional convention. Maybe you Californians ought to think about having one, though.

  12. Charley Carp – We were talking about that earlier this year, but the effort fizzled out once it was apparent that there was a lack of funds.

  13. "And then what are we going to do when we need to change all these piece-meal budget items? Have 50 propositions to change them all? No."

    Agreed — all you'd need is one, to give the Legislature the authority to change things. Which at this point and for the foreseeable future, the voters simply will not do. We're stuck with this system, which means we need to make the best of it, instead of insisting that the voters do something that they don't want to do. We've already GOT all of these initiatives on the books, not to mention 13, 218, 26, and all the rest. In my view, it makes no sense to bemoan the fact but insist on not using it for progressive purposes.

  14. What Foster B. said. I moved away from CA in 2003 and haven't looked back. The Lege is a fustercluck and cannot govern. Localites are scr*wed due to Prop 13 and cannot effectively control land use. Not sure how AB32 is going to help that either. Combine that with water and air, and sheesh 20 million need to emigrate to fix the environmental mess.

    Ugh.

  15. they approved Proposition 22, which prevents the state taking transportation monies from local governments and whole bunch of other stealth things to tighten the state’s budget; and most importantly, they approved Proposition 26, another stealth initiative sponsored by Chevron, Philip Morris, and Anheuser-Busch, which erases the distinction between “fees” and “taxes”, might undo this year’s budget deal, further restricts the state’s ability to raise revenue, and probably emasculates the state’s environmental agencies (potentially making the victory in Prop 23 meaningless).

    Is this somewhat retroactive? I'm wondering if it will destroy the proposed budget compromise that was finally reached.

    It's definitely a disaster, although on the bright side, we might finally have some re-districting reform.

  16. The problem with dedicated revenue streams, as we learned back in Michigan with the lottery, is that unless the stream is sufficient by itself to fund the activity in question fully, the legislature just takes away one dollar of general fund revenue for every dollar the dedicated stream provides, and your new revenue just gets spent on what the legislature wants, "dedicated" or not. So the voters weren't so stupid to have voted against 21. They just don't trust the legislature to do what they want with the money, and that's good judgment, not stupidity. The legislature ISN'T trustworthy.

    Really, when are you folks going to figure out that your state is just too darned big, and split the place up into a half dozen manageable sized states? That would also zero out all propositions, and give you a new crack, (Several, in fact.) at writing a better constitution. And you can pitch all the complaints about how you'd get things right if only this or that part of the state wasn't so uncooperative.

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