How I'm voting, Part 1: CA Initiatives (2018)

October 13, 2018


My name is David Albrecht, I live in Oakland, CA and try to keep up with local news. This is my analysis of the issues.

A few things about me:

  • I consider myself a classical liberal, which means I'm both more conservative and more liberal, at the same time, than many Bay Area residents. However, I have friends across the entire political spectrum whose views I deeply respect.
  • I generally oppose ballot initiatives as a matter of principle; they're too hard to change and make compromise difficult. Some thoughts
  • I strongly reject identity politics; I care about policy, issues, and ideas more than who's in favor of, or opposed to, an idea
  • I consider myself a fiscal moderate; I think California could use less public spending, but would rather see a working government with fully-funded pensions than one that treats tax minimization as an explicit goal.

Having said that, here are my thoughts on the issues (first in a series).

Part I: California Propositions

Proposition 1: Yes

Narrow, simple initiative supporting a $4 billion housing bond, including $1.8 billion for multifamily, $450 million of transit-oriented development, and $1.0 billion for veterans.

Legislative analyst estimates the annual cashflow required to service this debt will be $170 million. Debt service occurs via the general fund, a $120 billion fund whose revenue derives overwhelmingly from income and sales (not property) tax; I prefer this because it spreads the obligation broadly across California taxpayers. A $170 million annual obligation expands the general fund by only 0.1%, which isn't much. Put differently, the bond's $170 million annual cost is only $4/capita given California's almost 40 million people. It will take a while to repay but it's a small cost to house veterans, farmworkers, and others using approaches endorsed by experts like SPUR.

It's also a very straightforward measure that raises money for a defined purpose and doesn't create long-term legal complexity, or entanglements.

Proposition 2: No

Too complicated; divided expert opinion.

The initiative purports to build housing for the homeless by diverting funds raised by 2004's Prop 63, to issue new housing bonds. The key issues seem to be whether diverting funds is legal, whether fees and interest will take too much money away from program expenses, and whether local (county) control is better than centralized state administration.

NAMI Contra Costa, Contra Costa's branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, opposes the measure, in part because it fails to address local legal barriers to supportive housing, including zoning that blocks construction of homeless shelters.

The California Budget & Policy Center has a good writeup, which failed to convince me this is good policy: Proposition 2: Should California Sell Bonds Backed by County Mental Health Funds to Develop Supportive Housing for Homeless Residents With Mental Illness?.

Proposition 3: No

Too big, too complex, questionable efficacy.

The proposition authorizes an $8.9 billion (!) bond issue, at annual cost of $430 million to the general fund, to pay for "water projects".

Per the voter's guide:

These funds fall into six broad categories, as summarized in Figure 1. Within these broad categories, the proposition includes around 100 subcategories for how certain amounts must be spent, including for particular regions of the state or on specific projects.

100 subcategories? That sounds like legislation.

From The Chronicle:

This scheme was devised as an initiative that is being funded, in part, by individuals and entities that are going to be receiving a share of the bond money. The pay-to-play aspect in itself should give voters ample reason to reject Prop. 3.

Proposition 4: No

Small, well-targeted, but better done via legislation.

Sidenote: all the hand-wringing about property taxes around this is idiotic; California's General Fund is not funded by property taxes, as anyone can find out with a 5-second Google search.

Proposition 5: Strong No

This is a terrible ballot initiative that's funded by realtors trying to get more people to buy and sell their houses (and thus generate more commissions).

Prop 13, one of the worst things ever to happen to California created a situation where those who have been in their houses a long time (20-30 years) pay a fraction of what new people pay in property taxes—as much as 80% to 90% less than what newer arrivals pay.

This initiative tries to "fix" things by permanently entrenching the tax break longtime residents get, by letting them take it with them, when they move. So even if they're in a $1 million house getting assessed as if it was a $100K house, if they move to a different $1 million place, they'll still get assessed as if they're in a $100K place.

It's absolutely nuts. Nowhere else does this and nothing about this is even remotely fair.

Please don't vote for this. It further entrenches longtime property owners at the expense of the young and new arrivals. It further entrenches a two-tiered tax system while ensuring the burden of funding local governments, including police protection, fire departments, roads, and other necessary municipal services are concentrated on the newest arrivals to an area. That is totally unfair, and is opposed by everyone from affordable housing advocates, to local service providers (nurses, firefighters, teachers).

This is one of the few ballot initiatives I consider unconscionably outrageous.

Proposition 6: No

California's constitution already encourages an unbalanced budget by requiring a simple majority to spend but a 2/3 supermajority to raise revenue (tax); this initiative makes it even worse by further handcuffing the legislature's power to tax.

Low taxes are good, but balanced budgets are even better. Passing this makes a repeat of the 2008 budget crisis more likely.

Proposition 7: No

A ballot initiative to change time zones? Is this a joke?

Pass a law.

Proposition 8: No

Massively complex initiative that requires detailed analysis of company operations; legislative analyst has no idea what it will cost to enforce, it will make healthcare harder to deliver, and it sets "revenue limits" to control healthcare costs? No way.

We need cheaper healthcare, but complex, hard-to-enforce price controls won't get us there—they'll just push suppliers out of the market. The ACA is a great example: the people who passed it talked a big game about healthcare costs, but since it's passed, the Wall Street Journal reported 50% of US counties have only one insurer in their exchange. Best-case scenario, this will make medical billing even more complex, and clinics will hire an army of "revenue analysts" to find the inevitable loopholes. In the end, the only people who win are the companies selling software and services to "optimize billing" (perhaps not such a bad business to get into…).

Proposition 9

This was Steve Draper's crazy plan to break up California. I would've loved to see a debate on this, but the courts shut it down.

Proposition 10: Strong no

The path to greater housing affordability is more construction, not more regulation and control.

Oakland vs. San Francisco is a good example. Oakland has remained affordable, and built, as San Francisco spirals further out of control, largely because of San Francisco's much more aggressive rent control.

Initiatives like this scare developers; would you want to build here if you can't be sure something crazy won't happen?

It's also complex. A clean repeal of Costa-Hawkins would be better, if that's what people want.

Proposition 11: No

Work rules in a ballot initiative?

At the same time, however, the measure requires that meal breaks (1) not be during the first or last hour of a shift, and (2) be spaced at least two hours apart. The measure requires ambulance companies to operate enough ambulances to meet these meal break schedules.

You want this carved into stone for the next 100 years, when we have autonomous ambulances, flying cars, and the job of being an EMT completely changes? Please, vote no.

Proposition 12: No

Again…animal confinement rules in a ballot initiative? We want to carve this into stone until it gets changed in another initiative?

This is insane.

That shouldn't even be in a statute (law), it should be decided by an executive authority like the FCC or FTC charged with enforcing a law. No way this should be decided by initiative.

Calf raised for veal: Must be able to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. 43 square feet of floor space required.

43 square feet…until we pass another initiative making it 44.


I'll do the candidates tomorrow. As promised, CA candidates.