Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why we're in this mess: Stupid California propositions (that actually passed!)

Today's Election Day in California, which means you should probably go vote. If you're curious how to vote, I have some suggestions (as does Calitics.com, who actually know what they're talking about).

But since we're voting on a bunch of bad ideas today whose passage or failure will equally guarantee California's continued ungovernability, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back. This isn't the first time that Californians have been presented with a bunch of stupid ideas that we get to put RIGHT IN OUR CONSTITUTION. What other crummy notions have we seen fit to enshrine in our most important legal document?

Prop 16 (1922)
Regulated chiropractors. A worthy goal, sure, but why is this in the state Constitution? (Because of this proposition, future changes to chiropractor regulation have to be run past the voters first, which is kind of unwieldy for such a specialized profession.)

Prop 13 (1978)
This is one of the big ones: Reduces and limits the property tax, and requires a 2/3 vote in the Legislature to increase any taxes. Why doesn't California have any money? Pretty much, because of this proposition. An all-time bad idea.

Prop 4 (1979)
Another big, stupid legacy of the anti-tax movement. This one limited state expenditures to only slightly above what they were the previous year, which sounds kind of reasonable but has the practical effect of choking off spending for important programs and enshrining ugly budget battles in the state Constitution.

Prop 38 (1984)
Called for voting materials to be in English only. Because the last thing we want our citizens to be able to do is to understand who or what they're voting for.

Prop 63 (1986)
Designates English as the official language, and allows citizens to sue state or local governments if they diminish or ignore "the role of English as the common language of the State of California."

Prop 163 (1992)
In part, exempted candy, snack foods and bottled water from state and local sales tax. So that our children can finally have access to the abundant supply of Little Debby snack cakes that our soldiers have fought and died for! Seriously, it's not like there was about to be an obesity epidemic or anything. Come on, 1992, help us out a bit.

Prop 187 (1994)
Prevented illegal immigrants from receiving public services. Glad to see the American Dream is alive and well!

Prop 184 (1996)
Three strikes and you're out! Or, in jail for life. Because nothing demonstrates the seriousness with which we take criminal justice better than applying arbitrary baseball rules to determining punishment.

Props 195 and 196 (1996)
Made 4 more types of murder eligible for the death penalty. I guess I just have a philosophical objection to a state, which has to hold a referendum whenever chiropractor license renewal dates need to be changed, having the power to kill its citizens.

Prop 6 (1998)
Ban on eating horses. Because we the people find horses too cute to be eaten?

Prop 8 (2008)
Prevented same-sex couples from marrying. At last! Marriages are safe, once again!

All of this data comes from the super-invaluable ballotpedia.org! (Ballotpedia doesn't have individual pages for all amendments, so where it doesn't, I'm relying on a document from the Initiative and Referendum Institute.)


Bacon said...

Sweet post dude. I voted today and your suggestions from votelikeme were quite useful.

Rat 9 said...

Prop 13 actually passed by a HUGE majority because tens of thousands of retired home owners were going bankrupt and being put out on the street because they could no longer afford the skyrocketing property taxes. Prop 13 is actually known as one of the most important laws passed in recent history. If you did any research you would realize that this mess has a lot to do with people not being able to afford housing. This mess would be a lot worse if everyone had the ADDED problems of heavy taxes on top of mortgages they cant afford.

Unknown said...

Thanks for commenting, Ratn9ne! I think Prop 13 addressed a genuine problem people had, which is why it was so popular. But I think it's a perfect example of why the ballot process is such a bad idea:

People who voted for it liked the way that it addressed the big problem they were facing. But I doubt many of them really understood the implications of it, and even if they did at the time, it's really metastasized in the last 30 years, to the extent that it's (IMHO) the primary reason we're in this budget crisis.

And that gap between what voters think Propositions do, and what they actually do, isn't a bug: it's built in to the system, it's there by design. Voters are almost always very poorly informed, which is why our Republican form of government trusts their representatives to make these decisions.

This isn't to knock voters for being stupid - even if they wanted to be, it'd be nearly impossible for them to have the access, the volume of knowledge or the ability to interpret it effectively.

You also mentioned that this problem is being caused by folks not being able to afford housing. According to the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, California has an overall tax burden just slightly above the average for the country, 11.5% vs 11% (and a large portion of the difference is due to a high rate for the top income bracket, not because poor and middle-class folks are shouldering undue burdens.) And the US national average tax burden is actually pretty low for a developed country, so California could easily afford to raise taxes (as long as it didn't do it on those already struggling).