Look at the list of California propositions and you wouldn't know we are in a severe, nationwide, economic crisis or that our state may have to borrow money from the feds to meet payroll.
Instead, it seems like business as usual on the ballot: Twelve propositions before voters on Nov. 4 together ask for more than $17.3 billion in new spending. Add interest to be paid on bonds and project the cost of these proposals over the years to come, and costs climb much higher.
Like kids at a toy store window, much of what we see in the ballot pamphlet looks new, shiny and full of promise. Trouble is, we can barely afford the status quo.
The Union Democrat, with two key exceptions below, is recommending against key spending proposals on the 2008 ballot:
Proposition 1 (high speed rail) High speed trains linking the state's major cities should be a key part of California's transportation strategy. But coming amid a financial crisis, this $9.95 billion bond issue, which will cost $19.2 billion to repay over 30 years, is too much too soon. It would only pay for a portion of the planned lines. Vote no.
Proposition 2 (animal confinement) Although the costs of this measure would be incidental, the state has no business telling ranchers and poultry farmers how much room to give their pigs, calves and chickens. It would be an unwarranted government intrusion into private enterprise. Existing animal cruelty laws and the forces of the marketplace are sufficient. Vote no.
Proposition 3 (children's hospitals) Funding improvements to children's hospital with a $980 million bond issue is another motherhood-and-apple-pie issue whose timing is just not right. We suggest that the authors put this measure back on the ballot when the economy improves and when nearly $350 million in untapped proceeds from a previous bond issue are spent. Vote no.
Proposition 5 (drug crimes, rehabilitation) This measure, which would largely overhaul California laws regarding drugs and rehabilitation, is not only expensive ($460 million a year), but ill-conceived. Yes, it would ease prison crowding, but only because many drug-addicted criminals would be put in questionable diversion programs instead of behind bars. Vote no.
Proposition 6 (gang crime, law enforcement funding) All 58 California county sheriffs support this measure, which would hike annual state law enforcement spending by more than a third to $965 million. It includes tougher laws on methamphetamine and gang crime and, say Tuolumne and Calaveras county sheriffs and district attorneys, would provide reliable state income to important local programs that are too often financially strapped. Yes, Proposition 6 is expensive and has its flaws, but public safety invariably tops voter concerns and this measure takes significant steps to address them. Vote yes.
Proposition 7 (renewable energy) There's a reason why backers of some measures use the initiative process rather than approaching their local lawmakers. In this case, it's because both the Democratic and Republican parties, along with scores more business organizationism, environmental organization and consumer groups, are against it. The measure's renewable power generation quotas are noble, but include much red tape, duplicate some existing laws and discriminate against small solar providers. Vote no.
Proposition 9 (parole, victims' rights) California voters passed the Victims' Bill of Rights 26 years ago and it has worked well. This measure would add its tenets and a fair amount of new ones to the state constitution, meaning any fine-tuning would require either a new ballot measure or a three-quarters' vote of the Legislature. Also, some of 9's provisions give victims' families a higher-profile role in prosecution and parole hearings, which could upset what is now a delicate but even-handed balance. Vote no.
Proposition 10 (alternative fuel vehicles) This $5 billion bond issue appears on the ballot through the efforts of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, whose natural gas firms would directly benefit from the measure's goal of converting cars and trucks from gasoline to alternative fuels. Vote no.
Proposition 12 (veterans bonds) Californians have approved similar bond issues 26 times, helping more than 420,000 veterans buy homes over nearly a century. This $900 million bond issue would allow about 3,600 more vets to buy affordable homes. With credit tight and home loans hard to get, this is no time to abandon our returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Vote yes.