Voter Guide: 2016 California Ballot Initiatives

Commentary

Voter Guide: 2016 California Ballot Initiatives

Reason Foundation’s policy analysts have studied California’s 17 statewide ballot initiatives, some of which will have a significant impact on the state’s future. Click on a proposition number below for a detailed examination of the policy issues and the potential fiscal and societal impacts of the initiatives.

Prop 51: School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities.
Allows the state to issue up to $9 billion in bonds to fund local K-12 and community college improvement, rebuilding and new building projects. Would ultimately cost $17.6 billion to the state, accruing $8.6 billion in interest over the life of the bond and would cost the state about $500 million per year.Enrollment in California’s public schools has declined since 2004. In the past, the legislature and governor have diverted funds earmarked for education to other purposes. Prop 51 dis-incentivizes education reform by throwing more money at the current education bureaucracy.

Prop 52: State Fees on Hospitals. Federal Medi-Cal Matching Funds.
Attracts $3 billion in matching federal funds, but without any legislative oversight of how the funds are spent. Adds more federal funding to a healthcare system that is anything but a free market and levies a specialty tax on hospitals that ultimately must be passed on to others.

Prop 53: Revenue Bonds. Infrastructure Projects. State Legislature and Voter Approval.
Would require voter approval for infrastructure projects that incur more than $2 billion in public debt. Gives voters more say on huge new debt liabilities, like California’s high-speed rail project, where the estimated cost to taxpayers has risen from $10 billion to $60 billion. California already has massive debt of between $340 billion to $778 billion.

Prop 54: Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to Vote
Requires bills be printed and available online for 72 hours before a vote. Decreases the power of special interests by increasing the ability of the public to understand and respond to legislation before a vote.

Prop 55: Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare
Extends a “temporary” tax hike from 2012 for 12 more years. Without this tax hike, education funding will still be at least $20 billion higher than it was in 2012—a massive increase given that the student population shrank during that time. Most of the post-2012 tax increases went to teachers’ pensions, not to classrooms. Continues one of America’s highest state tax rates on successful small businesses and entrepreneurs, driving them elsewhere.

Prop 56: Cigarette Tax to Fund Healthcare, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement
Creates a more than 300 percent tax increase not only on cigarettes, but on e-cigarette products. The Royal College of Physicians concluded vaping is “at least 95 percent safer” than smoking—making Prop 56 a tax increase that could actually harm public health.

Prop 57: Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements
Takes a sensible approach to dealing with overcrowding in California prisons and avoiding court-ordered releases of prisoners, but makes a crucial error in not defining the specific offenses it would address. Creates incentives to rehabilitate while relieving overcrowding via an orderly and controlled process, but success would depend on how the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation implements the law.

Prop 58: Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education
Gives school districts a lot more flexibility to try different types of bilingual programs. Adds accountability and allows parents to make choices, which is lacking under the current system.

Prop 59: Overturn of Citizens United Act Advisory Question
Encourages members of California’s congressional delegation to seek a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that political contributions and spending were protected as “free speech” under the First Amendment. Effectively a quixotic call to regulate free speech.

Prop 60: Condoms in Pornographic Films
Existing regulations and voluntary systems already effectively prevent the transmission of STDs/STIs in adult film production. Cal/OSHA has not cited a single instance of on-set STD/STI transmission in more than 12 years. Could create a lawsuit free-for-all and drive a major industry out of state.

Prop 61: Drug Price Standards
Would prohibit state agencies from paying more than the price negotiated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a prescription drug. Fails to understand how markets and pricing work and will most likely lead to fewer drug options and higher prices for Californians—the very opposite of what proponents want to achieve.

Prop 62: Repeal of Death Penalty
There is no good empirical evidence that the threat of a death penalty deters crime. The cost of death penalty system is not trivial. Life in prison without parole is justice and protects society without the risk of killing an innocent person.

Prop 63: Background Checks for Ammunition Purchases and Large-Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban
Would require individuals to pass a background check and obtain a license from the government to buy ammunition. A clear attempt by those opposed to the right to keep and bear arms to work around the Second Amendment. Ammunition is necessary to make gun ownership a meaningful right. Won’t reduce crime, but would require massive law enforcement resources.

Prop 64: Marijuana Legalization
Marijuana use is a personal decision that does not merit the current war against its use—a war that is an utter failure and costs approximately $8 billion in government expenditures nationwide each year. It is not obvious that Prop 64 would make marijuana any more available than it already is, but it would certainly move the overwhelming majority of marijuana consumption into legal market or personal transactions.

Prop 65: Dedication of Revenue from Disposable Bag Sales to Wildlife Conservation Fund
If voters ban plastic bags in Prop 67 and allow stores to charge for other bags, then Prop 65 says those funds must go to an environment fund. Effectively makes a government-mandated bag charge a tax instead of revenue for the business.

Prop 66: Death Penalty Procedures
Limits repeated appeals by those sentenced to death. See the arguments against the death penalty related to Prop 62. If both propositions pass, the one with more votes becomes law.

Prop 67: Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum
Bans plastic bags, even though they comprise less than 1 percent of litter. Banning them won’t have a significant impact on the environment. Educating the public, providing accessible garbage bins and cleaning up will reduce litter. Moreover, lightweight plastic bags are, in general, better for the environment than the alternatives.

Adrian Moore

Adrian Moore, Ph.D., is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Spence Purnell is a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, where he works on pension reform, Florida policy issues and economic development.