Our View: A skeptical look at ballot measures

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Each election year when the state ballot arrives loaded with proposed laws awaiting voter approval – as this year’s is with 17 statewide measures – we wonder if we’re getting our money’s worth for the 120 state legislators to whom we’re paying full-time salaries to write and pass laws.

So we approach ballot measures with a degree of skepticism.

We learned in public schools about the intended narrow uses for initiatives, referendums and recalls. But we know today’s ballots proliferate with measures that represent disguised special interests, end runs around the Legislature, counterpoints or confusion points to other measures placed on the ballot, all buried in pages of often-technical language and hyped by frantic advertising.

But tucked in among the red herrings and the overblown rhetoric are some major policy decisions that we as voters need to consider at some length – decisions like legalizing recreational marijuana use and repealing the death penalty. These deserve thoughtful debate.

As usual, the measures include a myriad different tax hikes or other means of imposing more costs of government on residents. We at The Signal believe the state needs to learn to live within its means.

With a state budget of $122.5 billion, a surplus in the bank and – for the first time since 1982 – no line-item vetoes imposed, we don’t see a reason to add new taxes at this time.

No on Prop 51

The school bond initiative Proposition 51 would authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds for new construction and modernization of kindergarten through 12th grade and community college facilities, including charter schools and vocational education facilities. The bond would cost an estimated $17.6 billion to pay off; payments of about $500 million would last 35 years.

This measure would load Santa Clarita Valley voters with a double level of responsibility. They already are responsible for local schools and have approved property tax hikes in the form of local bond measures to support our schools from kindergarten through community college.

It’s commendable if the state wants to meet the needs in communities where residents aren’t as responsible, but it needs to find a more equitable way to do so.

Vote no on Proposition 51.

Yes on Prop 52

This measure would extend a fee imposed on hospitals to collect federal matching funds used to pay for Medi-Cal patients. It also adds language to the existing program as laid out in the state Constitution to ensure those hospital fees are not routed elsewhere by the Legislature.

This proposal is supported by the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and nonprofit health care organizations.

Vote yes on Proposition 52.

Yes on 53

Dubbed the “No Blank Checks Initiative,” Proposition 53 would deliver to voters a say in all state revenue bonds of more than $2 billion issued either singly or in the aggregate.

Currently, voters have a say in funding high-ticket state bond projects only if they are repaid out of the state’s general revenues, but not if they can be paid off with other state revenue streams like taxes, fees, rates, tolls or rents.

Opponents say approving this measure would relinquish local control. But what control is there now if legislators can commit residents to payments without their knowledge or approval?

Vote yes on Prop 53.

Yes on 54

Proposition 54 would prohibit the Legislature from passing any bill unless it has been in print and published on the internet for at least 72 hours – except in the case of public emergency.

It also would require the Legislature to make audiovisual recordings of all its proceedings, except closed-session proceedings, and post them on the internet.

This is one of at least two measures on the Nov. 8 ballot aimed at greater transparency in Sacramento. It’s relatively simple and is a good step in the right direction for an elected body that’s supposed to serve the public interest but too often conducts business outside the public’s eye.

Vote yes on Prop 54.

No on Prop 55

In 2012 California voters agreed to hike income tax on those who make $250,000 or more to get public schools out of a financial hole brought on by the Great Recession. That income tax hike was due to expire in 2018.

Since 2012, the state has revamped the formula for funding public schools, improving their financial situation.

But supporters want to continue this temporary tax – through 2030, at least for now.

Keep the state’s promises about temporary remedies. Vote no on Proposition 55.

No on 56

Proposition 56 offers yet another revenue grab. The measure proposes to increase taxes per pack of cigarettes by $2, from the current 87 cents to $2.87 per pack. State excise tax on other tobacco products would increase by a similar amount.

Besides the general objections we have to tax hikes without conscience, we object to this measure circumventing the state’s minimum school funding guarantee, undermining approved school funding on the same ballot that requests an extension of a temporary tax for schools. Vote no on 56.

No on Prop 57

Proposition 57 on the Nov. 8 ballot is another effort by Gov. Jerry Brown to rid the state of its inconvenient prison population by turning prisoners loose on the public.

If you liked AB 109 – the 2011 law that moved thousands of so-called non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual felons from state confinement to county lock-ups, and resulted in premature release of inmates and corresponding property crime increase – you’re going to love Prop 57.

Proposition 57 proposes to continue that trend, accelerating early release of dangerous prisoners, including rapists.

Both law enforcement and prosecutors in Los Angeles County vehemently oppose Prop 57. We urge you to join them in voting no.

Yes on Prop 58

Proposition 58 is a long and complicated-sounding measure that would accomplish a simple goal: preserving the requirement that public schools ensure students obtain English language proficiency.

However many cultures, languages and traditions enrich our lives in the most diverse state in the Union, our state, and our nation, are drawn together by our dominant language: English.

Allowing schools to shirk the responsibility of ensuring English language proficiency among our citizens-in-training is allowing them to tell some minorities: You don’t have to meet all the standards required to succeed in this society.

This is unacceptable. Vote yes on Proposition 58.

No on Prop 59

Proposition 59 is an advisory vote asking Californians if they want their elected officials to “use all of their constitutional authority, including, but not limited to, proposing and ratifying one or more amendments to the United States Constitution, to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations and unions access to unfettered spending on political issues in this country.

This is an inappropriate use of initiatives. Vote no on Prop 59.

The Signal reviews and recommends votes on the remaining California ballot measures on Thursday.

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