Updated with results: The Nov. 4 ballot measures

Written by

By seeingimonkey via Flickr

By seeingimonkey via Flickr

Seems like it wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about plans for summer vacation and weekends at the beach.  But now Columbus Day has come and gone; Halloween is a week away; and Election Day is just around the corner.  That means it’s time to take a closer look at some of the issues California voters will be weighing in on next month. Over the next few days we’re going to tackle each of the statewide measures on the ballot.

Updated November 5, 2014

State Ballot Measures from the California Sec. of State.
State Ballot Measures from the California Sec. of State.

Proposition 1 PASSED 

If voters approve Proposition 1, California would sell $7.5 billion dollars in bonds, to help raise money for different types of projects aimed at increasing the state’s water supply. More than a third of that money–$2.7 billion dollars—would go for water storage. The rest would be divvied up between things like increasing water recycling; reclaiming more storm water; and cleaning up groundwater in places like the San Fernando Valley and the Central Valley.

Stan Lester, a fourth generation farmer in Solano County, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco, says that sounds good. “We know weather is unpredictable in California, and especially lately.  And so we need to set aside water and store water in these reservoirs in time of need,” he says.

Prop 1 is supported by both the California Democratic and Republican parties; the state Chamber of Commerce; the California Farm Bureau Federation; and by some environmental groups—like The Nature Conservancy and the state chapter of the Audubon Society.

But other environmental organizations—including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Ballona Institute–oppose Prop 1.  They’re concerned that in addition to helping build reservoirs, some of the money from the measure could go to two proposed dams—one north of Sacramento; the other east of Fresno.

“The proposed dam projects that are actually mentioned, those dams will be operated in a way to have negative impacts on the Delta,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, with the environmental group Restore the Delta—working to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Michael Hanemann, an environmental economist at UC Berkeley says Proposition 1 tries to balance water supply issues with environmental goals. “The politically most feasible solution is something that spreads the gains and also spreads the pain.”

Hanemann says it’s important for the state to create new water storage, because he says one of the sources of water that California has traditionally tapped into is vanishing—due to global warming. “Right now in California, about a third of the major storage consists of snowpack in the Sierras.  And the predictions are that this will decline greatly as the century progresses. With a high level of warming, we could lose 90 percent of the snowpack by the end of the century.”

Some critics of Prop 1 say it wouldn’t do anything to address the state’s current drought. And some supporters of the measure say that’s right–there’s nothing on this scale that could be done to have an immediate effect. They say water infrastructure and supply are long-term issues.  But they say Prop 1 could help California address these issues and help provide the state with water down the road.

Prop. 2 PASSED

It was just four years ago that California was facing a $26 billion budget deficit. The state was forced to pay some bills with IOUs and ordered state workers to take unpaid days off.

The goal of Proposition 2 is to try to avoid that kind of situation in the future and help smooth out California’s financial ups and downs by putting money away in a rainy day fund.

California already has a rainy day fund. Back in 2004, voters approved Proposition 58. It created a reserve that the state was supposed to sock cash away in every year. But the state hasn’t deposited any money in it since 2008.

So now along comes Proposition 2, which would make it easier for California to save by requiring the state to stash away less money than laid out under Prop 58. But it would also make it harder to cancel the state’s annual contribution–or to tap into the rainy day fund. And it would require the state to stash away a certain percentage of money from capital gains taxes when there’s a lot of that pouring in.

How would the money be used?

For at least the first 15 years, half of it would go towards things like paying down California’s debt; and helping finance the state’s two big public pension funds—CalPERS and CalSTRS.

The rest of the money would go into the rainy day fund–and into a separate account for public schools, to help even out their finances.

Proposition 2 does allow the state to reduce the payments or suspend them altogether during a financial crunch—and to use the money during a budget emergency to pay for essential services, like public safety and education.

Prop 2 supporters say it would help California build a nest egg—and improve its financial health by paying down debt.  Kind of like when you pay down your credit cards.

Former Assembly Speaker John Perez is the author of Prop 2. He says this sort of fiscal discipline is “good for predictability; it’s good for decreasing the cost of financing the state; and it’s good for the kinds of long-term investments that the people of California expect us to make.”

Proposition 2 has a wide range of supporters—including the state Democratic and Republican parties; the California Chamber of Commerce; the president of the state Board of Education; and the Wall Street credit rating agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poors.

But it’s also had some critics, who’ve said the state is coming out of a tough stretch and needs to spend the money it has to restore public services that were hit with budget cuts during the economic downturn.

One of the main opponents of Prop 2 is a parent volunteer group called “Educate Our State.”  They don’t mind the rainy day fund. They’re concerned about something else buried in the fine print in this year’s state budget. It says if Prop. 2 is approved, school districts’ would have to limit their local cash reserves in years when the state sets aside money for education under Prop. 2 unless a school district gets an exemption.

Jennifer Bestor with “Educate Our State” says this is a problem. “It simply appeared out of nowhere at the 59th minute of the 11th hour.  And we couldn’t believe that something so blatantly wrong—such a power grab—would come out of Sacramento at a time that they were touting local control.”

Prop. 45 

Californians have been getting squeezed by health insurance rate increases. The non-partisan California Healthcare Foundation says premiums have soared more than 185 percent since 2002 – more than five times the rate of inflation.

Simply put, Prop. 45 would give California’s elected insurance commissioner the power to deny requests for health insurance rate increases that he or she decides are too pricey – much like the power the commissioner now has with auto and property insurance rates.

Consumer groups say the only way to put a stop to skyrocketing premiums is to give the state insurance commissioner the authority to reject rate hikes that are excessive. Proposition 45 is also supported by organized labor and attorney groups.

Dylan Roby, with UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health says that more than 30 other states have similar laws, and that consumers have usually paid less because of them. “In the majority of cases, it’s true that those insurance commissioners that do have the power over rate regulation are able to keep premium increases lower than in states that don’t have that power.”

Under current law, two state agencies – The Department of Insurance and the Department of Managed Care – regulate the health insurance industry. But those agencies can only review rate hikes, they can’t reject them.

Prop. 45 would give the insurance commissioner that veto power. It would only apply to Californians who buy their own health insurance or get it through a small employer – about six million people in all. But even with that limited market, there’s potentially a lot of money at stake.

Led by the state’s biggest health insurers, opponents have poured more than $55 million into the campaign to defeat Prop. 45. That’s about 20 times more than the “Yes” campaign has raised. That funding disparity – along with the source of the money – has become campaign fodder for the “Yes” side.

A pro-45 ad spins it this way: “Health insurance companies have unleashed armies of money to mislead you about Proposition 45. They’re afraid of 45 because it ends runaway train rate hikes.”

Insurance companies aren’t the only critics, though. Hospitals, doctors and nurse’s groups say Prop. 45 would hand too much power to a single politician. And they say it would create an unnecessary new layer of state bureaucracy.

Critics of 45 say Covered California is already doing a good job on its own keeping rates down. Covered California has not taken an official position on Prop. 45. But Covered California Director Peter Lee says the agency has been a tough negotiator with insurance companies.

Voters have been hit with an onslaught TV and radio ads questioning the necessity of Prop. 45 in an era of Obamacare. Raphael Sonenshein, head of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA,  says that seems to be having an effect. “What complicates this is we have Obamacare and Covered California in California. They’re not crazy, necessarily, about having another player in the rate approval. And then you have the big insurance companies coming in with very large blocs of funds and seem to be making a dent in what seemed like strong support at the start.”

Prop 46

Proposition 46 measure pits two well-heeled constituencies against each other: trial lawyers and the medical establishment. And it’s been a bitter fight, with insurance companies pouring tens of millions of dollars into the campaigns.

Prop. 46 is actually three ballot measures in one. Besides raising the potential payout on medical malpractice cases from $250 thousand to more than $1 million dollars, it would require doctors to get drug tested. It would also compel doctors prescribing narcotics and other addictive drugs to check a statewide patient database.

But make no mistake: Proposition 46 is primarily about raising the pain and suffering cap for medical malpractice in California. To get a sense of the big money at stake, consider this: The “No” side has built a $57 million war chest – with three quarters of that coming from six large insurance companies. The “Yes” campaign has raised at least $9 million.

The measure was written by Bob Pack, a Bay Area software executive who has become a crusader for tougher DUI and prescription laws.

A decade ago, Pack’s two children – ages 10 and 7 – were killed by a driver who was high on narcotics that had been prescribed by multiple doctors. The driver was convicted of second-degree murder, but Pack says the doctors who prescribed the drugs were barely punished.

The law that caps pain and suffering damages in California medical malpractice cases dates back to 1975. Prop. 46 supporters say change is past due – both to compensate victims fairly and to hold negligent doctors accountable.

Prop. 46 opponents. call the measure a money grab by trail lawyers, pure and simple. In fact, the state Legislative Analysts say Prop. 46 will come at cost to taxpayers because of bigger malpractice payouts at public hospitals. How much is not known.

Prop. 47 PASSED

Proposition 47 is the only measure on the state ballot this year that deals with law-and-order issues – and it asks voters to decide a major question: Should California reduce thousands of felony crimes to misdemeanors to help reduce jail overcrowding and reverse laws that favor locking up minor criminals over rehabilitation?

California voters will decide if crimes like drug possession, forgery, petty theft and writing bad checks should drop from possible felonies to strictly misdemeanors. Punishment for those crimes would decrease from a maximum of three years in prison to one year at the most. Prop. 47 would also allow prisoners serving time for those offenses to petition the courts to have their sentences reduced.

The non-partisan State Legislative Analyst says that about 40 thousand or more felony convictions a year would be reduced to misdemeanors under Prop. 47. That’s about one in five felony convictions in California. Meanwhile, about seven thousand inmates would be eligible to petition for lighter sentences.

Along with Proposition 36 – which was approved by voters two years ago and modified the state’s three strikes law – Prop. 47 would represent a major rollback of tough sentencing laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s.

“This all part of what is going on in California and nationwide, this is a fairly radical transformation in people’s attitudes about imprisonment. You know, there used to be a time in California when you wanted to lock up everybody for everything, and now with prison realignment and other things, we are trying to reduce the number if people going into prison, says Raphael Sonenshein of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A.

No one who has been convicted of a violent crime or a sex offense would be eligible to take advantage of the changes in Prop. 47. Backers say it would safely reduce prison overcrowding and chip away at California’s roughly $9 billion prison budget.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who supports the measure, says “One of the things that Proposition 47 does is it very clearly distinguishes between people that commit serious and violent crimes and people that do not.”

But Gascon is an exception. Prosecutors, sheriffs and police chiefs around the state overwhelmingly oppose Prop. 47. They argue that it would put dangerous criminals back on the street and deny justice to crime victims. Michael Ramos, the DA of San Bernardino County, says  “I truly believe we need to do a better job with rehabilitation. But the folks that are sitting in prison now, they’ve been given numerous opportunities. Basically you’re going to give them a get out of jail free card, because they will come out and there’s not going to be any punishment or ramifications for continued criminal conduct.”

Prop. 47 is called the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.” That’s a bit of poetic license on the part of its authors, clearly meant to help garner public support. But there is a kernel of truth: Most of the savings from Prop. 47 would go to a state commission, which would hand out grants for jail diversion, mental health and substance abuse programs. But a quarter of the savings would go to state schools and 10 percent to a victim’s compensation fund.

How much savings would there be? That’s not clear. The Legislative Analyst says the amount could eventually reach $300 million dollars a year. But there will be increased court costs as inmates appeal for shorter sentences, and that could eat up much of the savings from reduced incarceration.

Lenore Anderson is the leading the “Yes” campaign and heads a think tank called Californians for Safety and Justice. She says the tide is turning for tough sentencing laws. “When we talk to people of all walks of life, what we hear more than anything is that California spends too much money on prisons and they haven’t worked to stop the cycle of crime. Proposition47 will help us get on a path to fix that,” she says.

Opponents are hoping voters will heed the professionals – the cops and prosecutors who are on the front lines of the fight against crime. “To decriminalize or to change the labels of crime in California is not going to change how our victims are affected, says Ron Lawrence, he police chief of Rocklin, in Placer County who saysProp. 47 will increase crime and make criminals less accountable.

Up to now, the “Yes” side appears to having its way. A series of polls has shown Prop. 47 leading by a nearly 2-1 margin.

Prop. 48

Proposition 48 is of the measures that hasn’t gotten a lot of play in some parts of Southern California until recently.  But activists on both sides say there are important issues at stake.

Back in 2000, voters in California approved Proposition 1A. It gave Native American tribes in the state the go-ahead to build Vegas-style casinos on Indian land.  All arrangements have to be signed off on by the state legislature, the governor, and Uncle Sam.

Those casinos have grown into big business. There are now about 60 of them in California, raking in around $7 billion a year.

Along comes the North Fork Rancheria tribe. It has no official reservation, although it does have its headquarters in a rural area near Yosemite. So—following federal rules for tribes without a reservation—the North Fork bought property for a casino about 35 miles away along Highway 99 in the Central Valley, land that the tribe says it has a historical connection to. And the state and the feds approved the North Fork’s plans to build a casino there.

Longtime ballot measure expert and former president for the Center for Governmental Studies, Bob Stern says backers of the casino say it could give the area an economic shot in the arm. “The argument for it is that it creates four thousand jobs in the Central Valley, which really needs jobs and a boost to its economy. It will help the tribe to become more self-sufficient.”

Plus, the casino’s supporters say building along a highway instead of near Yosemite would avoid development on environmentally-sensitive land.

But critics of the project—including other tribes with casinos nearby–have joined forces to stop it. They put Proposition 48 on the ballot to try to overturn the deal the North Fork reached with the state. According to Bob Stern, critics say: “it’s really not appropriate for a tribe to purchase land–that what this does is set a precedent allowing tribes to buy land through California and build casinos on that land.”

Some opponents go even further and accuse the North Fork of “reservation shopping.” They warn that if the tribe is allowed to move ahead with the project, it could lead to a flood of casinos in urban areas. The gambling watchdog group called Stand up for California opposes the North Fork casino and Prop 48.

Cheryl Schmidt with Stand up for California  says the current agreement that allows tribal gaming in California restricts most of it to reservations says “it was intended that these would be very limited exceptions for very exceptional situations. And simply because your lands if off in a rural location is not an exceptional enough reason to go off reservation.” “I say good luck to any tribe that wants to go through this process.”

Charlie Banks-Altekruse is with the Yes on 48 campaign. He says the North Fork have been hammering out this agreement with the state and the feds for ten years.  He doubts whether other tribes could work out something similar “It’s extremely difficult,” he says. “Governor Brown cited the exceptional circumstances of our tribe and said he expected few tribes to qualify for the process.”

The issue is cutting across party and tribal lines. Supporters of the North Fork casino and of Prop 48 include Governor Jerry Brown, the California Democratic Party, some environmental groups, and a Las Vegas company that would run the North Fork casino.

Opponents include Senator Dianne Feinstein; other tribes, like the Pechanga and the Table Mountain Rancheria; and a New York hedge fund, which has invested in another casino nearby.

When it comes to fundraising, opponents of Prop 48 have a big edge. They’ve raised more than $22 million dollars, compared to less than $450 grand for the measure’s supporters.  That’s meant a stream of ads against Prop 48 on the airwaves over the last few weeks, but very few if any in favor of it.