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Term limits and hanging chads dominate this fall's state initiatives

Who does not love the California voter guide, that schizophrenic mélange of cryptic wording and flagrant attempts to catch your attention by putting every other word in italicized capital letters? With only six measures, the March 2002 ballot is by far the shortest in recent years.

Unlike the next fall's general election, when most initiatives will have made it onto the ballot thanks to pricey signature-gathering campaigns, five out of six measures this time around got there via legislative fiat.

With the most controversial measure appearing last on the ballot, it seems only fitting to start from that end.

Proposition 45

There are two kinds of people in California politics: those who like term limits, and those who do not. Roughly speaking, you could also call these people Republicans and Democrats. California's term limit law was voted in by ballot measure in 1990 with the stated purpose of clearing out the legislative deadwood and reducing lobbyists' influence by getting rid of their oldest pals. California law now has some of the strictest term limits in the nation: six years for Assembly members and eight years for state senators. Proposition 45 would allow legislators to run for an extra term if twenty percent of the registered voters in their district sign a petition.

Proposition 45's supporters argue that term limits did not, as promised, produce "citizen legislators" who would return to their home districts once they had served in the state -- if anything, termed-out legislators now spend a lot of their time battling for higher-ranking positions.

Proposition 45's critics call it nothing more than a sneaky way to get around state law. They say the initiative would do no more than cover up legislators' naked ambition -- none of them are likely to run for an extra term solely because their constituents are twisting their arms. They also say that Proposition 45 would open up a campaign-finance loophole, allowing unlimited funding to be raised for the signature-gathering process to put a legislator's name back on the ballot. Proposition 45's supporters deny any such objective, and say that if a loophole exists, it will be promptly closed.

Proposition 43

One of two measures on the ballot that are obviously the spawn of post-Floridian indignation, Proposition 43 goes like this: you have a right to have your vote counted. If vote-counting problems arise during an election, Proposition 43 would allow county election officials to request a deadline extension to finish tabulating the ballots. Supporters say this would prevent a repeat of the 2000 presidential election debacle, when hand recounts were stopped in order to accommodate Florida's vote certifying deadlines. The Voter Information Alliance points out that Proposition 43 could lead to costly post-election litigation.

Proposition 41

Proposition 41 would allow the state to sell $200 million in bonds to buy new voting machines, thereby replacing the old punch-card system. Counties would match about one dollar for every three provided by the state. Counties that already have started upgrading machines, such as Alameda, are eligible for reimbursement. Anti-tax activists oppose Proposition 41, maintaining that the government should pay new voting machines with money already in the General Fund.

Proposition 42

Proposition 42 would mandate that starting in July, 2003, all gasoline sales taxes would be earmarked for transportation improvements instead of going into the General Fund. An estimated $1.2 to $1.5 billion annually, those monies would be spent on road repair, reducing gridlock, and funding public transit. Supporters like to point out that the federal Department of Transportation ranks California's roads the worst in the nation, and that the overall delay for commuters on Bay Area roads grew thirty-eight percent between 1999 and 2000. Critics argue that Proposition 43 is "ballot box budgeting" that will lock in the state's spending priorities years ahead of time, possibly putting funding for health and education at risk.

Proposition 44

Under Proposition 44, chiropractors twice found guilty of insurance fraud -- or once found guilty of multiple frauds -- would have their license suspended for ten years. Why do you have to vote on this? The state's Chiropractic Act requires that any amendments be approved by the voters.

Proposition 40

Proposition 40 is a $2.6 billion bond act that would pay for the conservation of natural resources and park acquisition and improvement. Supporters say Proposition 40 will not only protect the state's air and water, but give kids safe places to play. Although voters approved a $4 billion parks bond in 2000, it was the first such measure in twelve years, and supporters say the state's swelling population has increased air and water pollution as well as the need for new park facilities. Proposition 40's anti-tax critics argue that the measure's authors just "substituted the word 'pork' for 'park.' "

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