ENDORSEMENTS: State ballot measures

PROPOSITION 13

LIMITS ON PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENT FOR SEISMIC RETROFITS

YES

The primary sponsor of Prop. 13 is Republican Sen. Roy Ashburn, who dominated the news for several days after he was arrested for drunk driving on his way home from a Sacramento gay bar. Needless to say, Ashburn’s dramatic coming out has whipped up far more attention than his noncontroversial ballot initiative.

We’re generally opposed to anything that gives tax cuts or tax deferrals to property owners; thanks to a 1978 measure also called Prop. 13, much of the commercial and residential property in California is badly under assessed. And Prop. 13, 2010 style, is indeed a tax break. But it’s probably justified.

Buildings in this state are typically reassessed for property taxes after they’ve been modified with new construction, except in cases where the modifications are made to comply with earthquake-safety standards. While most buildings that undergo seismic retrofitting are exempt from reassessment until the property is transferred to a new owner, the exemption for unreinforced masonry buildings is limited to 15 years. Prop 13 would remove that 15-year cap.

The fiscal impact on cities is likely to be pretty minor, and the measure might encourage both commercial and residential landlords to bring their buildings up to standard. Vote yes.

 

PROPOSITION 14

OPEN PRIMARIES

NO

At the height of a royal mess last year when the state budget was long overdue and the two-thirds majority needed to pass it was still out of reach by one vote, Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado struck a deal with Democrats. He said he’d support the budget — if the majority party would meet a few of his demands. One thing he insisted on was Prop. 14 — a ballot measure that would effectively remove political parties from the primary elections process, allowing all voters to cast ballots for any candidate regardless of party affiliation.

Under Maldonado’s plan, all candidates would run on a single primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters would face off in the general election. Heavily funded by the California Chamber of Commerce and marketed by the same spin doctors and corporate lawyers who are rolling in Yes on 16 campaign money, Prop. 14’s backers say it will result in more centrist elected officials.

There are plenty of pitfalls here, the most worrisome being that it would drive up the cost of elections and give more moneyed (and corporate-allied) candidates a sharper competitive edge while elbowing out progressives. It would allow Republicans to play a role in what would normally be Democratic primaries (and vice versa.) The measure would also make it nearly impossible for smaller parties — the Green Party, for example — to offer candidates in the November elections.

Bad idea, bad process, Vote no.

 

PROPOSITION 15

FAIR ELECTIONS ACT

YES

California desperately needs electoral reform. Corporate campaign spending and lobbyists have poisoned the decision-making process and muzzled the voice of the people. Something radical needs to be done — and while this measure is only a small, measured step in the right direction, it’s an important and promising experiment.

Prop. 15 would create a pilot public financing program for the 2014 and 2018 races for California Secretary of State — and the program would be funded by a tax on lobbyists. Right now lobbyists pay only $12.50 per year to register with the state. This measure would increase that fee to $350 annually and use the money to create a fund of about $6 million that candidates for the crucial office overseeing elections in the state could tap after demonstrating their popular support by gathering a number of small contributions. All candidates who qualify would be given the same amount of money and left to compete on the issues. Ideally this public financing program would prove successful and eventually be expanded to other offices. Public financing of election campaigns, which is currently working well in Arizona and Maine, is certainly worth a try in California. Vote yes.

 

PROPOSITION 16

MONOPOLY PROTECTION FOR PG&E

NO! NO! NO!

The deceptively titled “Taxpayer’s Right to Vote Act” was dreamed up and funded entirely by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the monopolistic utility that is worried it could face actual competition here in San Francisco (and elsewhere) from municipal electricity programs that would offer customers a greener energy mix and more accountability than PG&E executives will ever demonstrate.

Rather than accept some healthy competition, this sleazy corporation has opted to spend some $35 million to exterminate all possibilities of municipal electricity programs cropping up anywhere in the state in a bid to preserve its octopus-like grip on the energy market in Northern California. Prop. 16 would require a two-thirds majority vote at the ballot before any community choice aggregation (CCA) program — or any attempt at creating or expanding a public-power system — could move forward. That’s an extreme hurdle — -and PG&E knows it.

In effect, PG&E is trying to buy public policy here, trying to pass a law that will protect its own monopoly interests.

In San Francisco, the CCA being proposed would offer customers 51 percent renewable power by 2017, which means it would blow PG&E out of the water in the green arena and mark S.F. as taking greater strides toward combating climate change than any other major U.S. city. This example could set a precedent for others, which, in turn, could create favorable market conditions for green energy startups that want to harness wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, tidal, and energy efficiency alternatives.

The very existence of Prop. 16 is already threatening the San Francisco CCA; the city’s Public Utilities Commission is trying to delay a final contract until after the June 8 vote on the measure (see editorial, page 5)

Vote no on Prop 16. Not just because it’s an example of a big business single-handedly trying to alter the state constitution for its own economic benefit by pouring millions of dollars into a deceptive advertising campaign. Not just because a two-thirds majority vote requirement is anti-democratic. Not just because there were reports that the signature gatherers who got people to sign on in support of placing Prop. 16 on the ballot were telling people that its purpose was to limit PG&E expansion or encourage solar power. Not just because Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and a half dozen members of the Legislature sent a letter rebuking PG&E CEO Peter Darbee for disrespecting the democratic process by going straight to the ballot to undermine legislation it initially supported that enabled the creation of CCA programs. Not just because PG&E is using $35 million of ratepayer dollars (that’s the check you wrote them for your electricity bill!) to put out slick TV ads for this campaign when it should have been repairing the pipelines under those manholes that keep exploding and messing up your morning commute. Not even just because with CCA, you already have the right to vote whether or not you want to be part of it, a choice PG&E will never give you. And not just because PG&E keeps trying to raise rates, which is much more difficult for municipal energy agencies to do.

If for no other reason, vote no because Prop. 16 flies in the face of everything environmentalists stand for. It’s a measure that will thwart progress on fighting climate change, brought to you by the company that practically invented green-washing. PG&E is a huge nuclear power player; it purchases coal from mountaintop-removal coal mines in West Virginia that are completely devastating biodiverse landscapes in Southern Appalachia and screwing over poor people by tainting their drinking water; and it’s in the process of building fossil fuel-fired power plants in poor communities of color in California. The CCA programs at least represent a glimmer of hope for an alternative model; Prop. 16 kills off that possibility with one fell swoop motivated by pure greed. For the love of justice, democracy, and the planet, vote no on Prop 16.

 

PROPOSITION 17

CAR INSURANCE SCHEME

NO, NO, NO!

Mercury Insurance sponsored this measure and is campaigning for it with tens of millions of dollars, betting it can fool voters and make hundreds of millions of dollars in profits by doing so. And if the company is right, insurance rates will skyrocket for new drivers and those who haven’t had continuous insurance coverage, which experts say will increase the number of uninsured drivers on the roadways and end up increasing insurance rates for everyone.

Mercury and its founder George Joseph have been truly malevolent players in California, exploiting their customers to make billions of dollars in profits, attacking California’s landmark insurance reform measure Prop. 103 with lawsuits and corrupting campaign contributions over more than 20 years, and flouting insurance regulators in such brazen fashion that even Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a conservative Republican, recently chastised the company for its “lengthy history of serious misconduct” (see “Buying power,” March 17).

Now, however, the company is hoping its promise to cut the insurance premiums of drivers who have maintained continuous coverage by “as much as $250 per year” will buy their votes and that they’ll overlook the myriad negative impacts of increasing everyone else’s premiums by $1,000 per year or more, based on Mercury’s own estimates.

Think about that. If you’re a driver who missed an insurance payment by even one day, or a soldier returning from boot camp, or someone with a low-income getting insurance for the first time or after ditching your car for a while, what are you going to do when you discover already-expensive car insurance comes with a $1,000 annual surcharge?

Many Californians, those who share our roads, will choose to drive without insurance. Then they’ll be more likely to leave the scene of accidents or declare bankruptcy rather than paying out-of-pocket for their accidents, both of which increase the cost of insurance for everyone else.

That’s how insurance works. If someone pays less, someone else pays more; and the only entity guaranteed to really make money over the long term is the insurance company. Don’t fall for this scam. Vote no on 17.