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Proposition T: All ballot propositions must fit in 140 characters


I was reviewing the voter information guide for the upcoming California Special Election. Even though I can't vote it is interesting to look at the process. To my surprise, the full text of the propositions shows the real items to be incredibly complex. Proposition 1C, which updates lottery laws, is over 4 1/2 pages of dense print.

There is simply no way one could expect the electorate to make informed choices on constitutional changes like these. These are closer to the "Click to agree" contracts on a piece of software from the RIAA.

In this case, all the propositions were written by the legislators themselves, in response to a budget crisis. They want a bunch of constitutional changes that are outside their own power, but they have written them like legislative bills. (Well, frankly, those are even longer than a few pages.) The public gets a book with analysis (itself many pages long) and arguments and rebuttals by those on the for and against side. They get bombarded with ads on any proposition that has strong financial backers or opponents, usually propositions that involve lots of money.

So no, while I don't really think you can fit every amendment into the size of a twitter post, there should be a size limit. If complex things need to be done, a shorter, understandable initiative should give the legislature the minimum powers it needs to do it -- perhaps even temporarily. Watchdogs will examine just how much power this really is and warn about it, one hopes.

This isn't the only type of legislator trick. The most common one, in fact, is the "bond measure." Frequently on the ballot we will see authorization for the state to borrow money (issues bonds) for some sort of motherhood issue. For example, they will ask for billions to "fix levees in flood zones" or "fund libraries."

Of course, they were going to fix the levees anyway. They were going to fund education anyway. There is no way they couldn't. By issuing the bond, they don't have to find room in the general fund for those things, allowing them to spend general fund money on something the public would never vote for. So instead of asking the public to fund tropical retreats for legislators, they ask the public to fund libraries, leaving the money that would have funded libraries to pay for the tropical retreat.

How do we stop this, short of removing public participation? I think a more reasonable limit (like 2,000 characters -- about 400 words) might help a bit. And while bond measures may be sometimes needed, it might make sense to require that for the legislators to put a bond measure on the ballot, it must be something which they themselves voted against doing from the general fund. Then the minority who voted for it could ask to put it on the ballot. What this would mean is that before they could put library funding as a bond measure, they would have to have gone on record voting against library funding. I don't know if this would be enough, though and perhaps a stronger method is needed. Of course, the bonds mean taxes must go up in the future to pay them back. (Or, they hope, tax revenues go up due to a growing economy, so tax rates don't have to rise, as they know they will never get approval for that.)

What's a way to make this work better and stop these abuses?


A lot of what makes California's budget a mess is that the process has chosen to not develop the offshore oil. California's energy policy in general leaves many billions of dollars of tax revenue out, which could help the state and nation. The geological assessment is that oil is about equal to what Alaska has.

I wrote this up here

California could get $5-10 billion per year of tax revenue from the development of 10 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Also, the development of nuclear energy could offset electricity purchases from out of state sources which can often be at spot prices. Each nuclear reactor could offset about $1 billion of electricity and natural gas purchases each year. California's budget gap is projected to be $40 billion over two years. The initial issuance of oil leases would provide immediate revenue to the state of one billion/year or more. The construction to build the oil rigs and nuclear plants would provide construction jobs, taxes and fees which would provide immediate benefits as the projects are being built and before oil is pumped or electricity is generated. Exploration has not been extensive so there is probably more there.

The big budget spending About $104 billion/year
40% education
28% health and human services
9% business transportation and housing
7% Jails
4.7% legislative, judicial and executive
4.3% general government
4.2% resources
1.1% EPA
So if you were going to tighten up $20 billion that means pretty much 20% across everything. Then there would be the question of why is $32 billion not enough for education?
Why is $23 billion not enough for health and human services ?

But if you wanted to cut 7% now and do the proposition borrowing from future year shell game and get 3% for land leases for oil and then in a few years have 10billion or 10% more to cover borrowing then develop oil and nuclear reactors.

So if Californians want to run less of deficit and have more oil and natural gas and electricity (The Tennessee Brown's Ferry nuclear plant saved 800 million for the TVA by helping avoid purchases of power on the spot market. California has been screwed many billions on high spot market electricity prices in the past)

38% personal tax
30% sales tax
13% other
8% corp tax
4.8% car fees
2.5% highway user
1.5% tobacco and liquor
1.4% insurance
0.8% oil severance

The propositions are mainly a shell game to borrow money from future revenue to meet the current short fall. Getting 5 years advance on lotto money. Save some billions on education now and then pay more later. Take about a bigger rainy day fund is just to try and make all the borrowing from future money more acceptable.

the budgets are not hard to understand you just have to look at the big picture and see where 1-10 billion ideas can actually effect the big picture.

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