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Here's a six-pack of state propositions that vie for money and attention during tough financial times. There's the sweet-on-the-environment one, just in time, critics say, to strengthen the state debt; there's one for the transportation revolution, if by revolution, say opposers, you mean California's unrealized dream of more sprawling pavement; there's the stunning lie of a prop that pretends to limit pols to two and three terms but really gives them more time in power; and we mustn't overlook the election reform measures, both born of the problems of Florida.

At first, this selection of ballot measures, while small compared to past years, seems like a lot of variety to take in. But overall, they are really simple, because most share something major in common: They fall in the not our job as voters category. One outstanding example, a ballot measure about disciplining chiropractors, is so out of the realm of every person's knowledge base that our leaders should be ashamed. Note to state Legislature: Be more legislative.

Prop. 40

California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002

You're wondering, who could say no to clean water, air and parks? Some righties oppose this ballot measure--no big surprise, given that "save the money" is the Republican mating call. Ultimately, deciding on Prop. 40 is a matter of timing and priorities. Preserving the environment is crucial, and though $2.6 billion seems like a lot of money, with interest rates at an all-time low now is a good time to support this proposition authored by our very own termed-out state assemblymember, the indomitable Fred Keeley.

Recommendation: Vote YES


Prop. 41

Voting Modernization Bond Act of 2002

The crux of the argument for this measure lies with Bush's heist of the presidency via bad chads in the Sunshine State. But we need to face facts. We're never getting that election back. Also, it's somewhat off-putting that Sequoia Pacific Voting Equipment Inc. is a $100,000 voice of support behind the voting equipment proposition. Still, California's voting system is old and needs fixing, according to voting-system experts. (One House Judiciary Committee report found that 2 percent of California votes for president in 2000 were undercounted.) While our punch cards are currently legal, said fixing must happen by 2004, the federally imposed deadline for when the state's punch-card voting system decertification looms.

Prop. 41 would let the state raise money by selling $200 million in general obligation bonds for a matching fund to help counties pay for chad-free voting systems. Counties would get $3 for every $1 they put into buying electronic ATM-like touch-screen or optical-scan machines and training voting workers to use them. Replacing systems that use passé punch cards to document the political wishes of more than half the state's voters would cost the state at least $255 million over 10 years. But the cost to replace voting machines probably isn't going to get any cheaper. Voters should take advantage of the state and federal matching funds and get on with the needed update.

Recommendation: Vote YES


Prop. 42

Transportation funding

Prop. 42 supporters make it sound simple. Gas tax comes from transportation, so its revenues should go back into transportation costs, they say. Seems reasonable. But to earmark gas tax for cars is shallow. People don't buy and use gas in a vacuum. We pollute the air and fight wars because of gas. The point is that if gas tax goes to mitigating the effects of gas on society, it'll have to circulate beyond the freeways and train tracks. Currently the money goes into the general fund and can be used for various things, including transportation, education and social services.

The stated purpose of this proposition is to create a dedicated cash source for transportation projects, which, it's true, are always underfunded. The bigger picture is supposed to be a commitment to solving the state's infamous traffic problems, namely gridlock.

But the prop's war plan is flawed in this respect. For one thing, the measure prescribes a rigid and questionable percentage breakdown for determining which traffic fixes get the bucks. The projected revenue, about $1.4 billion a year, would be split up in the following way: 40 percent to the state's capital investment projects, 40 percent to paving streets and fixing city and county roads and 20 percent to public transportation (comparatively not much commitment to the poor person's ride or to cutting down on traffic). What's most questionable about Prop. 42 is that this funding breakdown wouldn't even apply for another six years. That's because the measure would wait for the upcoming Transportation Congestion Relief Program to expire before making its permanent mark. TCRP, enacted by the Legislature in 2000, temporarily earmarks gas taxes for transportation from 2003 to 2008. Prop. 42 would keep those revenues (which are supposed to revert back to the general fund) from ever being freed up to go toward other underfunded public services. It's thinkable that transportation is the best use of gas money. But it's also arguably not the best use. And who knows where the state's cash should go in 2008.

Recommendation: Vote NO


Prop. 43

Right to have vote counted

This proposed amendment to the state constitution is just annoying. Even women have the right to vote in this century. The argument for this proposition is that nowhere in California's constitution does it explicitly spell out every individual's right to have his or her vote counted. Again, like 41, this is a reaction to the Florida voting fiasco of 2000. Unlike 41, it doesn't really do anything useful. What's scary about this proposition is that it could open the floodgates for endless contesting of election results. It's a waste of voter attention. If the election process needs to be reformed, we've got legislators whose job it is to do that.

Recommendation: Vote NO


Prop. 44

Insurance fraud

This proposition is an excellent example of what's terribly wrong with the initiative process. Chiropractors should not be on the ballot. Because of someone's bad idea of an initiative in 1922, all legislative changes to oversight of chiropractors have to go through voters. What do we know about chiropractors?

Well, here's a little lesson. Chiropractors don't automatically lose their licenses to crack backs for committing insurance fraud. Prop. 44 would change that. If this measure passes, insurance-thieving chiropractors would join regular doctors in losing their licenses on the second offense. Punishing doubly fraudulent chiropractors would no longer be up to the whim of the Chiropractic Board of Examiners, which doesn't take the offense seriously enough according to a representative of Prop. 44 author Sen. Jackie Speier. Prop. 44 supporters insist that insurance fraud is a very serious problem. But, when asked, they were unable to provide evidence that license revocation is an effective deterrent for insurance fraud. The State's Office of Consumer Affairs, which oversees physicians, doesn't know how effective the penalty is for doctors. We don't need Prop. 44. What we need is an initiative that returns disciplinary control over sinister chiropractors to the Legislature.

Recommendation: Vote NO


Prop. 45

Legislative Term Limits, Local Voter Petitions

California got its term limits because SoCal Republicans wanted to end powerful San Francisco Dem Willie Brown's three-decade run on the State Assembly. So they passed Prop. 140 by a slim majority in 1990 and ousted Brown in 1994. That was a backhanded move that violated San Francisco voters' right to statewide representation as they see fit. Now, Democrats are fighting back, albeit in a similarly slimy way, with the deceptive Prop. 45. In the voter guide's opening pro argument, Prop. 45 purports to "protect term limits." That's a lie. Actually, Prop. 45 gives members of the Senate and Assembly more time in office. Senators get four more years past their current eight-year limit, and assemblymembers get another four tacked onto their six, if 20 percent of their districts' voters sign a petition to keep them in their seats. Despite the Prop. 45 camp's ass-backwards wording, the initiative's aim to return experience to Sacramento is right on. Term limits are problematic because they encourage stepping-stone politics, and prevent good legislative officials from digging into the molasseslike process of passing legislation. As Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote in 1994, "Legislatures need people with enough experience and guts to provide leadership that looks beyond the political pressures and public resentments of the moment."

Recommendation: Vote YES

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Voter's Guide: Local Races, Local Measures, Voter Reference Guide

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From the February 27-March 6, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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