What’s On Your Ballot?

Michael Cain

Michael is a systems analyst, with a taste for obscure applied math. He's interested in energy supplies, the urban/rural divide, regional political differences in the US, and map-like things. Bicycling, and fencing (with swords, that is) act as stress relief.

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89 Responses

  1. Kolohe says:

    Looks like Virginia has two constitutional amendment proposals:

    Should Article 1 of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to prohibit any agreement or combination between an employer and a labor union or labor organization whereby (i) nonmembers of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, (ii) membership to the union or organization is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or (iii) the union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any such enterprise?

    This is one of those where the repeated negatives make it difficult to recognize what one is actually voting for. So without looking it up, I know that Virginia is traditionally a ‘right to work’ state. But now we have a Democratic governor, who is probably more friendly to labor unions. (but the state legislature is still in Republican hands, so I don’t know when and if the ‘right to work’ statutes would have changed.

    If I’m reading it right, though, it does seem to elevate the ‘right to work’ status to the constitutional level, presumably taking it out of the legislative hands. Just for that, I’m against it, regardless of my views on the actual underlying issue.

    Whether or not this passes probably depends on how much Clinton generates turnout. Her comfortable lead over the last month or so is likely not good news for opponents of this amendment.

    Should Constitution of Virginia be amended to allow the General Assembly to provide an option to the localities to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of any law- enforcement officer, firefighter, search and rescue personnel, or emergency medical services personnel who was killed in the line of duty, where the surviving spouse occupies the real property as his or her principal place of residence and has not remarried?

    I think the tax code should be simpler with fewer exceptions and loopholes. But this proposal is a minor thing, and I believe, already in effect for spouses of persons who have died in military service. I’ll be voting against it, it will probably pass, and I won’t really care.Report

  2. Doctor Jay says:

    I think it’s plausible that raising minimum wage would result in more money flowing into rural areas, though I don’t think we know yet for a fact that it would.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      No, what we know is that a lot of businesses that are currently operated close to the bone will find an increase in wages an imposition. In some cases it’ll be a substantial imposition, and in a few cases it may cause a reduction in labor.

      The question is whether or not it is good policy: Will this create more economic activity overall? Will that, in turn, catalyze a cycle of inflation, and if so will it be an amount of inflation we can live with or otherwise counteract?Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Burt Likko says:

        But…they’re business owners! They must have TONS of money, because…because owners! Business! MONEY!Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        What is the current minimum wage? This feels like less of a concern — not a non-concern, but less of a concern — given that it isn’t happening for (or is being phased in over) four years.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:


          The issue Burt’s focusing on relates to the differential effect a state-wide minimum wage would have poorer parts of the state. As Michael noted, wages on the Front Range will likely attain the new minimum without any mandate to do so, but in poorer, usually rural, areas a raised minimum will quite likely negatively effect overall economic growth due to the relative lack of economic activity, flexibility and cost-of-living issues. Those businesses are already operating very close to the bone. (Which is more or less Burt’s point).

          Establishing wage minimums isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but a too-high state-wide minimum would likely lead to overall bad outcomes in the areas most in need of maintaining the limited employment opportunities available.Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

            Precisely. Which is also why I’m skeptical about indexing: the cost of living almost certainly rises faster in urban areas than rural ones. In Colorado, comparing the mountainous west, the industrialized and urbanized regions of the Front Range, and the agricultural eastern prairies looks at three very different regions that will experience the economy very differently. There’s a decent case to be made based on this that minimum wages are best controlled at the county rather than the state level.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

          What is the current minimum wage?

          In Colorado, for 2016, $8.31 per hour, $7.06 per hour for unemancipated minors, $5.29 for tipped employees. Doesn’t apply to independent contractors (eg, when I hire referees for a fencing tournament, although we pay more than minimum wage for referees with a rating higher than “probationary”).Report

    • KenB in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Leaving aside the general arguments about MW policy, why would you anticipate it increasing money flow into rural areas? Offhand I’d assume most rural MW-level jobs are locally owned or franchised.Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    Would you support a prop that left minimum wages where they are currently but indexed them to inflation?Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

      That’s what Colorado has currently. The inflation adjustment is based on the all-items urban area (CPI-U) inflation rate for the Denver-Boulder-Greeley combined statistical area. Given the Front Range housing/rental price increases for the last few years, that’s probably higher than rural inflation — but the federal Dept of Labor doesn’t measure inflation in rural areas. If I had any real answers for rural economic problems…Report

      • I wonder about the indexing: that may tempt a legislature to proclaim that minimum wage is a problem solved once and for all. After all, we indexed it in 1978, and it was $2.65 an hour then, and $2.65 in 1977 is $9.79 today, and that’s pretty good, right?Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


          Assuming a good starting rate and an appropriate measure for inflation, it is possible that such an approach DOES solve minimum wage barring some major shifts in the economy.

          Those are two big assumptions though.Report

  4. PD Shaw says:

    What was interesting on the Illinois ballot was a requirement that legislative districts be drawn by an independent commission, but unfortunately it was struck down by the state supreme court. There have been 9 referendum measures on the ballot since 1998 in Illinois, and it looks like Colorado has 7 this year alone. Illinois is one of the most restrictive states in allowing referendum. And we appear to be the only state that has been unable to pass a budget because of partisan gridlock.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to PD Shaw says:

      And we appear to be the only state that has been unable to pass a budget because of partisan gridlock.

      How does that work? If the Colorado General Assembly fails to pass a budget, then come the end of the fiscal year, all spending except for a handful of programs with a permanent appropriation simply stops. No one gets paid, health insurance premiums don’t get paid, road contractors don’t get paid…Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Legally, nobody can get paid under Illinois law without a budget either.

        What happened was that the public employee unions went into court and argued that the State had to pay salaries and other union benefits due to Federal law. IIRC there were two basic arguments. (1) Federal wages and hours law requires employees to be paid a minimum wage and overtime; the State is required under the Supremacy Clause to comply with that law; the State lacked the bookkeeping capability to convert all salaries to minimum wage; so equity required an injunction mandating salaries continue as if authorized by a budget; (2) the Federal Constitution bars states from impairing contractual obligations, including benefits negotiated with unions.

        So what happened was the courts ordered payment of the state bureaucracy, but not contractors and other citizens. A law was passed to pay K-12 education. Municipal and county governments had access to some tax revenue through property taxes independent of the state. After a year passed, a stop gap measure was passed to pay some of the previous year’s expenses, but I think we’re really on the second year without a budget. There are a lot of contractors and disadvantaged people that are hurting, but most Illinoisans don’t notice that there is any problem thanks to the Courts.Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    Well, out here in California we have … holy crap, 17 propositions. I guess this is a good exercise for me: I hadn’t looked at the propositions before being called to do so here. We would have had 18, except the Legislature passed a graduated minimum wage increase on its own ($15/hr by 2022) and thus mooted one of them. I’ve highlighted in boldface the propositions I’m favorable towards.

    51. $9 billion in general obligation bonds for K-12 and community colleges, mainly aimed at physical plant improvement. (Yeah, we need this, this is how that sort of thing gets done.)

    52. Medi-Cal hospital fee program extended, effectively taxing hospitals to fund Medi-Cal. (Hospitals aren’t closing because of this tax, and the money cycles back to them anyway.)

    53. Would require voter approval for all revenue bond measures exceeding $2 billion. Currently the Legislature and the Treasurer have broader (though not plenary) discretion to authorize certain kinds of bond issues without voter approval. As the ballot description is silent, I presume “approval” means “majority vote.” (I’m a bit mistrustful of what the voters might do if the state simply needs to spend money on something but they get cheap.)

    54. Internetting up the Legislature! Any bill must be published on the Internet for 72 hours before a vote. Legislative proceedings to be recorded and posted in the Internet. (How could this possibly be a bad idea?)

    55. Extend temporary surtax on incomes exceeding $250,000 per year, with surtax revenues allocated to K-12 schools. (They can afford it. And, in the “let’s not lose sight of what’s really important” calculus, you’ll be glad to know that this won’t be affecting Donald Trump, because he has no income to tax, having annualized a massive business loss in the 1990’s, so any income he realizes from California assets will continue going directly to him.)

    56. Increase the cigarette tax by another $2.00 per pack. Astonishingly, the existing state tax on cigarettes is a mere $.87 per pack. Equivalent taxes for other tobacco products like chew and cigars, and e-cig juice containing nicotine. Tax money to be dedicated to health care, but some scientific research at the two state university systems, and law enforcement, also at least tangentially related to tobacco and nicotine use. (Hard to believe that our state taxes on cigarettes are this low and we need the money.)

    57. Criminal sentencing and parole process reform. Enhances credit-for-good-behavior discretion of the CDC; prioritizes non-violent offenders for early release consideration. (Looks like a good idea to me: our prisons are super-overcrowded and I’m religious that the long sentences of the tough-on-crime era did little to actually reduce crime.)

    58. Increase flexibility of local school boards to choose how to teach English fluency to students, softening existing “English Only” curricula laws. (I’m tentatively against this because I think that local school boards should have less, not more, localized discretion about the content of their cirricula; while I agree with the sentiment that English-only may not be the right choice for every student, I’d prefer to see more uniform standards across the state.)

    59. Advisory question to California’s legislators: is it the will of California’s voters that the Legislature propose and ratify an amendment to the federal Constitution to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which if enacted would allow the Federal government to enact comprehensive regulation of political campaign contributions? Titled “Corporations. Political Spending. Federal Constitutional Protections. Legislative Advisory Question.” on the ballot box description, deceptively in my opinion, as it is not directed solely at corporations and would not directly create any change in the law. (I’m not entirely sure that I want Citizen United repealed, and equally important, I want the legislators to take a damn stand on their own and show us their judgment, rather than passing the buck on to the voters. That’s what I elected them for.)

    60. Requires adult film performers to wear condoms whilst plying their art, and producers to pay for vaccination, testing, and examinations. (I think this violates the First Amendment, though I think it’s a good idea from a safety and public health perspective.)

    61. Mandated maximum price for some Medi-Cal and state-adminisitered Medicaid and state-administered medical facilities for prescription drugs (maximum set at the price paid by the USDVA). (And to think that people have agitated so long against Federally-mandated medical pricing. That’s so cute! Frankly I have no idea whether this is a good idea or not because I don’t know if the VA is being overcharged.)

    62. Death penalty repeal. Retroactive: would apply to pending capital cases and as-yet-unexecuted sentences. Replacement sentence is life without parole and increased allocation of prisoner wages to victim restitution. See also Prop. 66. (I’m for this, largely because I think we spend too much money on a system that enforces the death penalty too rarely and too randomly to have any legitimate penological effect.)

    63. Guns. Enhanced background check, standardized judicial process to cause some convicted criminals to forfeit their guns, restrictions on large-capacity magazines. (I think law-abiding citizens have little to fear from background checks, and convicted criminals whose crimes demonstrate a propensity for violence ought to be relieved of their weapons.)

    64. Marijuana legalization. For those who wish to taste of the sacrament recreationally and without the pretense of a doctor saying “You look all stressed out, mon.” Oh, and also sweet, sweet weed tax dollars to feed the kitty in Sacramento. (Our cops, our judges, our prisons all have better things to do than worry about stoners getting high, and we can certainly use the tax money.)

    65. Grocery bags. If Prop. 67 passes, stores must establish a special fund for depositing the bag tax, rather than keeping the money and accounting for it with their quarterly sales tax reports. See also Prop. 67. (If Prop. 67 passes, then yes, this is how the money should be handled. Note, though, I oppose Prop. 67.)

    66. Legal and penological procedural reform for death penalty cases (now that we have the death penalty back on the books). Basically expands the panel of death penalty appeals lawyers, and abolishes Death Row, allowing the CDC to house capital punishment prisoners in any prison they deem appropriate, not just at San Quentin. Would be mooted if Prop. 62 passes. (If Prop. 62 doesn’t pass, then we ought to change the way we handle death penalty cases and make it more cost-effective for the CDC to house prisoners awaiting state-administered death.)

    67. “Ban” on single-use plastic bags. Not really a “ban” so much as a ten-cent-per-bag tax.. See also Prop. 65. (If we’re going to ban plastic bags, then ban plastic bags. Don’t lie to me about a tax and call it a “ban.” With that said, no, don’t ban plastic bags. People have to carry their groceries. By all means encourage stores to encourage customers bringing in their own re-usable bags, or maybe require that “plastic” bags have a minimum amount of biodegradable content, but the physical utility of a plastic bag to a consumer is part of the product that the retailer offers.)

    Whew. Well, now I’m a better-informed voter!Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Burt Likko says:

      52. (the first part) Obama ran on promising this for the federal government (then broke his promise). The practical problem is do you restart the clock for any horse trading amendment type stuff, which can (and normally does) go up to the last minute?

      55. it’s all well and good for the short term. But eventually people may figure out there’s other places with reasonable good weather but lower taxes.

      56. So your going to increase the tax on poor people and put more money into law enforcement – which have been treating poor people absolutely splendidly of late.

      60. It may not actually be easy for 250K earners to depart, but it’s easy for people willing to bump uglies in front of a webcam to set up shop anywhere (and they have, Eastern Europe is now more a capital of the industry than the Valley is).

      67. In this case, good, we need targeted taxes on real externalities.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kolohe says:

        56: No, like all good Pigouvians, I predict that when I tax cigarettes more, poor people will rationally choose to smoke less because they will choose to divert their limited funds to necessities rather than to a luxury like tobacco.

        Or more realistically, that they’ll switch to marijuana, which will be taxed at a lower rate, may well be cheaper than tobacco once it’s legalized, produces a more intense buzz, will be grown within the state, and make the roads a bit safer (because stoned drivers tend to drive slowly and erratically where drunk drivers tend to drive quickly and erratically).Report

        • DavidTC in reply to Burt Likko says:

          56: No, like all good Pigouvians, I predict that when I tax cigarettes more, poor people will rationally choose to smoke less because they will choose to divert their limited funds to necessities rather than to a luxury like tobacco.

          So why are they taxing *e-cigs* also?

          You want evidence that politics is broken, look at the nonsensical treatment of e-cigs. Half the anti-tobacco people, now that they have nothing to do, are rushing pell-mell towards e-cigs with swords raised. (The other half are confused and going, ‘Uh, guys? Didn’t we care about the *dangerous* stuff in cigarettes, and especially how it effected other people?(1) Nicotine is not particularly dangerous, and it’s not getting to people second-hand.’)

          But there’s a fun armor-piecing question: So why aren’t you guys trying to tax nicotine patches too?

          1) Not that secondhand smoke was anything like it was portrayed as. Inside, sure, people *living* with people who smoked inside got hurt, and people working in smoke-filled environments were at risk, and even one or two smokers inside could cause short term (Not cancer and whatnot, but short term) health problems with people with lung issues. Fair enough.

          And then we decided to keep smokers from being within fifty feet of doors outside and other gibberish like that. And barring them from even being on the *grounds* of places like hospitals. Not just patient walking areas, but parking lots and stuff. Uh, no. Trust me, if you’re walking around outside, especially in a parking area, you have much higher risk of getting lung problems, including cancer, from *automobile pollution* than from walking past someone smoking and you inhaling the equivalent of one millionth of a cigarette in smoke.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kolohe says:

        60: You know what, I’m not worried about this. The effect of porn being cheap to produce may well be more mid- and eastern-European sourced porn, but the domestic porn industry isn’t going away. Porn has always been cheap to produce as compared to other kinds of more mainstream filmed and printed entertainment. In this arena, Los Angeles faces stiffer (ahem) race-to-the-bottom competition for jobs from studios in Las Vegas than it does from startup competitors in Budapest.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Kolohe says:

        55. it’s all well and good for the short term. But eventually people may figure out there’s other places with reasonable good weather but lower taxes.

        I agree.

        However, in the current term, this is the only measure on the ballot that solves a rather significant problem for California school districts: we still aren’t funded at pre-financial-crisis-levels in constant dollar amounts, and the state legislature has decided to punt “patching the hole in the pension fund” down to the local governance level… more than doubling our local contributions to pension funds from 2014 to 2020.

        Or, put another way: if this doesn’t pass, it blows about a $5 million hole in my district’s budget, which is (again) still below 2007 levels in constant dollars.

        It’s a suboptimal solution, but it’s the only one on the table.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Re: 60

      Why would it violate the 1st Amendment? I assume you mean a free speech issue (because it is art).

      But what if someone’s preferred artistic medium was shooting bullets through things. Would it be a 1st Amendment issue to put certain restrictions on this artistic practice (e.g., you can’t do it in the park next to the old lady doing water colors)?

      Would that be different because the risk is to someone else?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        That’s right. I want to make my movie depicting this act done in this way. Requiring that I use a particular device that alters the aesthetic of the movie interferes with my artistic expression. The state needs a compelling reason to do it, and what the state does needs to be narrowly-tailored to achieve that objective.

        While staunching the spread of venereal diseases is certainly a legitimate governmental concern, a consenting adult may privately engage in sexual activity exposing her to this risk and there is fish-all the government gets to say about it. The number of utterly unregulable sex acts performed in private for private reasons dwarfs the number of sex acts performed for purposes of creating adult media, rendering the law underinclusive. Meanwhile, The sex acts within the adult media industry are already self-regulated to detect the presence of disease in the performers, and the performers are better-educated than most about the risks of what they are doing when they voluntarily assume those risks.* Clean performers who do not have diseases to spread to other performers will be required to modify their performances in a manner that does not apply to them. The law is therefore also overbroad in that it reaches people who are not actually at risk of the harm in question. So because the proposed regulation is grossly underinclusive, and simultaneously overbroad in application, it cannot possibly be the most narrowly-tailored means of advancing the governmental interest (at whatever level you want to assign to it) and will necessarily fail strict scrutiny.

        * Obviously, I’d be a bit more concerned about someone who was deceived into giving consent. (“Oh yeah, he’s clean,” when he isn’t. But that’s really something qualitatively quite different from what we’re talking about here.)Report

        • DavidTC in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Meanwhile, The sex acts within the adult media industry are already self-regulated to detect the presence of disease in the performers, and the performers are better-educated than most about the risks of what they are doing when they voluntarily assume those risks.

          That somewhat gives the mistaken impression that the only regulation is self-regulation.

          The adult film industry in California is required by law to do venereal testing, IIRC.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Thanks for the thorough explanation. That makes sense on all levels.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Burt Likko says:

      If you’re going to put things on the ballot at that clip, you’d best pass full-on vote-by-mail :^) Might as well do that anyway, given the trend. The California SoS puts out nice statistics, and in the 2014 general election, 60.52% of ballots cast were cast by mail. I’d be willing to place a modest bet that it’s over 65% this year. At some point, there’s the question of why the old precinct vote-in-person system is kept when almost no one uses it.

      Colorado’s vote-by-mail system retains a relatively small number of vote centers where people who don’t get registered in time can register and vote. One of them is located in the public library I frequent. Two years ago I was at the library on election day, and the vote center was empty except for the election workers.Report

      • Yeah, I got fatigued just going through the summary list. It’s particularly confusing this year with two propositions that are both contingent on other propositions which appear down-ballot. Lots of voters are going to be saying, “Wait, didn’t I just vote on that plastic bags thing like, twenty seconds ago?”

        California’s in-person polling places are usually hopping pretty good all day long on election day. I’ve sometimes voted in person and while it’s rare that I have to wait, I also can’t think of a time I’ve been the only person there casting a ballot. They’re sometimes in civic buildings like libraries, sometimes (often, actually) in churches, and sometimes in the garages of private residences. It’s actually a place where people get to interact with their neighbors in a friendly sort of way, if there aren’t yahoos there jumping up and down about “electioneering” near the ballot box when a voter shows up wearing a T-shirt supporting their preferred candidate.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Burt Likko: 58. Increase flexibility of local school boards to choose how to teach English fluency to students, softening existing “English Only” curricula laws. (I’m tentatively against this because I think that local school boards should have less, not more, localized discretion about the content of their cirricula; while I agree with the sentiment that English-only may not be the right choice for every student, I’d prefer to see more uniform standards across the state.)

      So, having carefully read the text of the law, this doesn’t seem like a very good reason to oppose prop 58. The proposition doesn’t do anything special to give power to local school boards–it just reverts the issue to the usual level of control that local school boards already have over implementation of curriculum. I’m not going to say that the status quo-mishmash of local vs. state vs. federal control of education is particularly a good thing, but it’s certainly better than enforcing a ill-considered dictate from the 90s and this law means that any attempt to improve that status quo will apply to English Language education along with everything else–as it stands, it takes a two-thirds majority to make fixes to the law and those fixes must be in keeping with the intent of Prop 227.

      English Language immersion is really bad for California. The typical profile of an English Language Learner in California is someone born here into a Spanish-only household, spends the first five years of their life learning to speak Spanish, and then starts Kindergarden where instruction is in English.

      Despite Myths about children being quickly able to learn language, this setup is actually really bad. Kindergarten is too late to learn English as a native speaker the way someone might if they grew up in a Bilingual household–and it’s also too early to learn English as a second language–because that learning process actually depends on a certain level of primary-language mastery that Kindergarteners haven’t developed yet. As it stands, the result is students who have mastered conversational English but are at a lost when it comes to their academic language skills–because they couldn’t understand enough English to benefit from the crucial lessons in early grades, and there’s not much of a path to catch up.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Burt Likko says:


      You should vote “yes” on 58.

      58 effectively repeals the last remnants of 227. The issue that is covered with 58 is that currently districts are forbidden from providing bilingual education for non-native speakers for more than 1 year.

      Which is ridiculous, from an academic standpoint.

      Regardless of the normative value one places on establishing English as the lingua franca, this is a bad way to encourage districts to do a good job of educating their English-learners in English. It means that when the district fails to accomplish that goal within a year, the kids wind up being forced to learn non-English subjects (like math) in a language they don’t yet fully understand enough to execute.Report

  6. Damon says:

    I love ballot initiatives. Sadly my state doesn’t. It has a nasty habit, if they pass, of taking them to court and getting a judge to overturn the “will of the people”. Odd how that works and the same party manages to stay in power decade after decade.Report

  7. Oscar Gordon says:

    For WA (from ballotpedia):

    The Initiative 732 would impose a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity. – Not sure yet, gotta do some reading. I like the idea of a Carbon Tax, but I want to look at the revenue model more closely.

    The Initiative 735 would urge a federal constitutional amendment that limits constitutional rights to people, not corporations. – Sure, why not, tell them to put something out there.

    The Initiative 1433 would increase the state minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020. – I’ll probably oppose because Eastern WA is most certainly not Western WA. These kind of measures need to be tied to some kind of economic indicator, not just an arbitrary number.

    The Initiative 1464 would create a campaign-finance system allowing residents to direct state funds to qualifying candidates, repeal the non-resident sales-tax exemption, restrict employment of former public employees and lobbying, and revise campaign-finance laws. – Probably oppose, but I need to do some more reading.

    The Initiative 1491 would authorize courts to issue extreme risk protection orders to remove an individual from access to firearms. – I’m inclined to approve, but with reservations. I am glad the order can only be filed by law enforcement , family, or household members, and that filing for one is done under oath. I’m also glad the language requires that firearms be returned if the order is denied or when it is lifted, although in practice we’ll have to see how LE behaves (do they return the arms as required, or do they refuse, or stall, or ‘lose’ them, etc.) and how the courts respond.

    The Initiative 1501 would increase criminal identity-theft penalties and expand civil liability for consumer fraud targeting seniors and vulnerable individuals. It would exempt certain information regarding vulnerable individuals and in-home caregivers from public disclosure. – Oppose, because it’s an SEIU power grab.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Initiative 732 would impose a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity

      I’m in favor of this type of thing too, but I’d need to know more. Does it say who bears the burden of paying the tax? End users? Producers? Suppliers?Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Stillwater says:

        Ultimately, end users wind up paying, or Bad Things happen. Consider the related situation of California’s electricity crisis in 2000 and 2001. End users didn’t have to pay the increased costs and what happened? Rolling blackouts; PG&E went bankrupt; and Southern California Edison almost did. IIRC, at one point the state had to come up with $50B in order to keep the lights on.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:


          Ultimately, end users wind up paying

          Yes, we will pay, one way or another (not limited to two options here). My worry is that tax which isn’t imposed on the end user, as a function of retail price, amounts to a tax which can be creatively bypassed by clever MBAs employed by firms in the delivery chain.

          Eg: it seems to me there’s a difference between an electricity generating firm paying the tax and passing it on to customers in the form of higher prices and end users paying the tax at the point of sale even tho economic theorizing says those two things ought to be indistinguishable.Report

          • J_A in reply to Stillwater says:

            There’s only one source of money in the electrical business: customers (or subsidies paid by taxpayers)

            If you want transparency, make it a tax collectible at the generator, and grant the generator the right to get the tax refunded from its customers (utilities) -and so on and so on. It makes compliance easy to monitor (there are few generation companies) and the tax is clearly indicated in the bill as areimbursable.

            Is how VAT works, of courseReport

            • Stillwater in reply to J_A says:

              From the Yeson72.org website:

              The carbon tax will be paid “upstream” by power plants and fuel importers. They are likely to pass cost increases along, so consumers are likely to see price increases for purchases like gasoline and coal-fired power.

              These “likely” cost increases are offset by tax reductions based on some sorta “swap” caluculus. But the point stands: if prices don’t go up then carbon emissions won’t go down (all things equal), so the mechanism in play requires that purchase price goes up in order to achieve the intended result.

              So why not just impose the tax at the point of sale?Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Stillwater says:

                Taxes can be revenue raisers and/or behavior modifiers. If you think that power plants can be encouraged to make investments in technologies that reduce carbon emissions, then you want the tax to fall on them so that they have incentives to change. I don’t know if that’s likely, it may depend upon how power plants operate in the state, are they municipally-owned, do they compete with other plants?

                My general view is that carbon taxes are probably a waste of time. They are regressive, so I favor some type of offset, but generally the amount that the public is willing to tax itself appears too small to modify consumer behavior. Perhaps power-plants may have better incentives when faced with a large tax.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to PD Shaw says:

                Taxes can be revenue raisers and/or behavior modifiers.

                The purpose of a carbon tax is to reduce carbon-based emissions. So it seems to me the purpose of the tax is pigouvian.

                If you think that power plants can be encouraged to make investments in technologies that reduce carbon emissions, then you want the tax to fall on them so that they have incentives to change.

                If the purpose of the tax is to reduce fossil fuel use, then a tax imposed directly on the energy producer will have the same economic effect as a tax imposed on the end user at point of sale: a price-based reduction in consumption. Which means, it seems to me, that on either proposal the energy producer (or anyone else, for that matter) will ideally have an incentive to produce competitively priced alternative energies. But the point of sales tax seems legislatively cleaner, more likely to result in the intended changes, less likely to be gamed, and (frankly) more honest.

                Of course, I could be wrong about all that.Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Stillwater says:

                To cheat a little bit, the Democratic opposition to this tax is based upon a preference for cap-and-trade, and cap-and-trade is supposed to create incentives for innovation; the Democrats in my view are assuming that power plants need to be encouraged to use or develop innovative technologies or different fuels. I am not a big fan of cap-and-trade, as it requires a lot of resources to create an artificial market, when pigouvian taxes can use the existing market.

                I think the issue is not clear, I’m just suggesting if your focus is on incentivizing business changes then the tax should fall on business, even though the business may simply pass the tax on to the ultimate customer. I think the argument would be about how incentives may scale differently, do plants have opportunities to reduce carbon that customers lack? If energy production is beyond innovation or carbon-reducing change, then I think this argument is not very good.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Stillwater says:

                Ease of tracking and collection? My own preference would be to levy the tax at the point finished fossil fuels go into the system. Coal when it leaves the staging area at the mines; petroleum products when they leave the refinery. Natural gas when it leaves the treatment plant. If you want to do corresponding tax reductions, do something simple and broad-based. Please don’t push it farther out into the chain, where you get into the argument over whether someone in Seattle should get a smaller tax rebate because they happen to live in an area with a long history and ready supply of low-carbon electricity sources.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Ease of tracking and collection? My own preference would be to levy the tax at the point finished fossil fuels go into the system.

                Wouldn’t this require solving the collective action problems fossil fuel use creates before implementing any action to mitigate those externalities?

                If a single state, isolated and alone!, wants to reduce its carbon footprint, how can it effectively tax suppliers/generators at point of entry into the market without creating incentives for defecting?Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Stillwater says:

                State gasoline and natural gas taxes. Punitive registration fees for non-commercial vehicles weighing more than X pounds. Congestion taxes. Low-carbon mandates, eg, “By such-and-such a date, Y% of electricity consumed in our state must be from low-carbon sources.” Forbidding certain sources, such as LADWP’s goal to be coal-free by 2025.

                Granted, as @j_a has properly pointed out in the past, anything regarding electricity is in some part accounting legerdemain. More so in states whose renewable power mandates allow them to buy credits (rather than power) in distant states.Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Stillwater says:

                “If a single state, isolated and alone!, wants to reduce its carbon footprint, how can it effectively tax . . . the market without creating incentives for defecting?”

                I snipped a bit there, but I think this points to the reality that no single state is going to do anything effective. Rather I think the meaningful strategy would be for numerous states to adopt a carbon tax until there were enough states that a majority of the members of Congress would pass a federal tax with more teeth.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to PD Shaw says:

                For the most part I agree. Anthropogenic global warming is the mother of all collective actions problems. But that’s the problem: solving a collective action problem occurring at that scale is (add: apparently!) beyond political solutions.

                That’s why I was focusing on a smaller scale here: if WA voters choose to reduce their collective carbon footprint (ideally using the tax revenue to facilitate that goal), what’s the best mechanism to employ? Seems to me we’re back to a retail tax imposed at point of purchase.Report

  8. Saul Degraw says:

    Burt covered the major CA ballots. SF also has a “soda tax” or “grocery tax” referendum depending on whom you ask. There are also some conflicting referendums/propositions on housing of course.

    I remain near absolute in my belief that referendum voting is a horrible idea that might have had noble purposes but has been distorted to another tool largely used by corporations and cranks.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      And, as we saw with Proposition 8, if something particularly odious is voted in, it’ll be invalidated by the court and we won’t have to worry about it. Better to just leave everything in the hands of the trained professionals who are entirely representative of what the will of the people would be if only the people knew what was best for them and always voted in their best interests.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      State legislators, for a variety of reasons — not all nefarious — are generally older, whiter, richer, higher-percentage male as a group, and more politically risk-averse than the populations that elect them. Certain professions are over-represented compared to the population in general (employers vs employees, lawyers vs retail clerks). This puts certain issues off limits for what is sometimes a very long time after a majority of the voters are in favor — marijuana, independent redistricting, and vote-by-mail are current “trendy” subjects for initiatives.

      To pick a different example, Colorado’s legislators were dawdling over a renewable energy mandate because of the risks they perceived were associated with voting either for or against one. It got on the ballot as an initiative and passed easily. Since then, the legislature has been fine with extending and modifying that mandate — now that it’s been shown to be a “safe” topic.

      How do you feel about term limits, another tactic for addressing the “politicians don’t look like the voters” situation? I’d be willing to argue the case that term limits have worked much less well than initiatives do.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I am against term limits. I feel they are anti-democratic and often real political and policy knowledge requires decades to build. Kerry is probably a better Secretary of State because of his long-term Senate career.

        You make some good points but even as a liberal, I find that a lot of referendum often come from the maxim that bad facts make bad law. Three Strikes is a good example. Was crime bad when three strikes passed? Yes. Was three strikes the solution we needed? No. There were already long-standing ways of giving extra-sentences to “habitual” criminals. Three strikes led directly to the over flowing of California’s prison population and largely got to the polls because one rich guy (to be fair, a Democratic Party supporting rich guy) decided to make it an issue and personally finance it.

        I don’t like that kind of decision making and money power.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Another issue I have in California is that two opposing groups will put up propositions/referendums that are phrased in eerily similar ways but intended to cancel out each other. This seems to happen mainly with progressive v. business issues or competing business interests.

        Let’s say there is a group called “Build Housing in SF Fast!!” They have a referendum/proposition to loosen the permit and development process.

        The NIMBY/Landlord/We Hate Yuppie Condo opposition will come up with a group called “People for an Affordable SF” and write a proposition that sounds very similar but cancels out the first.

        It is not unlikely that both get passed.

        If we can reform the system, I might support it more.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Plenty of other countries manage to have a much more diverse group of people in their legislatures through different formal and informal political mechanisms. This includes gender, age, race, professions, and socio-economic status. We could try to imitate that rather than trying better representation through referendum.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

          And how do you intend to get that past the party bosses who LIKE having tight control over who can climb high enough to run for national office? Trump is an anomaly precisely because he’s wealthy enough to thumb his nose at the party elite. Getting people who are not career politicians in the door, regardless of where they started, is going to be non-trivial.

          Perhaps we could use a process that allows the citizenry to voice it’s opinions more directly to get that done?Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            I for one don’t see why it is so controversial that lawyers and public policy majors are more interested in running for public office than engineers, doctors (though plenty enter the polls), etc.

            I am also not sure it is a bad thing that party leaders have a reign/control over who gets to run. Primaries with “outsider” candidates tend to produce stridency and girdlock.

            I have yet to see anyone address my substantive complaints.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              Your substantive complaints are also valid against non-referenda states. Politicians can pull the same kinds of shenanigans (passing bad laws on bad facts – hell that happens all the damn time; or worse, passing bad laws for political points; likewise competing bills in the house that cancel each other out, etc.).

              My substantive complaint is that career politicians represent concentrated power that can be very dangerous; citizen referenda & initiatives act as a (admittedly imperfect) check against that power. I’m open to alternative checks against that power (term limits, anti-gerrymandering, etc.), but few ever seem to make it very far, so I’ll stick with what’s in place.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I’ll agree to term limits on politicians the moment we agree to term limits for lobbyists. 🙂Report

              • I worked for the Colorado legislature after term limits had been in effect for several years. While lobbyists definitely gained power, the real advantage went, IMO, to (1) the permanent executive branch bureaucracy and (2) permanent legislative staff. Those two groups became the “institutional memory” that people talk about — how and why did we get to where we are now. This was particularly true in the budget area where I worked. State budgeting is done under an enormous array of constraints, and it takes years to learn how those constraints interact.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

                There is surely a sweet spot for term limits, long enough to learn the ropes and be effective, but less than a lifetime.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Depends on how favorably you view the institutional continuity of politics and governance. We’re seeing that disagreement play out in real time as we speak.Report

      • When I lived in initiative/refrendum friendly, Cibolia I was highly skeptical of the value of those things. Now I live in initiative/referendum averse Sangamon and am strongly supportive of making them easier. A more liberal policy wouldn’t solve all of Sangamon’s problems–and it might even create new ones–but I think on balance it would interject some more hope and give voice to some who now pretty much lack it.

        I think the key point in your comment, Michael, is the “not necessarily nefarious” part. It’s not–or not only–some conspiracy of party bosses to keep down the will of the people. But it’s the bundle of incentives that means some things won’t be addressed that need to be addressed.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The rejection of the peace deal between the Columbian government and FARC by slim majority of a fraction of the electorate that turned out is a really big demonstration on why referendum on very important political and policy decisions is a bad idea. People should not be able to veto a peace deal that ended a civil war that raged over half a century and caused countless misery. This is going to sound small r-republican rather than small-d democratic but people should vote for elected executive and legislative positions and leave everything to them. If they don’t like it than vote somebody else in.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq says:

        And you do not see me advocating a national ballot initiative process for the US. Brexit and the Colombia thing were both referendums, not initiatives, and both look like own goals: there wasn’t anything that required the legislature and/or chief executive to refer the matter to the voters, the politicians appear to have simply lacked the courage of their convictions. I cringe at the thought of a federal election with dozens of ballot initiatives covering the range from abolishing the Dept of Education to going back on the gold standard to single-payer health care to you name it.

        At a state level, though? Somewhere here I have someone’s PhD dissertation that shows that, except for one policy area, initiative and non-initiative states come out pretty close to even in terms of doing “stupid” things, for various definitions of stupid. The one policy area is, unsurprisingly, placing restrictions on the state and local legislative bodies’ actions.Report

  9. DavidTC says:

    So the ballot measures here in Georgia are only four, because we don’t do referendums.

    We have a dumb one that tries to raise penalties on pimps to fund some a fund for sexually exploited children…you know, the sort of thing that should not actually be in the ballot. They *already* created the fund and could fund it from general funds, and being a pimp is *already* a crime that the penalties could be increased on…and this redirection is is a clearly transparent attempt to avoid being attacked because they ‘increased spending’. Goddamn ass-covering conservatives making *us* vote in spending increases as a constitutional amendment because the morons in this state will vote them out if *they* increase spending.

    And there’s another one, with the same sort of goofy redirect, for firework taxes to be spent on the sort of problems that fireworks causes. Yet another example of the legislature building complicated laws and providing no funding source, and saying ‘Hey, voters, how about you fund this?’.

    You asshats. Do your damn job. Stop putting trivial funding decisions of thing you’ve already decided to do in front of us.

    Then again, I’m probably going to vote for those, simply because it’s the only way to make this state spend money on stuff.

    And there is yet another constitutional amendment that exists to take schools away from their local school districts at the whim of the legislature. Bzzzt, no, thank you for playing, we’re still not voting for that. (I’m honestly startled I haven’t seen anything from teachers about this.)

    And the last is some extremely confusing thing to dissolve the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission and make a new one. I have no idea what that even is. What I can tell, it’s a commission that can force judges to retire.

    I’m *thinking* I’m against that because it changes the appointments to the commission from ‘(1) Two judges of any court of record, selected by the Supreme Court; (2) Three members of the State Bar of Georgia who shall have been active status members of the state bar for at least ten years and who shall be elected by the board of governors of the state bar; and (3) Two citizens, neither of whom shall be a member of the state bar, who shall be appointed by the Governor.’ to just the governor appointing all of them and the Senate confirming it, and that seems a bit…dubious to me.Report

  10. Road Scholar says:

    As Kansas doesn’t have referenda or ballot initiatives as such, all we have are constitutional amendments that the legislature votes to put on the ballot. This year we have exactly one, the Kansas Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment which does pretty much exactly what it says, which is not much. It still allows for reasonable regulation, hunting seasons, etc. and doesn’t interfere with private property rights, like putting up “No Hunting” signs, etc.

    Frankly, I fail to see the point. This is a pretty deep red state and it’s hard to imagine the legislature ever seriously going after hunters and fishermen. I mean, that’s not even happening in blue states AFAIK so wtf?

    The only point I can see to this might be purely political, as an attempt to bring out the bubba vote. Our governor has historically low approval ratings and a lot of his political allies in the legislature aren’t looking good this time around. But most of that pressure seems to be from the moderate Republicans moreso than Democrats and that battle was already waged in the primaries.

    Fer or agin it? I honestly don’t much give a rat’s hindquarters either way.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Road Scholar says:

      There’s a pretty good case to be made that a controversial ballot item does a lot for GOTV on both sides. Not so much for non-controversy items.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Road Scholar says:

      I don’t know the exact wording on your amendment, but “Right to Hunt & Fish” Amendments were used in other states to sneak through legal shields for industrial farms.


      • Road Scholar in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        Here’s the exact wording:

        §21. Right of public to hunt, fish and trap wildlife. The people have the right to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights or water resources.

        While I certainly wouldn’t put it past our legislature to do something skeevy like what happened in Indiana, I have a hard time seeing how this wording would get you there.Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Road Scholar says:

          In my experience, things that sound innocuous usually have these little clauses that are actually doing the work.
          Like “including traditional methods”.. What would some of these “traditional methods be? Dynamite fishing? Steel jawed traps? Bear pits? Poison?

          Or “Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. “. How does this interact with the Federal measures of controlling wildlife and endangered species?

          Since getting a statewide ballot measure up requires a lot of power and resources, I would look at the backers and see what their interest is.Report

          • Road Scholar in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            I hear ya’ Chip, but I’m still not seeing the connection to commercial agriculture. Farmers and ranchers already pretty much rule in this state, by which I mean basically carte blanche with regards to environmental concerns.

            I suppose it could have some impact on Federal efforts to reintroduce protected species like wolves or something, but then doesn’t the Federal overrule the States anyway? I guess I need to find out more.Report

            • Road Scholar in reply to Road Scholar says:

              And BTW, Kansas doesn’t have citizen initiatives or referendums. So, “Since getting a statewide ballot measure up requires a lot of power and resources, I would look at the backers and see what their interest is.” doesn’t really apply here, at least not directly. This is a constitutional amendment put forth by the legislature.Report

            • Road Scholar in reply to Road Scholar says:

              Looking at my own linky more closely this looks like a pretty straight-forward NRA thing.

              Adding the Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap to the state constitution would Protect Kansas’ rich sporting tradition from well-funded efforts by national extremist groups to ban hunting. This important constitutional safeguard will protect wildlife and promote conservation, which are efforts that Kansas sportsmen have spearheaded for generations, significantly contributing to the state’s diverse and flourishing wildlife populations.[3]


              Former Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-110), a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in 2016, said:[8]
              “ … we may not need it in five, 10 or 15 years, but at some point as the population trends shift more urban, and we become more disconnected from that hunting heritage, it’s important to ingrain that in the constitution.

              So basically a solution in search of a problem. The linky includes a map of the states that have the same or similar provisions in their constitution and it looks like your typical Red v Blue political map.

              At this point I’m sorta inclined to vote against it just on the general principle of f*** the NRA.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Road Scholar says:

      Do the people fishing have to wear condoms?Report

  11. J_A says:

    We don’t have any in Texas, but we have one in Houston:

    Houston I.S.D.,Proposition 1

    “Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenues”

    That’s all, that’s the complete language. Bonus for those that can understand the question without googling it.

    I’m voting No, btw, and I googled it before deciding, btw too.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to J_A says:

      I haven’t googled it, but am willing to guess. Texas has an arrangement where state education funds are distributed based on student count, measured by taking attendance on a particular day. The arrangement allows local districts to buy increases in their count — hence increases in their share of the state funds — by putting up enough of their own money.Report

      • J_A in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Almost, but close to the exact opposite (I think)

        It allows the District to send to Austin funds the money that “would be” in excess of its fair share if Texas balanced the funds on a per pupil basis, more or less.

        If the balancing formula was applied, which is not, Houston would be in excess and should pay to a general balancing pot 165 million per year

        Should Houston not pay voluntarily, there’s a risk some commercial property would -in an arbitrary way- moved from the Houston tax basis to a poor district tax basis. But poorer districts actually charge more on an ad valorem basis, so those properties taxes would go up.

        It’s a lose lose thing, and the major and most authorities, and large commercial property owners (and me) believe it’s better to have all the system blow out than to do this voluntary payments

        But I’m sure you didn’t see anywhere in the language anything about sending 165 million of school taxes out of the district, did you?Report

  12. Dark Matter says:

    Amendment 69 would create a new state single-payer healthcare financing system.

    If memory serves, a few other states have tried something like this over the years, the costs grow until the state backs out.

    So good luck with this, maybe you’ll get it right and face up to how much rationing it will take and find a sane way to implement them.Report

  13. Sangamon, as I noted above, has very few, if any, referenda (and to my knowledge no initiatives) in any given year. This year we have one, about how to spend fees from traffic violations and such. The fact that we have one is kind of a rarity.

    Instead, we have non-binding referenda which operate as polls that policymakers can use to claim support for their pet policies. There’s usually a right answer, by which I mean an “aw shucks George Bailey is a good guy and isn’t Mr. Potter evil” populist answer designed to appeal to mildly progressive affluent people who don’t acknowledge they’re affluent. I’ve voted on them before. I don’t plan on doing so again (I hedge, however. I must admit.)Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      I didn’t mention the transportation tax lockbox referendum because I kind of forgot about it and thought it was inane anyway. Basically, every year the legislature sweeps uncommitted or unspent funds in the road construction fund to pay for commitments to education or pensions or whatever. The downside is the fund doesn’t build up money for bigger projects over time, but I can’t see transportation as being obviously more important than all other spending.Report

  14. fillyjonk says:

    We have a bunch of “State Questions,” usually written in the “best” (i.e., most confusing) legalese and some of which have been highly obfuscated by some groups.

    I confess the one I care about most is the one about whether or not it should be legal to sell wine (Proper wine, not the Boone’s Farm stuff which is already sold) in grocery stores. I am not a drinker but I am a cook and I will confess it creeps me out a little to have to go to the seamier side of town and go to a liquor store if I want a Cab Sauv for a beef stew. I also hold out a vain hope that modernizing the liquor laws (well, a LITTLE bit) might entice a decent grocery here. (We have a wal-mart and a tiny locally run place which is nice enough but has NO selection)

    oh, there’s also an allegedly-for-the-teachers 1 cent extra sales tax. (We pay sales tax on groceries – the full rate – as well as on everything else). My SUSPICION is that the PTB, if this passes, will just fiddle appropriations so it will be no net gain for education – just a shifting of how it’s paid for to more of a consumption tax than a property tax.

    and it also means my local sales tax would be over 10 percent. Even on groceries.Report

  15. Michael Cain says:

    Our “blue book” ballot guide was in today’s mail. 70 pages for the state stuff, 26 pages for the county-specific things. Several tax questions at the county level. Haven’t thought about the rest yet, but renewing the 0.1% sales tax for the Scientific and Cultural District (museums and performing arts funding) is a definite yes.Report

  16. Kolohe says:

    They’ve had two ads so far, national buys, for California’s prop 61 (pro) during the Nats Dodgers Game 5.Report

  17. Michael Cain says:

    My Colorado ballot arrived in the mail yesterday. 22 choices for President, plus a spot for write-ins. The Prohibition Party is still around. Three with some form of socialist/socialism in the affiliation name. Laurence Kotlikoff running under the Kotlikoff for President Party is probably a vanity thing. Perhaps we should consider raising the $5,000 fee for getting on the ballot…Report