When I returned home, I was greeted by a flood of email from one reader asking if I'd post my usual California ballot initiative guide. There are only two of them on tomorrow's ballot, so why not. In case you don't remember my general biases about the initiative process (nickel summary: I'd be happy to see it go away completely), you can read about them here. With that out of the way, here's how I plan to vote:
Term Limits: YES. On balance, term limits are a bad idea. But California voters approved them two decades ago and don't seem inclined to remove them. Given that, Prop 28 is probably the best we can do right now. Instead of a 14-year term limit, split into six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate, it provides for a single 12-year term limit, all of which can be spent in one house. This would eliminate the ridiculous situation California is in now, where top leaders in the Assembly almost never have more than four years of legislative experience. Putting neophytes in charge of legislation is absurd, and we've been paying the price for this for a long time. Prop 28 isn't a panacea, but it's an improvement.
Cigarette Tax Hike: NO. Regular readers know how I feel about ballot-box budgeting. It's a scourge. I don't have a problem with higher cigarette taxes, and yes, cancer research is a worthy cause. But there are lots of worthy causes, and it's the legislature's job to figure out which ones deserve funding on a year-to-year basis rather than enshrining specific priorities into law forever. We're already funding dumb stem cell research and a dumb bullet train thanks to ill-conceived ballot measures, and we're still paying off the dumb revenue bonds that Governor Arnold foisted on us in 2004. This has to stop. I don't care how worthy the cause is.
On Prop 29, I'll concede that reasonable people might think circumstances are special in California. A previous ballot initiative (the infamous Prop 13) requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to increase taxes, which means that in practical terms there's really no way for things like cigarette tax hikes to happen aside from ballot measures. That's true, but I don't find it convincing. Passing an endless stream of ticky-tack budget patches that become permanent parts of the legal code just isn't a solution. It only makes things worse. If Californians won't allow the legislature to increase taxes, they should live with the consequences. Maybe eventually they'll figure out that this particular piece of Prop 13 was a bad idea.