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Wednesday
Aug242016

California Ballot 2016: Pros and Cons of Props 51-56

Litigation Los AngelesEnvironmental Litigation  

Stephen T. Holzer
818.907.3299

 

Californians must decide on 17 initiatives in the November election this year, and those are just the proposed measures of state-wide concern. Never mind the many local initiatives affecting counties and neighborhoods. The state props cover a range of topics like porn, drugs, guns, and death. Then there are the more tedious but still critical initiatives regarding bonds, legislative transparency, education, etc.

That’s a lot to think about, so we thought we’d break it down with a quick ballot reference guide. You’ll find a brief description of each measure, and then a who’s for, who’s against, and why section – with reference links for more information. (If you want the full text of each prop, click on the title for each measure.)

We begin the first segment in our 2016 Election Guide series: California Propositions 51-56, below. (Click Props 57-61 or Props 62- 67 to read about the others.)

Proposition 51: California Public Education Facilities Bond Initiative 

Should the state issue $9 billion in bonds for constructing or improving public schools educating students from Kindergarten through community college? The proposed funds generated would be allocated as follows: 

  • $3 billion to build new schools
  • $3 billion to modernize existing schools
  • $2 billion to buy, build, and improve community colleges
  • $500 million for charter schools
  • $500 million for technical education facilities 

Who’s Voting Yes on Prop 51?

Proponents of Prop 51 claim the state’s schools are deteriorating to the point of becoming unhealthy and unsafe for students; and that California’s last school bond initiated 10 years ago is now out of money. They also claim a current $2 billion backlog of improvement projects for seismic renovations, other safety concerns and technology needs.

Both the California Democratic and Republican parties, the California Chamber of Commerce, numerous school districts and state elected officials have endorsed this bill.

Who’s Voting No on Prop 51?

The opposition to Prop 51 describes its organization as a coalition of supporters of California taxpayers and educators opposed to sprawl and developer abuse. Their Facebook page posts links to more opposition from The Mercury News, East Bay Times, among others. Both articles cite Governor Jerry Brown who calls the referendum a “blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money that would be far better spent in low-income communities.”

The opponents also cite a need for better planning by local school districts, and for developers to foot their fair shares of the costs, noting that this initiative was bankrolled by the construction industry. 

Proposition 52: California Medi-Cal Hospital Reimbursement Initiative 

In order to receive federal Medicaid funding, the states must contribute their own money. California does this partly through the Hospital Quality Assurance Fee (HQAF) assessed on both public and private hospitals since 2009 – resulting in about $3 billion in federal funds disbursed annually for Medi-Cal programs. Some of the HQAF monies however, have been diverted into California’s general fund over the years. Prop 52 aims to make it harder for the state to divert hospital fees by requiring 2/3 voter approval before doing so.

Who’s Voting Yes on Prop 52?

The Yes on 52 Campaign says the hospital fee program is set to expire in 2018. The program generates about $3 billion in federal money for Medi-Cal (about $18 billion over seven years), which primarily benefits children, seniors and working families. Citing the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Yes on 52 further claims the program will save California $1.5 billion in costs for children’s health care by 2020, and increases support to local public hospitals. The state legislature will need voter approval to dip into the program.

Support for Prop 52 include the California Children’s Hospital Association, the California Association for Nurse Practitioners, both the Los Angeles and California Chambers of Commerce and various elected officials of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Who’s Voting No on Prop 52?

Those who oppose Proposition 52 seem to be less organized but include the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, according to Kaiser Health News. The post cites SEIU-UHW’s director of governmental relations:

…SEIU-UHW supports the arrangement in principle but that the legislature is the most appropriate venue for deciding how to use the money raised. Lawmakers can respond to an evolving health care system, but if Californians vote directly on the hospital proposal, their decision would be harder to undo later…

Proposition 53: No Blank Checks Initiative 

Should bond projects that cost more than $2 billion require voter approval? Government projects of that amount or more that are billed to the state’s general fund already require voter approval – but revenue bonds do not. This initiative targets state over-spending by giving voters the right to greenlight or stop big ticket projects, and prevents large projects from being broken down into smaller jobs to get around voter approval requirements.

Who’s Voting Yes on Prop 53?

The Stop Blank Checks’ first priority is to keep elected officials from creating new debt to pay for multi-billion dollar projects, at the cost of California taxpayers. The Pro-Proposition 53 website says California’s debt exceeds $330 billion – the third worst of all the states. It also cites the cost of California’s high-speed bullet train: nearly $10 billion was approved by voters for the project, but costs are now estimated at $68 billion, which may be paid for through revenue bonds.

Dean and Joan Cortopassi – owners of large food and agri-businesses based in Central California, are the initiative’s primary supporters.

Who’s Voting No on Prop 53?

The opposition is much bigger than the support so far. The No on Prop 53 faction claims the initiative will take away local government’s ability to issue revenue bonds to make improvements. For example, voters in Northern and Central California could theoretically vote against raising funds to improve the sewer system in Encino, if it comes with a price tag of over $2 billion. On a larger scale, can Los Angelenos wait up to two years to vote on I-405/US 101 interchange repairs after a devastating earthquake? (Presumably the federal or state governments would provide emergency funding in such a scenario.)

The opposition to Prop 53 include the Association of California Water Agencies, State Sheriff’s Association, League of California Cities, California Chamber of Commerce, California Hospital Association and others. 

Proposition 54: California Legislature Transparency Act 

If this initiative is approved, the legislature would be required to publish every bill (except some regarding emergency measures) in print and online at least 72 hours before a legislative vote; and to record public proceedings to be posted online within 24 hours of the proceedings. Members of the public may also record these public proceedings. All recordings, whether made by legislators or private persons, may be used for any legitimate purpose.

Who’s Voting Yes on Prop 54?

This one gets bipartisan support. The Yes on Prop 54 coalition cites a need to rein in special interest groups who have a history of getting 11th hour revisions made to bills benefitting themselves – without giving lawmakers an opportunity to read, or the public an opportunity to comment on those changes. The audiovisual recordings stipulations provide a record of proceedings, since most members of the public are unable to attend those proceedings and thus have no opportunity to comment.

The bill is supported by the California Chamber of Commerce, the California State Conference of the NAACP, and the state’s League of Women Voters, among others.

Who’s Voting No on Prop 54?

There is a group pushing for a no vote, for the same reason, believe it or not: to deny special interest groups. The No On Proposition 54 alliance says the bill will hinder legislators in developing bipartisan solutions; 72 hours gives special interest groups more time to launch a counter-attack, and it will be more difficult for lawmakers to take action in emergencies.

The group counts the state’s Democratic Party, Labor Federation and others among those who want to defeat the initiative. 

Proposition 55: California Children’s Education and Health Care Protection Act of 2016 

About $6 billion per year was raised when voters approved Proposition 30 back in 2012, through increased taxes imposed on those earning more than $250,000 per year, and through an increased sales tax. The money benefitted K-14 education (11 percent to community colleges; the remaining to grade, middle and high schools). Under Prop 30, the personal income tax increase will expire in 2019, and the increased sales taxes will expire the end of this year.

Prop 55 maintains the current tax rate on high-income individuals and couples for an additional 12 years. (The sales tax is not addressed in this measure and will presumably sunset on December 31st.) Additionally, the measure will allocate up to $2 billion to healthcare programs for children and their families in certain years.

Who’s Voting Yes on Prop 55?

The Yes on 55 Help Our Children Thrive website claims the reversion to a lower income tax rate on high earners will cost California schools about $4 billion per year, and that all taxpayers will benefit when the sale tax increase (0.25 percent) expires.

Yes on 55 is chiefly supported by the Association of California School Administrators, California Federation of Teachers, and the California Medical Association.

Who’s Voting No on Prop 55?

An organized opposition force doesn’t seem to exist at this time, but the California Chamber of Commerce recommended a no vote on Prop 55 last May. The Chamber doesn’t like the virtual permanency of what was supposed to be a temporary tax increase, and cites a state surplus of $3 billion, a proposed balanced budget by Governor Jerry Brown, and the volatile nature of personal income tax revenues. In short, the Cal Chamber characterizes the higher taxes as unnecessary. 

Proposition 56: California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016 

This is a proposal to raise cigarette taxes by $2.00 per pack to fund healthcare, tobacco use prevention, tobacco-related medical research and law enforcement. Other tobacco products and nicotine e-cigarettes will be similarly taxed. The current tax on tobacco is $0.87 per pack – the lowest in the nation.

Who’s Voting Yes on Prop 56?

The Yes on 56 organization says the tax will reduce youth smoking, help fight cancer, and only target tobacco and nicotine users. Citing studies, they claim 90 percent of smokers start using tobacco as teenagers, and that flavored e-cigarettes are targeting that age group. Additionally, Yes on 56 says every ten percent increase on cigarette costs has a direct correlation to reduced teen smoking – a seven percent drop.

Yes on 56 is endorsed by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, as well as various other health, dental and business groups.

Who’s Voting No on Prop 56?

A few websites by tobacco and vaping, or e-cigarette concerns are showing opposition to this measure, and a Sacramento Bee article reports a $17 million effort to defeat Prop 56. An organization called Not Blowing Smoke has taken to social media, particularly Instagram, to make their points, including: 

  • Government and pharmaceuticals will lose money when smoking rates decline;
  • The bill is full of loopholes – revenues could be used to fund other projects not related to tobacco use;
  • Over 9 million smokers in the U.S. have traded in their cigarettes for less harmful vape products – but a nearly 70 percent tax increase could hinder those transitions. 

A seemingly more organized effort to defeat the tobacco tax encourages voters to “follow the money” – claiming it’s the health insurance companies and special interest groups will benefit financially. The Stop the Special Interest Tax Grab is fronted by Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and a “coalition of taxpayers, educators, healthcare professionals, law enforcement, labor and small businesses.”

Check back with us: we’ll tackle initiatives to regulate felony parole, bilingual education, campaign finance, pornography and prescription drugs – Props 57-61 next.

Stephen T. Holzer is the Chair of our Environmental Practice Group and a business litigation attorney. 

 

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