This is the second part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post recommends a “no” vote on Proposition 21, which establishes a vehicle license fee in order to fund state parks.
Proposition 22 will be the subject of the next post in this series.
California’s Broken Proposition System
One of the great flaws in California’s proposition system is the way in which it creates ballot-box budgeting. Voters are always willing to spend more money on more goodies: ten million here to fund K-12 education, ten million there to fight crime, ten million to construct hospitals, ten million to protect the environment.
Five hundred million, in this latest example of ballot-box budgeting, for state parks.
But voters also don’t like high taxes. They are always willing to vote for propositions to cut taxes: tax cuts for businesses, tax cuts on mortgages, tax cuts on sales taxes, a two-thirds legislative requirement to raise taxes.
If voters want to spend money on more goodies, but also want to cut taxes for themselves, the natural result is a budget deficit. And this has been exactly the result for the past several years in California.
The power of the budget ought to lie with the elected officials that compose the legislature. That is one of the main reasons why a legislature exists: to make the tough budget decisions that will inevitably hurt somebody and be unpopular. The proposition system cripples the legislature’s ability to do this.
And Proposition 21
Proposition 21 is the latest example of ballot-box budgeting. Let’s spend five hundred million to improve California’s state parks! Who isn’t for state parks?
It will probably pass. The proposition sounds good on the surface, and nobody has a vested interest to oppose it. Donations in favor of the proposition are in the millions, while only one organization has donated more than $5,000 to campaign against the proposition.
Money, however, is not free. Five hundred million raised from vehicle taxes and spent on state parks is five hundred million that will not be used elsewhere. There are many other just as worthy causes with which that money can be spent: on social welfare or roads and infrastructure, to give just two examples. I, personally, would love to use five hundred million to reduce student tuition at the University of California system rather than to improve state parks.
In the end, Proposition 21 is a prime example of the detailed, in-the-weeds budgetary matters which too often come up in propositions. These things should not be decided at the ballot box, but by the legislature. That is its job.
That is why I recommend a “no” vote on Proposition 21.