League of Women Voters Provides Non-Partisan Ballot Measure Info – Part 1 of 2

On Thursday, October 25, the Ebell of Los Angeles hosted a talk by Mona Field, Vice President of the Los Angeles League of Women Voters, which provided helpful information about the lengthy list of ballot measures that will be on our local ballots for next Tuesday’s election.  This is part one of a two-part series on those ballot measures, with information and tips from both Field and votersedge.org, a non-partisan voter information website Field recommended at her talk.  

The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 to encourage newly-franchised women to vote.  Today, it remains a non-partisan organization that encourages “informed and active” voter participation, understanding of major public policy issues, and voter education and advocacy.  And while we’ve seen some other very useful voter guides, Field’s talk provided some additional information that many people might find helpful or enlightening before filling out their ballots…and she was particularly adept at pointing out key information in each proposition that could prove to be pivotal decision-making points for some individual voters.

For example, Field began by pointing out something most voters are already aware of – that the flood of paid campaign ads and election-related paper mail you receive at this time of year are produced by highly partisan groups (no matter which side of an issue they’re touting). Those groups often try to hide their true origins with group names such as “Citizens for XXX”…or “Yes/No on XXX”  and you should simply ignore most of their materials. But Field also noted that following the money backing an initiative – especially figuring out which specific person, group or organization spent the approximately $2 million it costs to get a measure on the ballot in the first place – can tell you a lot about the true purpose of the measure.  And she provided that information in many of her summaries of the individual propositions.

Finally, before plunging into the state-level ballot measures, Field provided some information on LA County Measure W, so we’ll start there, too.

LA County Ballot Measure

Measure W

This is a new proposed property (or “parcel”) tax, designed to help capture much-needed rainwater and prevent untreated stormwater runoff from winding up in the ocean.  The measure was put on the ballot by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.  Under the measure, property owners would pay an annual tax on the amount of impermeable hardscape on their property, which would provide new funds to the county and encourage  property owners to increase the water-permeable ares on their lots. And that, in turn, would help replenish groundwater and prevent runoff.  The money raised from the new tax (estimated at about $300 million per year) would be used to fund new infrastructure improvements to capture rainwater and put it back into the local water supply before it runs out to the ocean. Also, worth noting:  because this is a property tax increase, it would need 2/3 approval by the voters (not just a simple majority) to pass.

Supporters: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles County Director of Public Health, the Los Angeles County Fire Chief, environmental groups such as Heal the Bay, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
Opponents:  Several other local business and anti-tax groups, including CalTax, the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, and the California Small Business Alliance.
League of Women Voters recommends:  YES

California Ballot Propositions

Another of Field’s very helpful tips was to recognize that Propositions 1-4 are all bond measures.  Selling bonds is a way the state can raise money by taking on new debt, which is paid back over a very lengthy period of time.  That’s neither inherently good nor bad, but how voters feel about any or all of these first four propositions may hinge on how they feel about using bonds for financing, or at least as financing for specific types of projects.

Proposition 1

This measure would authorize the sale of $4 billion worth of bonds to help fund “existing affordable housing programs for low-income residents, veterans, farmworkers, manufactured and mobile homes, infill, and transit-oriented housing.”  (Yes, that would include Transit Oriented Developments in our local neighborhoods. And yes, these would be different projects from those funded by recent Measures HHH and JJJ.)  Which projects get the funding would be up to local city and county governments. The bonds would be repaid, with interest, over the next 35 years.  Money to repay the bonds would come from state income tax revenues.

Supporters:  The California Democratic Party and hundreds of housing and Veteran’s groups, as well as many California cities.
Opponents: The California Republican Party, the California Taxpayers Association and the Libertarian Party of California.
League of Women Voters recommends:  YES

Proposition 2

This measure would authorize the sale of long-term bonds to fund housing construction for the mentally ill.  And while housing and services for this population definitely go hand in hand, Field pointed out that funding for the two is separate…so this construction funding would work in tandem with other funding sources previously approved by voters for mental health services.  Also, unlike the Proposition 1 bonds, the debt from Proposition 2 would be paid back with funds generated by a previous ballot measure – Proposition 63 – which included up to $140 million per year for housing for the mentally ill. (That means the money comes from an already-in-place tax on people making more than $1 million per year. There would be no new taxes, no additional cost to the state or taxpayers, and no effects on the state budget.)

Supporters: The California Democratic Party, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Republican Party, and hundreds of other mental health, labor, housing and other groups.
Opponents: The Libertarian Party of California and the Orange County Register.
League of Women Voters recommends:  YES

Proposition 3

According to votersedge.org, this measure would authorize the sale of $8.9 billion in bonds to pay for water and environmental projects such as “watershed protection, drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat improvements, dam and reservoir repairs, [and] flood protection.”  Paying back the bonds would cost the state government about $430 million per year for the next 40 years…while saving local governments “a couple hundred million dollars each year over the next 20-30 years.”  Field pointed out that this is one of those measures where support and opposition are a mixed bag, with some big environmental groups on both sides.  For example, while the Nature Conservancy and National Wildlife Foundation both support the measure, the Sierra Club does not.  Also, said Field, it’s worth noting that a) a large number of hunting and large agricultural business organizations support the measure, b) that the measure would shift the cost of water conservation from those who use the most water (e.g. agriculture) to individual taxpayers throughout the state, and c) a number of opponents argue that the projects included in the measure are not well designed, and there’s a significant amount of political “pork” included (including some for the City of Los Angeles).

Supporters: The aforementioned agricultural and environmental organizations, as well as a number of California cities.
Opponents: Other environmental groups, the California Taxpayers Association, the Green Party of California, the Libertarian Party of California, the Los Angeles Times and a number of other major newspapers.
Neutral:  Neither the California Democratic or Republican parties have endorsed a position.
League of Women Voters recommends:  NO

Proposition 4

According to votersedge.org, this measure would authorize the state to sell $1.5 billion in bonds for the 13 hospitals in California specifically serving children. Voters have previously passed two other similar children’s hospital bond measures, which were used to fund construction, renovations and equipment, but most of that money will run out soon and this measure would pick up where those leave off. Money from the new bonds could be used for the same purposes as funds from the last bond measures (including seismic retrofits and capital improvements), but to receive the funding, the hospitals would have to prove that the money would specifically benefit children from low-income families and those who don’t have health insurance. Funds to repay the new bonds would come from state income taxes, and would cost the state “about $80 million each year for the next 35 years.”  Aside from those basic provisions, Field pointed out that many, if not most, of the hospitals on the list are private (non-profit) institutions, and not public hospitals.   So for many voters, support may hinge on whether or not they support public money being used to fund private hospitals.  At the same time, however, many voters may also not be aware that many of our best-known children’s hospitals – like Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles – are private, non-profit companies.

Supporters:  A long list of hospital and medical associations (including the American Academy of Pediatrics), Chambers of Commerce (including Los Angeles), the Los Angeles City Council, the California Democratic Party, and the Los Angeles Times.
Opponents:  The California Republican Party, the California Libertarian Party and the Orange County Register.
League of Women Voters recommends: NO

Proposition 5

Whether or not you support Proposition 5 probably has a lot to do with how you feel about Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot initiative that decreased property taxes by assessing property values at their 1976 levels for existing owners, or the year of purchase when a property is bought by a new owner. Prop 13 also set tax rates at a maximum of 1% of a property’s value, and limited tax increases to a maximum of 2% per year.  The big winners since then have been longtime property owners (especially older owners who have held their properties the longest). According to the link above, those owners have saved about $528 billion in taxes since Prop 13 became law.  The losers, of course, have been younger home buyers, who face a market shortage of larger homes when older buyers decide to stay put instead of selling and downsizing, and who also bear a larger share of the tax burden when they do buy and are taxed based on the current market value of their homes.  And the other big losers, of course, are the state and local coffers (and the schools, infrastructure and other public benefits they support) that did not receive the $528 billion that homeowners held onto.  In effect, Prop 5 would extend certain aspects of Proposition 13, by allowing homeowners over 55 years old, those with severe disabilities, or those whose homes were affected by a natural disaster, to sell their home, move to another, and take their longtime low property tax payments with them – no matter where they move, how many times they move, or whether their new home(s) costs less, the same as or more than the old one.  Supporters say this would encourage older homeowners to downsize to smaller homes, make new housing more affordable for seniors on fixed incomes, and thus open up more larger homes for young families. Opponents, however, say the only people who would benefit are real-estate-wealthy seniors, and the realtors who profit from the increased sales activity.  Also, independent budget analysts say our governments and the services they provide (schools, infrastructure, emergency responders, etc.) would lose about $100 million per year if Prop 5 passes.

Supporters: The California Association of Realtors, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Republican Party, California Taxpayers Association, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Libertarian Party of California, San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Orange County Register.
Opponents: The California Democratic Party, a long list of education, housing, union and labor groups, the California State PTA, and the Los Angeles Times.
League of Women Voters recommends:  NO

Proposition 6

Field pointed out at last week’s talk that Prop 6 was placed on the ballot by the California Republican Party, hoping it would bring more Republicans (a significant minority in California) to the polls this year, especially in areas where Democrats are running against other Democrats and there are no Republicans on the ballot.  In effect, Prop 6 would repeal SB1, a new state law (passed by the legislature, not a voter initiative) that created a new gas tax and vehicle registration fee to fund transportation projects, and road and bridge repairs, throughout the state.  The new revenue is expected to bring in up to $4.4 billion this year, and $5.1 billion next year, for critical infrastructure improvements.  Prop 6 would eliminate those new funds, though, and also require that all future gas taxes be voted on by the electorate.  Supporters of Prop 6 say gas taxes are too high, especially for low income workers who are forced by high urban housing prices to live far from their jobs.  Opponents say the existing taxes and revenues are critical to maintaining our transportation infrastructure, which will become much less safe if Prop 6 passes.

Supporters: The California Republican Party, the Libertarian Party of California, the Congress on Racial Equality, a number of farmerworkers groups,  and about 30 “Taxpayers” groups that generally support lower taxes.
Opponents: A list of more than 600 labor, construction, civil liberties, transportation, bicycle and safety organizations, along with dozens of California cities, the California Democratic Party, the Los Angeles Times, and the California Chamber of Commerce.
League of Women Voters recommends:  NO

So that’s it for Part 1.  We’ll be back on Monday with information and Field’s insights on Propositions 7-12.  Stay tuned!

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About Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - first in the Sycamore Square neighborhood, and since 2012 in West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill. She was long-time board member of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association, currently serves on the board of the West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill Neighborhood Association, spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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