The ballot props: What’s at stake

A voter prepares to make a choice on the ballot. (Photo: Svanblar, via Shutterstock)

California voters are being asked to approve $16.4 billion in bond financing, cut taxes and weigh in on such diverse topics as kidney dialysis prices and farm animal living conditions in the Nov. 6 election.

The 11 initiatives on the ballots include requests for bond financing for housing, water and children’s hospitals. Other initiatives would approve huge property tax savings for seniors, repeal the controversial gas tax hike and open the way to expand rent control. Voters could also set price controls on kidney dialysis, monitor EMT and paramedic working conditions, increase living space for farm animals and give the legislature the option to keep Daylight Savings Time year-round.

In the long tradition of California ballot propositions, fights over the initiatives this year have prompted record spending.

Foes of Proposition 8, for example, raised more than $110 million to beat it back, outspending opponents better than 5-to-1, and setting a record for a single ballot proposition in California.  Total spending on just two ballot initiatives alone — Propositions 8 and 10 — exceeded $220 million. Note, there is no Proposition 9, which was removed from the ballot following a court ruling.

Read on for short summaries of each initiative.

Proposition 1
Authorizes the sale of $4 billion in state obligation bonds to fund housing programs.

The Legislature put this on the ballot to help address the shortage of affordable housing in the state. $1.8 billion would go to build or renovate rental housing projects, $450 million would go to housing infrastructure like parks and water, sewage and infrastructure, $450 million would be used to encourage low- and moderate-income home ownership (through down payment assistance or low-income grants and loans), $300 million would go to farm worker housing and $1 billion would be allocated to home loan assistance for veterans.

Supporters say this is the best way to address the housing shortage without raising taxes. They say it will help people get into houses near where they work rather than enduring long commutes, will ease homelessness and will boost the economy. Opponents say the measure will add to the state’s debt with bonds that would need to be repaid with interest over many decades.

Proposition 2
Authorizes issuance of up to $2 billion in bonds for housing for mentally ill.
The bonds would pay for the Legislature-created No Place Like Home Program to build and rehabilitate housing for those with mental illness who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The money would be repaid over 30 years using revenue from the Mental Health Services Act (funded by an income tax on those who earn more than $1 million), meaning less funding would be available for treatment services.

Supporters like Mental Health America of California and the California Police Chiefs Association point to research that that those with mental health issues do best when they have both housing and treatment. They also point out the housing will be funded without new taxes. But critics, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, say counties, not the state, should determine how much should be spent on housing and treatment.

Proposition 3
Authorizes $8.9 billion in bonds for water, fish and wildlife. 
Voters are again asked to approve a water bond measure, just five months after approving a $4.1 billion bond. This time, the water will go to watershed lands, water supply, fish and wildlife habitat, water facility upgrades, groundwater and flood protection.

A variety of environmental groups say the measure will improve water quality for all.

But opponents, including taxpayer advocates, say the measure excludes dams, which they contend is the only way to collect more water. The Sierra Club, which also opposes the measure, says debt servicing on the bond could require further cuts for environmental protection. Others complain that the measure mainly benefits Central Valley farmers and should be paid for by people in that region.

Proposition 4
Authorizes $1.5 billion in bonds for children’s hospitals.
This measure would give funding to eight private nonprofit hospitals and the five University of California academic medical centers for construction, expansion, remodeling, renovating and getting extra equipment.

Hospitals say they need the money because they serve disproportionately high low-income residents and therefore get low reimbursement rates from publicly funded Medi-Cal insurance.

This is the third time since 2004 that the hospitals have put out an initiative asking for funding. The League of Women Voters California opposes the measure, saying that the private hospitals should find other ways to finance their needs than state money. The group pointed out that all the chief executive officers of the hospitals make more than $1 million and that four of the hospitals had profits in 2014 and 2015.

Proposition 5
Property tax savings for homeowners over 55.
Seniors over 55 would save big on property tax bills when they move if this law goes into effect. This proposal would allow them to transfer the taxable value of their home to any other home in California.

For instance, if a senior has a home with a taxable value of $200,000 but a market value of $600,000, he could purchase a home for $700,000 but the taxable value would be set only at $300,000. This would give him a new property tax bill of $3,300 rather than the $7,700 it would be under the current system.

Supporters say the bill will help seniors who would like to move to a smaller house or to be closer to relatives but can’t because of the potential property tax hike. Opponents say there aren’t many people who fit in that category and the bill would mostly benefit real estate brokers, who are the major supporters for the initiative.  They also say the measure would cost schools and local governments millions in lost revenue.

Proposition 6
Repeals the gas tax hike.
This initiative would cancel controversial Senate Bill 1, the 2017 measure that increased the gas excise tax by 12 cents a gallon and the diesel sales tax by 4 percent and added the $100 per year zero-emission vehicle fee.

The proposal would also amend the state constitution to require the legislature to get voter approval for new or increased taxes on gas and car ownership.

Legislators said they need the $4.4 billion raised from the tax this year to repair the state’s dilapidated roads and bridges. They said repeal of the tax will jeopardize construction projects currently underway. Those who want to repeal the gas tax hike say it is unfairly hitting families and the poor who now have to pay more to drive to work. They say Californians already pays more taxes on gas than other states and they say the state would have enough money to repair the roads if it better prioritized its spending.

Proposition 7
Allows possible changes to Daylight Savings Time.
A yes vote on this would allow the Legislature to consider making Daylight Savings Time or Standard Time the year-round time, eliminating the need for us to spring forward or fall back with our clocks every year.

But any change the Legislature made would need a two-thirds vote and a governor’s signature for approval. And even then, Congress would have to approve the change for it to take effect.

Assembly member Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, cites a 2012 study saying the risk of heart attacks increases by 10 percent in two days following a time change. He also says parents struggle to wake up children for school when their sleep is disrupted. But Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said children would suffer if Daylight Savings Time is eliminated and they have to go to school in the dark.

Proposition 8
Limits charges for kidney dialysis.
This measure would cap dialysis center revenues at 115 percent of direct costs related to patient care. Any money above that would have to be repaid to private insurance companies (Medicare and Medi-Cal would be excluded).

Some dialysis patients are accusing dialysis centers of price gouging, charging as much as 350 percent of the costs. The measure is supported by such groups as CalPERS (the California Pubic Employees’ Retirement System), the Congress of California Seniors and Californians for Disability Rights.

But the California Medical Association, California Hospital Association and other groups are opposing it, saying the lost revenues may force some dialysis centers to close. Critics have called the initiative a power play by the labor union SEIU- United Healthcare Workers West, which has failed in organizing clinic workers at the two biggest for-profit dialysis centers: DaVita and Fresenius Medical Care.

Proposition 10
Expands local governments’ ability to impose rent control.
Cities and counties could impose rent control on single-family houses, not just apartments and other multi-family housing. Local governments could also limit how much a landlord increases rents when a new tenant moves in. The measure does not impose rent control; each city or county would have to decide the issue for itself.

The state attorney general says that the measure would likely reduce state and local revenues from property taxes over the long term as the value of rental properties decline with the imposition of rent control.

Supporters say the initiative gives local governments rather than the state the authority to decide if rent control is necessary, and could help working families struggling with soaring rents. Opponents say the initiative would add unnecessary bureaucracy in the possible creation of numerous local rent control boards and will not help build any new affordable housing.

Proposition 11
Requires EMTS and paramedics to stay on call during meal and rest breaks.
This maintains the industry practice of requiring EMTs and paramedics to interrupt meals and breaks to respond to an emergency call.

However, the breaks could not be on the first or last hour of the shift and they would have to be spaced two hours apart. The initiative seeks to override a 2016 California Supreme Court decision that ruled that on-call breaks, like the ones required by EMTs and paramedics, violates state labor laws.

The California Ambulance Association, 9-1-1 Ambulance Providers Alliance and others say the measure is needed to ensure that ambulance respond promptly to patient calls. The California Labor Federation and the California Democratic Party opposes the measure saying it’s a ploy by the private company American Medical Response (a major funder of Prop 11) to avoid civil litigation from labor code violations.

Proposition 12
Requires more space for confining veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens.
This strengthens Prop. 2, approved in 2008, which already required farmers to provide enough room for these animals to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. Prop 12 gives specific square footage requirements needed for each animal. Beginning Dec. 31, 2021, all egg-laying hens would have to be raised in cage-free environments. More than 200 major food companies, including Walmart, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Safeway and Dollar Tree are already committed to using cage-free products. The Humane Society of the United States says this initiative eliminates inhumane and unsafe products from California stores. But the Humane Farming Action Fund calls the measure the “rotten egg initiative” saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect chickens since it still allows cages in the short term.


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