Budget deficit occupies center of California’s propositions

Jonathan Baer, Staff Writer

If the latest field poll by the New York Times’ Nate Silver is an accurate representation of Election Day results, then Californians are 100 percent likely to cast their electoral votes for President Obama in the 2012 election.

But that’s not the only battle on the ballot. On Nov. 6, Californians also have a chance to vote and decide on an array of significant issues much closer to home.

With four of 11 ballot measures included in Propositions 30 to 40 focusing on taxes and spending, it’s fair to say that California’s budget deficit is at the heart of this November’s ballot.

California is now “facing a $16 billion shortfall, not the $9 billion we thought in January,” Gov. Jerry Brown announced in a YouTube video posted on May 12. “This means we will have to go much further and make cuts far greater than I asked for at the beginning of the year.”

With three proposed tax increases and a measure that would repeal the death penalty, Californians have the opportunity to alter how the state spends taxpayer dollars.

Gov. Brown has proposed Proposition 30, which would increase of income tax rates for Californians making more than $250,000 a year for the next seven years as well as raising the sale and use tax by ¼ cent for four years.

The state budget signed by Brown in June relies on $8 billion of revenue from these tax increases. If the tax hikes do not pass, it would automatically trigger $5.5 billion in cuts to California’s public schools.

Kyle Chong (’13) supports Prop 30 because he “believes that taxes should be proportional to income, and that the wealthy should contribute as they are able to.”

As of Sept. 18, this so-called “Millionaires’ Tax” remains popular with 51 percent of Californians, while 36 percent remain against it, according to a poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

Two more tax propositions are in play. Proposition 38 proposes increased income tax rates for almost all Californians, which would bring in an additional $10 billion in revenue for California, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. Sixty percent of this revenue will go to K-12 schools, 30 percent will go to repaying state debt, and 10 percent will go to early childhood programs.

Joe Arellano, a spokesman for Proposition 38, posted on his Facebook page on Sept. 20 that Proposition 38 “benefits local schools, not Sacramento, and our poll numbers will begin to rise.”

So far, polls for Proposition 38 are not meeting Arellano’s expectations. According to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released on Sept. 29, 34 percent of registered votes support Proposition 38, while 52 percent oppose it.

Unlike Propositions 30 and 38, Proposition 39 is a business tax that would bring in an additional $1 billion in revenue, according to fiscal estimates by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. Half of this new revenue would be put into energy efficiency and alternative energy projects, whereas the other half would be spent on public schools and community colleges.

Chong, who supports the tax increases of Props 30 and 38, does not support Prop 39.

“I think businesses should be able to choose where they pay taxes, because the money is still (being taxed),” said Chong.

If Californians pass Props 30, 38, and 39, taxes would be significantly higher for nearly everyone. But with a state debt closing in on $400 million, some think extra revenue is what California needs most.

In addition to tax increases, another option on the ballot could help California’s fiscal woes – Proposition 34, which would end the death penalty and replace it with life without parole.

This has been one of the most heated propositions for this year’s ballot, with advocates on both sides actively weighing in.

“Prop. 34 lets serial killers, cop killers, child killers, and those who kill the elderly, escape justice,” writes the “Vote No on 34” campaign on its website. “Proponents don’t acknowledge that when California’s death penalty was eliminated before, condemned criminals were released only to rape and kill again! Voters had to restore capital punishment to restore justice.”

Proponents of Proposition 34 wield more of a fiscal argument: “By replacing the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole,” writes Save California, a “Yes on 34” advocacy group, on its website. “California taxpayers would save well over $100 million every year, as well as hundreds of millions in one-time savings.” The websites goes on to label California’s death penalty system “broken beyond repair.”

With four measures on the ballot focused on cutting spending or increasing tax revenues, the future condition of California’s budget lies in the hands of California voters.

“The fact is, California has been living beyond its means,” said Brown on May 12, as reported by The New York Times. “(The California budget) is a pretzel palace of incredible complexity.”