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01.30.08

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93 REASONS: Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez's shenanigans around Prop. 93 have been self-serving—but then, so is the proposition itself.

Propositioned

Vote safe and sane on the ballot's confusing propositions with Metro's recommendations


ONCE considered the shining hope for grassroots politics in this country, California's initiative process is in serious trouble. It's gotten so that many voters can't even decipher the state propositions they're supposed to be voting on. But why should that be a surprise when it's exactly what many of the snakier backers of these initiatives are aiming for?

These days, the only way to vote smart on state propositions is to know what they're really saying and why, and in that spirit, here are Metro's recommendations.


PROPOSITION 91

Transportation Funding

Metro Recommends: YES

Proposition 91, surnamed the "Transportation Funds. Constitutional Amendment and Statute," is the latest product of a longstanding argument over where the approximately $3.3 billion collected annually in state gasoline and diesel fuel taxes should go. Into the general fund, of course, say state officials No, into roads and transit, say voters.

Voters declared victory in March of 2002 upon approving Prop. 42, which steered fuel taxes into a special fund solely for transportation projects, dedicated 40 percent of funds to critical state projects and 20 percent each to counties, cities and public transit, and allegedly prohibited raiding the fund except for financial emergency.

But they were premature, as it turns out that Prop. 42, written in large part by legislators, offered such loose definitions of "emergency" that within the next five years the governor and legislature had already declared two of them and proceeded to strip the transportation fund of an entire year's worth of revenue.

That's when Proposition 91 began to build steam. Once again, though, the legislature offered a "solution" in the form of its own Proposition 1A, which purported to tighten the rules by limiting emergencies to two a decade and require repayment of any raided monies within three years. It passed in November of 2006.

Apparently not noticing that Prop. 1A still allows funds to be raided six out of every 10 years, Prop 91 petition organizers declared their own much tighter version "not needed." In fact, they say exactly that in the official state ballot pamphlet.

But then, two significant developments occurred. First, the proportion of valid voter signatures supporting Prop. 91 turned out to be so much greater than usual that it qualified for the ballot anyway. Second, early this month, the governor and legislators once again began nibbling at the transportation funding lockbox, trying to lower the guaranteed Prop. 42 percentages cities and counties will get. So it looks like the raiding is likely to begin again.

Transit agencies, overall, are staying out of the potential maelstrom. Bernice Alaniz, deputy director for Marketing and Public Relations of the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority, told us that decision-makers in the authority "don't feel that Prop. 91 is necessary, since Prop. 1A was passed by voters in November of 2006."

But numerous transit users groups, including Metro Rider and Southern California Transit Advocates, are wading into the middle of it, saying that the much tighter limits imposed by Proposition 91—no long-term borrowing, no constant emergencies and full repayment within 30 days of each new budget—are the only way to bring the raids under control. We agree with the transit riders: without the tightest possible rules, fuel taxes will continue to be raided—and therefore recommend a YES vote on Proposition 91.


PROPOSITION 92

Community College Funding

Metro Recommends: YES

The question here is whether to leave community college funding lumped in with K–12 money or let it move out and get its own apartment, administratively speaking. A yes vote means separate funding, more money for community colleges in the future and an immediate reduction in fees from $20 per credit to $15.

It's a sad thing to see educators fight over money, but that's what happens when there isn't enough. Right now the state, under Prop. 98, spends 40 percent of its general fund on K–14 education. California's 109 community colleges get roughly 10 percent of that pie; K–12 gets the other 90 percent. The way the community colleges figure it, the formula for determining that split is unfair (it's tagged to K–12 enrollment—community college enrollment doesn't count) and has cost them $2 billion since 1988.

The community colleges want to break away and tie future funding to the state's young adult population rather than enrollment figures. They also want to lower fees by $5 per credit, the better to serve all those bright young minds. Altogether that means at least an extra $300 million per year.

There are good arguments against Prop. 92, chief among them that it's silent on the subject of where that extra money will come from. Kind of a huge problem this year. As a result, the main opponents are the UC and CSU governing boards and the California Teachers Association, all of whom fear the community colleges will take money from their own strapped schools and universities.

But the community colleges need desperately need some individual attention. For too long they've been an afterthought, considered an optional extension of high school. Supporters of this measure like to say community colleges are a gateway to the middle class. They're also a crucial public institution as California strives to stay competitive in a recalibrating global economy.

California's budget is going to need some fixing, with or without the financial burden this measure imposes. Meanwhile, California's future deserves an investment. Vote YES on Prop. 92.


PROPOSITION 93

Term Limits

Metro Recommends: NO

Nothing on this ballot is generating as much confusion as Prop. 93 among California voters. And that's no accident—it's by design. Prop. 93 is the initiative process at its worst: a measure written to insulate this state's elected officials from checks on their power, then spun around to be sold as term-limit reform. In truth, the only significant thing this measure will do to the terms of California's lawmakers is increase them: from six to 12 maximum years in the Assembly, and to 12 years in the Senate. It will also allow dozens of legislators who would term out this year to do an end-run around term limits via a so-called "transition period."

Now, it's not that we don't like many of these seat holders, and in fact we're sorry to see some of them go. But there's a reason term limits are so popular with voters. They blunt the system's ridiculous incumbent advantage and promote accountability to the electorate while promoting new energy and ideas (in part, we have term limits to thank for the high number of women and minority lawmakers now in Sacramento). Critics of the current restrictions fret over the fate of the state's best political minds, but if years of seeing term limits in action have taught us anything, it's that a talented state politician facing one will find something else to run for.

The antics of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata haven't helped the cause. The two drummed up the measure, went back on a pledge to couple it with redistricting and then got the California primary moved back to February to allow them to run again in June if it passes. The governor's flip-flopping endorsement last week doesn't pass the sniff test, either.

We're put off by this measure, whose biggest backers are special interests who've sunk a lot of money into the state's power players and want to keep seeing a return on their investment. It's little more than a move to save the powerful jobs of a select few. That's why Metro recommends a NO vote on Prop. 93.


PROPOSITIONS 94–97

Tribal Gaming Compacts

Metro Recommends: NO

Propositions 94–97 are essentially identical, differing only in which of the so-called Big Four tribes will benefit if approved. (Prop. 96 also allows one tribe to build a second casino on recently purchased adjacent nonreservation land; this is unlikely in the near future.) These four Southern California tribes—the Pechanga, Morongo, Sycuan and Agua Caliente—already have casinos with 2,000 slot machines apiece, so these propositions are not about the introduction of gambling into communities. What they are about is the state of California's blind, unbridled avarice (or is that desperation?) when it comes to the lure of gambling monies sluicing into the state's General Fund.

The Pechanga and Morongo tribes are each seeking to increase their slot machine inventory to 7,500; the Sycuan and Agua Caliente to 5,000. Proponents claim their contributions to the state could accordingly rise to an estimated $9 billion over the next 20 years, or about $450 million a year. But that's not for certain, since the responsibility for figuring out how much to send to the state each year would rest with the tribes' very own selves. Comforting thought, that. In an election year in which billion-with-a-b is the terrifying cry of the deficit battle, lawmakers leap upon these promised monies gratefully and with little inspection.

Contrary to proponents' advertising, none of the phantom profits are directly earmarked for schools. Environmental impact accountability is hugely weakened in these proposed propositions. Guarantees for casino workers are essentially nil. The tribes in question are exempted from service payments—like chipping in for road improvements to handle all that new traffic. Also, the smaller of California's 108 tribes would be adversely affected by the sweetheart deals that Props. 94–97 offer to just four tribes.

It's a big, ugly, expensive fight. The four tribes have shoveled more than $35 million at this effort. A consortium of unions, other tribes and race tracks have dumped $14 million and counting into the fight against it.

Casinos aren't going to go away, and certainly, these Big Four will try again for new, more generous compacts. But Props. 94–97 are not the way to go about it. Vote NO.

Barack Obama for President

CLINTON and Gore erected a bridge to the new century, Bush bombed it and now we need to rebuild it.

It will be harder to do than last time, because the world is very different from the 1990s afterglow of the Berlin Wall's crumble. The Internet, high gas prices, melting ice caps, a weak dollar, the strong Euro, China's rise, nuclear proliferation and Islamic fundamentalism have transformed the international landscape. We need a president who can reach out to an interconnected world.

If Barack Obama is elected, it will send the world a message that this is a new America: not the monocultural, aggressive, ugly America of the past, but one that it hopeful, forward-looking and engaged with a diverse planet. As the most gifted communicator to arrive on the political landscape in nearly two decades, Obama has a unique ability to inspire and create hope. Forward-thinking leadership is needed to take on the challenges of energy, economy, environment and war.

Hillary is a policy wonk with more scars than accomplishments from her Washington years. Missing files, failed health-care initiatives and her vote six years ago to bomb and invade Iraq should give voters pause. Her condemnations of disgraceful national practices like waterboarding and extraordinary rendition came only after she was pressed on the campaign trail, when she could have been a leader in the Senate opposing the administration's conduct.

Obama has been such a leader. Ever since he first captured the national spotlight with a showstopper address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the power and clarity of his ideas, rooted in conviction, have resonated with a broad range of Americans.

At the center of his campaign is the simple and profound notion that American politics is in need of a revolution.

"It's not the magnitude of our problems that concerns me the most," he says, "it's the smallness of our politics. America's faced big problems before, but today our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common-sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence that we can't tackle the big problems." Big problems call for bold actions, and this is no time for sentimentalism. The best hope for breaking the Washington logjam and geopolitical stalemate is Barack Obama, a true agent of change.


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