Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Disturbing Trend Towards Ballot Initiatives

In Nevada, the voters spoke and resoundingly rejected what was called 'The Education Initiative'.  The reason it was defeated was because most understood that it would tax 2% of the gross revenues of any business making more than a million dollars; regardless if that company had profits or not. The funds being applied to education was also questionable since the revenues from this tax would be mixed in with all other tax revenues that the state took in. 

But, by simply calling it an Education Initiative, the supporters knew that many people wouldn't do the homework needed to understand the full impact of the bill and would simply vote yes on the basis of its title.  Also, they probably knew that some voters would vote yes because taxing million dollar businesses a small 2% tax would seem reasonable in order to improve education in Nevada. Of course, this was probably how the initiative was sold when collecting enough signatures to put it on the November 4th ballot.

Then, in California, Proposition 47 -- the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act -- was approved by the voters. Now, who wouldn't vote for something that would provide safer neighborhoods and schools?  But, what Prop 47 actually does is reduce the prison population because the "Act" would, both retroactively and going forward, lower many felony sentences to misdemeanors.  Then, the savings from the lower cost prison system would be used to create and continue to fund The Safe Neighborhoods And Schools Fund.

Now, call me crazy, but how does the early release of felons onto the streets make neighborhoods and schools safer?  Also, I really don't think there will be a true savings because repeat offenders are going to wind up being rearrested, tried, and imprisoned.  There's a cost for that; both in terms of expense but, also, in terms of the demand it places on the police and California court system.  Then, too, criminal activity may actually increase because the punishment for getting caught is now much lighter.

The purpose of bringing up these two examples is to point out how dangerous these ballot initiatives can be.  In Nevada, if it weren't for aggressive advertising done by the business community, "The Education Initiative"  would have been law and, the survivability of many businesses would have been in jeopardy.  In California, it is very hard to see the upside of Prop 47. There are dozens of proposals like these that were put before the voters this year; and they will likely increase in future years.

The biggest problem with ballot initiatives is that they are a means by which special interest groups are able to bypass the legislature without any educated debate on the proposals themselves.  Many voters aren't qualified to pass judgement on them because they don't fully understand the possible repercussions and may simply vote on the basis of name only.  Rarely are the voters informed of the financial consequences (state and municipal costs) that would result from voting "yes".

In my opinion, there needs to be greater review of these initiatives.  Our lawmakers should be able to vote them up or down, after a vigorous debate, before being placed on the ballot.  After that, the voters must be clearly made aware of the pros and cons by mail and the Internet, and certainly, the names of the proposals should be objective, factual and non-deceptive.


The Nevada Education Initiative Overview: http://ballotpedia.org/Nevada_Margin_Tax_for_Public_Schools_Initiative,_Question_3_%282014%29

California: Prop 47 Overview: http://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_47,_Reduced_Penalties_for_Some_Crimes_Initiative_%282014%29

Judicial Review of Ballot Initiatives: The Changing Role of State and Federal Courts: http://www.iandrinstitute.org/New%20IRI%20Website%20Info/I&R%20Research%20and%20History/I&R%20Studies/Holman%20-%20Judicial%20Review%20of%20Ballot%20Initiatives%20IRI.pdf

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