By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Better late than never, such longtime consumer advocates as Ralph Nader, Harvey Rosenfield, and Harry Snyder of Consumers Union have ridden to the rescue with Proposition 9. Essentially, Proposition 9 gets rid of the two surcharges. It prohibits the utilities from collecting their nuclear-related costs from their ratepayers. It also prohibits utilities from collecting their bond-repayment costs from their ratepayers. The first is an unequivocally good idea: Since privately owned utilities don't pass along their profits to their ratepayers, it's not apparent why they should be able to pass along the risks - specifically, the cost of their bad investments.
Eliminating that second surcharge is a trickier business. Someone is legally liable to the buyers of the rate-repayment bonds. Proposition 9's authors say the companies are, even if their ratepayers are off the hook. Others argue that the state, which pledged during the issuance of the bonds not to curtail the Big Three's ability to pass the bond costs on to their customers, will itself become liable for the bonds. That would require the state to enact either tax increases or spending cuts that would affect everyone - even ratepayers to public companies like DWP, who currently have no obligations or additional charges under the deals that the Big Three cut with the state.
This is a terribly complex set of questions to address through the vehicle of an initiative - though given the clout that the Big Three wield within the Legislature, it's understandable that this battle is taking place on the ballot rather than in the cloakrooms. Proposition 9 would be easier to endorse if it had dealt only with that first surcharge and had omitted its provisions affecting the second one, with all the ensuing complications of potential public liability. This measure has "decadelong lawsuit" written all over it. In the final analysis, however, it repeals a hidden fee that the lawmakers of California imposed on the vast majority of Californians at the behest of some very powerful companies. That's a worthwhile goal and a significant accomplishment. We support Proposition 9.
10 - Yes
Proposition 10 imposes an additional surtax of 50 cents on a pack of cigarettes, allocating the funds to state and county programs for early childhood development. It is, as its critics note, a rather regressive way of funding a socially important project. While we share some of these misgivings, as well as some apprehensions that Proposition 10 may create too many new bureaucracies, on the whole we think it's a significant contribution to the cause of public health.
11 - Yes
Currently, local governments can share sales-tax revenues only if a majority of voters in each jurisdiction approves this at the polls. Proposition 11 makes sharing between cities or counties easier, allowing an agreement to be entered into by a two-thirds vote of each affected jurisdiction's legislature - a city council or a county board of supervisors.
Since Proposition 13 was enacted 20 years ago, greatly diminishing municipalities' capacities to raise money through property taxes, cities and counties have been increasingly reliant on the sales tax for their revenues. The result is often a ludicrous and destructive competition among cities for shopping malls, auto dealerships and the like, each city promising more tax abatements and other sweet deals to the developers and merchants rather than see them move over to the city next door. As a result, all cities lose badly needed tax revenue. Proposition 11 is a small step in the direction of intercity comity - and solvency.
A - No
Proposition A is Zev Yaroslavsky's pirouette on the issue of subway construction: After years on the MTA board, approving one subway boondoggle after another (as did all his fellow commissioners), he has now authored an initiative that prohibits in perpetuity the MTA from using its sales-tax revenue (the lion's share of its funding) for any future subway construction. Excepting, of course, the two-thirds-completed Red Line to North Hollywood.
No one is disputing that the MTA has been an agency impervious to public opinion, cost overruns and cosmic boondoggling. No agency in recent memory has been so dismissive of the transit needs of its current ridership. No agency in recent memory has sunk so much money into a largely unpatronized subterranean rail line. No agency has lavished so much funding on questionable contractors with even more questionable ties to some of the MTA's own officials. Proposition A does redirect county transportation policy in more realistic and fruitful directions; it is also something of a re-education camp for an ancien regime reluctant to surrender its imperial fantasies.
The problem is, Proposition A is an exceedingly blunt object. There may well come a time, there may well be a place, where subways will a be appropriate once again. The Eastside, so torn up by freeways, may be a suitable site for subways. A subway may be just what is needed to take the Green Line that elusive last mile to LAX. Of course, the economics of subway building render any such projects utterly utopian for a number of years. We believe that fixed-rail transit is desperately needed if L.A. is to be a navigable, and livable, city in the next several decades, but the only way we can envision fixed-rail getting built during the next decade is if it runs aboveground.