Update: Prop. 39 surged ahead as precincts began reporting from around California. See next page for more.
Early returns show California voters almost evenly split on Proposition 39, which the fiar-minded, non-partisan California Legislative Analyst's Office says could pour up to $1 billion into state coffers -- and could lead to as many as 40,000 jobs in construction and "clean" energy.
This ballot measure was cleverly crafted to appeal to Californians' love of green jobs and post-recession distrust of big business. Many voters had no idea what the measure really said, but liked Yes on 39 because it had "something" to do with taxing multi-state businesses and "something" to do with green energy. Yet tonight's early returns are a shocker: just 51.1 percent Yes, 48.9 percent No.
The big draw here is supposed to be that, for the first five years of this law, $550 million in tax hikes on businesses -- about half of the total take -- will go to creating "energy efficiency and clean energy jobs." Mostly to modernizing, insulating and greening California public buildings.
After five years the green money-train ends -- and the money gets eaten up God knows where in the vast California state budget.
Proponents say it isn't a "tax hike," it's just closing a tax loophole. But let's face it: the billions will flow in because the measure changes a 2009 law designed to attract businesses during the recession. If voters approve Prop. 39, out-of-state businesses will be forced to calculate their state income taxes based on the percentage of their actual sales in California. They'll pay a lot more in taxes.
For many, if Prop. 39 is approved tonight, the real question is "Will state officials set up a competent bureaucracy to spend all that money on green energy and energy efficiency?"
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Or -- horrible shivers and sick feeling in the stomach here -- will Sacramento leaders set up a Green Franken-authority like the California High Speed Rail Authority, which for years was led by political appointees who hadn't a clue what they were doing?
Look how the bullet train, which began as a very popular ballot measure in 2008, has turned out:
A key USC poll a couple of months ago showed that the vast majority of Californians would vote No on high speed rail, if given another chance.
Update: With 15.3% of statewide precincts reporting, this measure is winning big with 59 percent Yes and 41 percent No.