Before diving into the individual propositions, I thought it time to update my “general principles”:
1) In general, ballot measures are a bad idea. They aren't vetted by the normal legislative processes, which allow for compromise and amendment, and they create a "higher level" of statutory law which the Legislature cannot easily amend if changes need to be made. When in doubt, vote no. Unfortunately, the increasing body of initiative-based laws over time has resulted in many situations where an initiative is required to do something that could normally be done by the Legislature. (I’ve tried to mark those with asterisks.)
2) Ballot-box budgeting has made a quagmire of California's finances. Anything that further locks the budget into mandated spending is making the problem worse, no matter how well-intentioned.
3) Bond measures are supposed to be for emergencies and investment in capital improvements which will pay themselves off in increased prosperity for the state. Anything else is just a cheap way to make future generations pay our bills.
4) The state constitution is there to establish the basic structure of the government and to define fundamental rights. The fact that it can be amended by a simple 50% majority has made the California constitution into a joke. Use the federal constitution as a guideline: if any proposed amendment is longer than a couple paragraphs, then it doesn't belong in the constitution. Again, we need to make exceptions for fixing the many past amendments which can only be modified through this process. (And again, I’ll try to mark those with asterisks.)
5) My newest rule of thumb: If the argument for a measure can be summed up as “but think of the children!” then it’s probably a bad idea. These are usually cheap “feel good” propositions that sacrifice good governance and pragmatic results for the sake of scoring easy political points. At best they’re well-intentioned but misguided, at worst they’re cynical attempts to pass odious laws in disguise.
On to the propositions...
Prop 30*: Yes
This is an unpleasant but necessary measure, raising taxes to pull California out of the abyss of red ink. I personally prefer a heavily progressive tax code and would prefer not to raise the regressive sales tax, but the fact that this hits both ends of the tax spectrum is a good thing – the fairest tax increases are usually those that leave nobody happy. The constitutional transfer of budget authority for emergency services back to local government is also a step in the right direction. This measure was already “passed” by the governor and legislature and is designed to work with the current budget. It’s also the first example of a “fix it” measure; the fact that we need a constitutional amendment to set temporary tax rates is just another indicator of how screwed up the whole initiative system has become.
Prop 31*: No
So many of the ideas in this measure look good, e.g. transfer of authority back to local governments and long-term budgeting, that I’m sorely tempted to say yes. But the more detail I read, even in the promotional info from the backers, the more I kept running into places where my internal “good idea” reaction turned into “huh?” or even “wtf!” Prop 31 is a mish-mash of gloriously half-baked reforms that I’d like to see explored, but there’s no way I’m going to vote for it as is. A quote from the L.A. Times nicely summed up my opinion: “It is too broad, too shallow and, importantly, for a measure that adds new language to the state Constitution, too inflexible.”
Prop 32: No
This is, plain and simple, an anti-union measure. It disingenuously purports to treat unions and corporations equally, but corporations don’t use payroll deductions to pay for political activities – they take the money out BEFORE it gets to the paycheck. I’d be more than happy to reduce the influence of both unions and corporations on elections – but only on BOTH. Unions and corporations are natural checks on each others' excesses, and as long as one side’s allowed to play politics then the other needs the same ability. (Btw, the idea that unions are stealing money from unwilling workers to use in politics is an outright lie. Union membership is always voluntary, and representation fees paid by non-members can't be used for political activities.)
Prop 33*: No (again)
See http://swmartin.livejournal.com/30544.html . The fact that Mercury Insurance has spent millions to put an almost identical measure back on the ballot means they obviously expect this change to bring them even more millions in profit by somehow increasing overall insurance rates. The fact that it’s not obvious HOW just makes me more suspicious. As the ballot measure argument so elegantly states, “When was the last time an insurance company executive spent $8 million on a ballot initiative to save you money?”
Prop 34: Yes
I believe as a matter of principle that there are times and places where society has a right to execute individuals. But as a matter of practice, there’s just too much chance of getting it wrong, so I think it’s better to err on the side of leniency and just dump the death penalty. The fact that life imprisonment is vastly CHEAPER than executing criminals makes this option even better. Note that though this issue is something that could be handled by the Legislature, this is such a hot button issue that I understand why so many politicians are unwilling to touch it... and that’s actually the original reason for having initiatives to begin with.
Prop 35: No
This one’s just unnecessary. Human trafficking is already illegal, and there’s no evidence that any of these changes will do a thing to reduce the problem – a problem which, while I hate to use the word “insignificant” for something so heinous, is not exactly “rampant” in California. This is also a case of principle 5 in action: an initiative more focused on appearing to solve the problem than actually doing so.
Prop 36*: Yes
Three strikes reform is long overdue. The original Prop 184 is a textbook example of how even good initiatives can go wrong – unintended side effects (like overflowing our prisons with petty criminals due to the technical definition of a “felony strike”) can’t be fixed during the simple “yes/no” voting process, nor can they be corrected by follow-up legislative action. Prop 36 addresses these problems reasonably while retaining the original intent of “three strikes and you’re out”. Meanwhile, Prop 36’s opponents come in two categories: people trying to score political points with a “hard on crime” attitude and the increasingly unsavory victims’ rights movement (which deserves a post of its own).
Prop 37: No
I’m all for labeling GMO foods, mostly so I can hold parties in which every dish is made from certified Franken-food. Allowing those who strangely want to avoid GMO foods the opportunity to do so would just be a minor side benefit. However, Prop 37 rings too many alarm bells. It’s so full of exceptions which water down the rules that it calls into question its basic purpose. So while I’m willing to appease the anti-GMO crowd, I’m going to insist they go through regular channels rather than risk putting a screwed up initiative on the books.
Prop 38*: No
Prop 38 is the “unofficial” counterpart to Prop 30, raising taxes primarily for education. It’s well-meaning but full of the kind of flaws that got us into this budget mess: attempts to micro-manage how the money is spent and explicitly preventing legislative attempts to “meddle” with it. More importantly, it threatens the passage of Prop 30; if both measures pass, only the one with the most votes goes into effect. I vastly prefer the simple, straightforward Prop 30, so this one’s gotta go.
Prop 39: No
This proposition includes a re-hash of Prop 24 (http://swmartin.livejournal.com/32071.html), with the addition of new rules on how the additional income should be used. While I’m still sympathetic to the proposed change, my “mild no” on Prop 24 becomes a firm no with the new budgeting limits. The last thing California needs is more mandated funding rules.
Prop 40: Yes
Prop 40 is a special case. It’s not an initiative, but a referendum – a challenge to the existing legislative districts which were created by the new committee-based re-districting process (a result of Prop 11). As such, a yes vote means to keep the status quo. In this specific case Prop 40 was a nasty little attempt by some state Senate incumbents to de-rail the new 2012 districts. They never even expected to succeed at the polls, only to get the courts to stay the new districts pending the outcome of the referendum, giving them one last “safe” election out of their old gerrymandered districts. However, since the courts refused to play ball that plan fell through, and Prop 40’s original backers (who, remember, originally wanted you to vote no) pulled their support and are now doing their best to pretend this never happened.