Know Your Props: The June 7 Primary Election

 

Next Tuesday, June 7, California voters will decide how their delegates are pledged at both the Democratic and Republican conventions. The media and the candidates themselves are sharpening the voters’ focus on these important outcomes. 

The state of California is also asking voters to approve a state constitutional amendment that would allow legislators to suspend the pay and benefits of any member of the state Senate or Assembly who loses his or her seat. In addition voters must decide on a parcel tax that supporters say would help protect and preserve San Francisco Bay. 

On March 28, 2014, for the first time in its history, the state Senate voted to suspend three of its members for alleged misconduct. Ron Calderon, Roderick Wright and Leland Yee lost their seats until such time the courts dismissed all criminal proceedings against them. However, the senate’s legislative counsel noted that while the senators could suspend their colleagues, they had no authority to suspend salaries or benefits. 

By August 2014 the members of the state Senate and Assembly passed a resolution, introduced by State Senator Darrel Steinberg, “to propose to the people of the State of California an amendment to the Constitution of the State, by amending Section 5 of Article IV. This amendment will appear on the June 7 ballot as Proposition 50. 

If Prop 50 passes with the required two-thirds majority, the constitutional amendment would: 

  • Authorize each house of the Legislature to suspend one of its members by two-thirds vote, and require members to forfeit salary and benefits while suspended.
  • Prohibit a suspended member from exercising rights, privileges, duties or powers of office, or using any legislative resources.
  • Provide that said suspension may end on specified date, or upon two-thirds vote of the suspended member’s house.

According to Ballotpedia, the League of Women Voters supports Prop 50 as a measure that promotes “an open governmental system that is representative, accountable and responsive.” The Sacramento Bee calls Prop 50 a measure “worth supporting as a step to help keep California’s legislators in line.”

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times points out that Prop 50 “would violate citizens’ right to due process and that its language was too vague.” Republican Senator Joel Anderson views Prop 50 a clever way to use a crisis to gain power, as it “would allow the majority party to use suspension as a tool for political retribution to punish members who question authority.”

Voters in the nine counties that surround San Francisco Bay will also decide if they wish to open their wallets for the next 20 years for a $12 per year parcel tax with the money set aside to restore the bay’s wetlands.

On the ballot the “San Francisco Bay Clean Water, Pollution Prevention and Habitat Restoration Program” will ask voters to decide if they wish “to protect San Francisco Bay for future generations by reducing trash, pollution and harmful toxins, improving water quality, restoring habitat for fish, birds and wildlife.” Further the measure points out that with its passage by a two-thirds majority the measure would be “protecting communities from floods, and increasing shoreline public access.” 

Ballotpedia points out that supporters of the measure claim that “restoring the bay would have beneficial effects on the environment, recreation around the bay, and the area’s natural flood protection.”  They also point to predictions of rising sea levels and the resulting damage to waterfront businesses, homes, airports, roads, and infrastructure. 

Opponents argued that the tax would be unfair because it charges all property owners in each of the nine counties “even though many residents lived far from the bay and did not benefit from its health as much as other residents.” They also point out that the tax measure is regressive. It charges “the same amount for the mansion of a rich person, a building owned by a corporation, and a small house owned by a poor family.” 

Some see the measure as a blank check because it does not spell out how the money would be spent.