Current Ballot Initiative Petitions – Tea Party Perspective

B-Daddy B-Daddy 17 Comments

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It’s that time in the election cycle where we are seeing a big push to get petitions signed to qualify ballot measures. I signed four petitions over the weekend, and thought I would share what I consider to be the tea party perspective. (Following Dean‘s lead, I am going to start using small case for tea party to emphasize that it is a social movement, not a political party.)

“Fair and Open Competition in Construction” initiative
This measure would enjoin the city of San Diego from entering into Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). PLAs generally require agreed upon rules about union participation, prevailing wage rates and other working conditions for each city construction project. There purported (look it up, great word to describe most leftist schemes) rationale is to ensure “fair” working conditions and labor peace on construction projects. Apologists claim that it prevents a “race to the bottom” in construction bidding leading to employment of illegal aliens and other dubious practices. However, as someone with experience in contracting for services to be supplied to the government, I can tell you that lowest bid is only one part of the bidding process. Generally, government can make a judgement on the “best value.” That means contractor past performance, variance to independent government estimates, low or high, can be considered and one can even ask for the bona fides of the key employees who will work the project. The real purpose of the PLA is to ensure that union shops, with their higher wage base, can compete with non-union shops. That’s a bad deal for the taxpayer. Why would we want to guarantee higher costs on city contracts, when we can still apply a best value criteria?

San Diego Pension Reform
This measure, co-sponsored by Mayor Sanders and Councilmen DeMaio and Faulconer, would put new employees, except police, into a 401(k) style pension, rather than a defined benefits package, bringing the city in line with the private sector, and indeed even the federal government has partially gone this route. The U-T, continuing their drift left, has an article about all of the dangers of 401(k) plans. I agree that there are pitfalls, and we are seeing them in the private sector, but the article misses the point of the measure. The taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for the risk of pension funding, that risk should go to the employees. People just have to get more informed about managing their own money, starting with the view that their 401(k) contribution should be maximized, and their lifestyle reduced to live on the rest of their income. If that doesn’t leave enough spending money, then find more lucrative work, get a promotion, cut back on spending, or something, but don’t expect taxpayers to foot the bill and the future risk. This is a huge culture change in America, but twenty years from now, people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Internet Sales Tax aka Referendum to Overturn Law Requiring Internet Retailers to Collect Same Sales or Use Taxes as Other Retailers
This is the so called Amazon sales tax repeal. I am against this because I believe that the state unlawfully is applying the case law and what the term “nexus” means. The Economist has a nice summary of the issues. California is claiming that because Amazon contracts with local retailers who use the Amazon platform to sell their wares, they have a “nexus” in California. This is just a tax grab of course, smoke and mirrors to try and balance the California budget with new taxes. Why have the courts ruled against such taxes in the past? From the Economist:

. . .Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that states cannot force retailers without an in-state presence, or “nexus”, to collect sales tax; it would lead to chaos in interstate commerce, since America has some 8,000 different sales-tax jurisdictions that are constantly changing their rules and are not even aligned with zip codes. But there was ambiguity in that awkward word, nexus.

It is up to the Congress to normalize sales tax collection on cross border sales among the states, because that actually is a proper regulation of interstate commerce envisioned by the founders, unlike say, forcing individuals to buy a product just because they are alive. That said, I’m not sure how this circle can be squared, because too many states have no sales tax. Regardless, California’s new law will actually decrease tax revenue as retailers associated with Amazon flee the state or shut down. Certainly, they won’t be able to use Amazon as their platform any longer, as Amazon has given them the boot. Mrs. Daddy can’t even earn a paltry few bucks by recommending products on her blog any more, this is a crappy law.

Prohibits Political Contributions by Payroll Deductions
I might have made a mistake on this one. What caught my eye was that it would prohibit unions from collecting dues through payroll deductions that could be used for political purposes and required an in writing requirement, to be certified annually. Here is the language from the Secretary of State web site:

Restricts union political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Same use restriction would apply to payroll deductions, if any,by corporations or government contractors. Permits voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly, in writing. Prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees.

Stop the presses, that last sentence bothers me. As much as I dislike unions, I dislike the thought of trampling First Amendment rights even more. I don’t think the last sentence would withstand court scrutiny, but I am now sorry I signed this petition.

Here is one I passed on.

Americans Elect petition to be a political party.
This one is a little odd. This organization is trying to set up a political party for the purpose of having a single nationwide primary to determine who would be the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees, outside of the existing political parties. To make their plan work, they have to qualify as a political party themselves. I haven’t given this enough thought, nor do I know anything about the organization, but it looks suspicious. Irregular Times blog has more.

That’s a wrap on the weekend’s political activity. When you go shopping, you’re likely to be accosted by a petition gatherer, so let’s be careful out there.

Cross posted at The Liberator Today.

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Comments 17

  1. Very thought-provoking article and an excellent analysis
    of these various measures !

    One point of clarification, do I understand rightly that you
    Oppose the special State sales tax on firms like Amazon?

    Anyway, Hats off in this corner to Mr. B-Daddy.

  2. B-Daddy,

    My understanding (I could be wrong) of the “Fair and Open Competition” initiative is that it bans PLAs on any construction project, not just public projects, that receive any government assistance (even a right-of-way or easement).

    Is this correct? If so, I certainly do not want the government telling a private developer that they can’t enter into an agreement to build their project any way they see fit.

  3. Just to be clear — this article is NOT the official and perhaps even generally supported Tea Party viewpoint on ALL of these props.

    In particular I disagree on the “payroll deduction” prop’s analysis. B-Daddy is concerned about 1st Amendment issues hobbling corporations and unions funding favored candidates. But in reality — if the measure passes – both unions and corporations are still free to give money to IE (Independent Expenditure) campaigns to support or oppose candidates — as long as these funds are not run or influenced by the candidates.

    I’m no expert in this area, but I believe unions are CURRENTLY denied the ability to DIRECTLY give money to candidates. I think that currently corporations can directly fund state candidates, but are often prohibited from funding local candidates for office. I’m sure Jim Sills or others who live and breathe this stuff can clarify this matter.

    BOTTOM LINE: Corporations and unions will still be able to fund political candidates — just not with direct bribes — errr, contributions.

    BTW, many here know this factoid — but repetition doesn’t hurt. As I understand it, most corporate money goes to the INCUMBENTS — not to Republicans as is generally assumed. In CA that means that most corporate money goes to Democrats.

    I might add that the “Amazon sales tax” issue is still somewhat contentious among conservatives (and probably the Tea Party). Some like the “level playing field” of requiring vendors selling goods to CA residents to COLLECT (not pay) the sales tax for the state — even with all the collateral damage and the non-collection that results.

    Don’t get me wrong — I thoroughly AGREE with B-Daddy that this state law should be repealed. It’s a federal matter, and I hope the feds don’t get involved.

    I am just making the point that some within the Tea Party think otherwise. The Tea Party is a bigger tent than some realize — for better or for worse.

  4. Alger, the ban is on the PROJECT requiring a PLA when it goes out to bid — that a PLA cannot be a prerequisite for bidding.

    The firm winning the bid is free to mandate that laborers on the project be paid prevailing wage, or even $100 an hour if they want.

    The key is BID. It’s hard to imagine a firm winning a fair and open competition bid mandating that they grossly overpay their own workers and contractors.

  5. Richard,

    I understand that this initiative doesn’t prevent whoever wins a bid on a public project from using whoever they want to build it. That was not my question.

    My question concerns whether or not this initiative would prohibit a PRIVATE developer who receives any form of public subsidy from signing a PLA and requiring whoever wants to bid on building his project to adhere to that PLA.

    Most, if not all, major projects will need some form of public subsidy, even if it is just an easement. Will this initiative ban the private businesses that own those projects from choosing to sign a PLA?

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    Jim, I am against the Amazon sales tax because I believe it is a federal matter and the state of California has unlawfully designated Amazon affiliates as forming a “nexus” of operations.

    Alger, Richard answered the PLA question better than I can.

    Richard, thanks for answering some of the questions. Also, you are right about the tea party being a big tent. I will discipline my future writings to use words like “a tea party perspective” or “my tea party perspective.” Also good point about the independent expenditures, but I still think that unions and corporations should be allowed to give to candidates. If the politician is stinky with corporate cash, make that a campaign issue. However, if this doesn’t change existing law on that front, I might be persuaded to change my mind. My main point was that we need to be careful when signing these petitions, the fine print can trip us up.

  7. Actually, B-Daddy, I would make the case that it’s okay to sign a petition WITHOUT reading the fine print — at the time you sign — if it generally seems to be an idea with which you concur (even with reservations). It is totally impractical people to sign petitions with such a “complete, full understanding” criteria. Oftentimes the best clue is who is backing an initiative — something pretty widely available via Google.

    Once it goes on the ballot, the real discussion, analysis and debate begins. The ballot arguments — and particularly who signs — are the best shorthand guide we have as to how to vote. Remember, you are not signing the petition to VOTE for the prop — only to put it before the voters.

  8. “I would make the case that it’s okay to sign a petition WITHOUT reading the fine print…”

    Richard, that is exactly why our initiative process is so messed up. People will sign to put anything on the ballot believing like you that “… you are not signing the petition to VOTE for the prop — only to put it before the voters.”

    Unfortunately, once an initiative gets on the ballot, it passes or fails based much more on how much money is raised to support or fight it and on how well a political consultant can spin the issue than on what the initiative really says in “the fine print.”

  9. B-Daddy,

    Actually Richard did not answer my question. He did give a good explanation of what the initiative would mean for a public works project such as a fire station or a road but I was more concerned with what effect, if any, this may have on a private developer (hotel, high rise mixed-use building, etc) who was subsidized in any way by the City. Would he be banned from signing a PLA and using only contractors who were willing to abide by the terms of that PLA?

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    Alger,
    Here is the text, you can interpret as well as I can.

    Except as required by state or federal law as a contracting or procurement obligation, or as a condition of the receipt of state or federal funds, the City shall not require a Contractor on a Construction Project to execute or otherwise become a party to a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of bidding, negotiating, awarding or the performing of a contract.

  12. Alger, your objection to propositions is the fundamental objection to democracy itself. Opposing sides try to convince politicians or the public to vote one way or another. Since one side might be better convincing the voters (or have more money) than the other, that’s “messed up.”

    If you don’t like the petition/proposition process for these reasons, how in the world can you in any way accept legislation passed by politicians? They do NOT read the laws, they often have little time to cogitate on the matter or hear a full discussion/debate of the issues, and they are offered bribes to vote one way or the other (a.k.a. political funding and support).

    Yet apparently you think THAT legislative process is somehow superior to propositions. With props the public has months to consider the matter, get ballot arguments and endorsements from both sides to consider (often the best info is who supports or opposes a measure) and have plenty of time to make a decision.

    And BTW, money is not necessarily the decider on prop issues. The last seven statewide tax increases were defeated, though in each case tax increase proponents greatly outspent opponents. Same outcome for Prop D here in San Diego.

  13. B-Daddy,

    Thanks for providing the text. If that’s all there is, I have no concerns. Previous initiatives ( Chula Vista for example) were much more restrictive.

  14. Richard,

    It is the full-time job of our federal, state and city elected officials to understand what they are voting on. I agree that this doesn’t always happen, but they also have the advantage of non-partisan legislative analysts to rely on as well. The public has no such help nor the time to delve into every initiative that is proposed. I could make a good argument that much of the trouble we now face is due to the passing of past initiatives.

    It would be instructive to re-read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and count how many times the word “Democracy” is found. Our Founding Fathers were not big fans of letting the people decide many, if any, issues.

  15. Alger, my proffered definition of “democracy” is essentially that the majority rules. And given that we have dropped the “republic” structure of state government (now it’s one man, one vote), our state legislature is simply representative democracy.

    I would recommend a book you might want to study to better understand how sausage is made in the legislature. Read retired CA state legislator H. L. Richardson’s work “What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?”
    http://www.amazon.com/What-Makes-Think-Read-Bills/dp/0916054780

    I think you’ll find your idealized junior high civics class version of how government works is found ONLY in whitewashed government textbooks. The CA legislature votes on literally hundreds of bills in the last few weeks — bills that have been amended, rewritten and even covertly changed (so no real analysis is available most of the time). NO ONE knows what is in most of the bills on which they vote.

    On props, the public is offered both sides on EVERY issue (unless there is no opposition argument). Plus we can clearly see who is backing or opposing each measure — a terrific shortcut when deciding how to vote. And we have literally MONTHS to study these UNCHANGEABLE props before we vote.

    Perhaps your undying faith in the legislative process correlates with the lockstep Democrat control of both houses. Ya think?

  16. Just to amplify my last paragraph about Democrat control of the state legislature:

    “The California State Legislature currently has a Democratic majority, with the Senate consisting of 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans and the Assembly consisting of 52 Democrats and 28 Republicans. Except for the period from 1995 to 1996, the Assembly has been in Democratic hands since the 1970 election (even while the governor’s office has gone back and forth between Republicans and Democrats). The Senate has been in Democratic hands continuously since 1970.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_State_Legislat

  17. Richard,

    You do have a tendency to put words in my mouth. I never said I have “undying faith in our legislative process.” Do you have undying faith in the initiative process? Are you happy with all the bonded indebtedness we have because of it?

    You also conveniently ignored my challenge to re-read our country’s founding documents. Isn’t the battle cry of the right to stay true to the intentions of our Founding Fathers? I do not remember reading that any of them were in favor of direct democracy. Do you?

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