Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Position on San Francisco Ballot Propositions

Here's how I plan to vote on the San Francisco ballot propositions:

Proposition A

This is a bond to repair schools. Sorry, school repairs should not be paid for out of bond debt. They're an ongoing maintenance cost, and for those you need to raise revenue. I'm against any bond measure which isn't an obvious short-term expense for a long-term benefit. Repairs don't meet that standard. A bond would just rob the school system of future funding as more of the budget goes to paying the costs of this bond.

Proposition B

This proposition would borrow $260M to pave the streets, among other things. Sure: road maintenance is an important investment, but this is absolutely the wrong way to fund it. The city simply needs to find funds to pave streets from its annual $6.6B budget. If you fund maintenance this year with debt, you just make it that much harder to balance the books in future years as you pay the cost of that debt, and I don't foresee it getting any easier to balance budgets in the future. This bond would make it harder for the city to come up with funds to pave roads in the future, as more revenue would be directed towards paying off the bond. This measure is extremely poor economics. So I vote no.

Propositions C and D

These are competing pension reform measures for city workers. Every endorsement I've seen has been for one, against the other. The problem is there's over 27 thousand city employees and I think it's safe to say a good number of these are going to be voting against both measures: of course they want to keep their generous pensions as they are. So if the rest of the voters split with anything approaching equal weight between these two measures, neither passes, and we're still in the ridiculously unsustainable morass we are at present. The only way to prevent this from happening is for enough voters to vote for both. So that's what I'll do, even if I prefer D, which requires those earning more to pay more towards their pensions than those earning less. So yes on both C and D.

Proposition E

This allows the board to over-rule voter initiatives. This is an important check, and I fully support it. The typical voter does not take the time to carefully analyze every proposition: it's way too easy for mistakes to get made. Way too often proposed legislation is misleadingly represented, fooling voters into supporting something which is very much against the interest both of the city and of the cause for which the voters thought they were supporting. It's important for a mechanism to be in place to correct these mistakes. I vote yes.

Proposition F

This proposition changes rules for political consultants, for example requiring them to file monthly instead of quarterly reports. Really this sort of micro-management doesn't belong on the public ballot. I vote no; we have representative government for a reason.

Proposition G

This proposition would increase the sales tax collected by the city by 0.5%. In principle I'm fine with this, except the tax is directed to "public safety", and I don't believe in directed taxes. For one thing they're misleading: directing one revenue source to a particular budget item seems like it should increase funding for that item, but in reality it allows the city to reduce the allocation of funds from other sources. But even if the targeted funding isn't circumvented, it prevents the city from optimizing its resource allocation based on the present need. So I'll be all for a 0.5% sales tax increase if it doesn't come with the extra targeting baggage. So there's two possibilities: either the funds indirectly and misleadingly end up in the general fund, or they're tied up to a particular cause and the city is no longer able to budget efficiently. Either case is a lose. So I vote no on G.

Proposition H

This proposition is simple: it would make proximity a priority in allocating students to schools. Opponents say some schools suck, and it's unfair that local students get stuck with sucky schools. Well, the reality is some students, whether they be local or not, are going to get stuck with those sucky schools. The solution is to make the schools not suck, not sustain the illusion of "school choice" while essentially holding an annual Russian roulette of randomized school assignments. Given an allocation of students, I'd rather students go to school closer to home to reduce transportation costs. If students can walk or bike instead of get driven or take the bus, that's a substantial benefit. Opponents claim the proposition is "flawed", but I think this is just a tactic, as it's very simply written. I vote yes on H.

Most elections I have at least a few propositions where the decision seems tough, but this year I've not seen any compelling cases made to challenge what were my early preferences on any of these.

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