Kevin Drum explains today how he intends to vote on the many propositions on the California ballot tomorrow, including his "no" vote on Proposition 21, which would put an $18 surcharge on the annual vehicle registration fee to fund state parks:
It's a hard one to vote against since it's fully self-funding and fiscally defensible, but we just can't keep doing stuff like this. Every year we pass ever more initiatives that set up special funds or earmark revenue for special purposes or demand that the legislature allocate spending in a certain way. Then we complain that the budget is a mess. We really have to stop doing this, even in a good cause.
In principle, Drum is right. It’s ridiculous to keep adding random taxes to various products; they have little to no connection with policy, and in a state where cars are not a luxury but a necessity, this is a particularly regressive tax. But Prop 21 is really an attempt to work around the dysfunctional state funding mechanism ushered in 30 years ago by Prop 13, which slashed state revenue and made it close to impossible to raise taxes.
Unlike the other types of initiatives that Drum lumps with Prop 21, the ballot initiative won’t make budgeting more difficult or take money from other areas like past propositions requiring a certain percentage of the budget go toward a particular cause like k-14 education. This makes it the most innocuous way of mitigating California's dysfunctional government and the best option -- short of repealing Prop 13. Drum isn’t the only liberal who will vote "no," but a vote on Prop 21 should be determined by whether or not you think maintaining state parks is worth a regressive tax. A moral vote to reform the California budgeting process makes little sense because Prop 21 is a Band-Aid, not a cause of California’s unsustainable budgeting process. To fix that, California needs to get serious about reform, which is unlikely when even Jerry Brown extols the virtues of Prop 13.
-- Pema Levy