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All About Props

vote squareA guide to local and statewide propositions on the June ballot

If your knowledge of local and state propositions and measures ends with the number or letter used to identify them, look no further. With the June 5 special election swiftly approaching, we have compiled a handy guide to the propositions and measures you’ll find in the voting booth.

The upcoming election season is looking like a pivotal one for schools, but it’s not higher education that’s getting all the attention this time around. Before we dive into the school-related measures, here is a quick primer on parcel taxes:

Parcel taxes are taxes levied by local units of government. Property owners within the district pay them annually, but senior citizens can apply for exemption. Schools use them largely to supplement government spending, which accounts for approximately 75 percent of public school district funding. Of the 1,042 public school districts in California, about 245 of them have adopted parcel taxes.

First up is the Scotts Valley Unified School District and Measure K. The measure aims to levy a $48 parcel tax for the district for the next three years, and would generate roughly $300,000 for district schools each year that it remains in effect. The measure comes in the face of widespread budget crises among local schools.

Originally, the parcel tax was set as high as $84, but was lowered due to a lack of support; current polls show public support for the $48 tax at 72 percent. The measure will require a two-thirds super-majority vote to pass among the 12,000 registered voters in the district.

It’s not the only parcel tax measure on the ballot, either. Measures I and J both address the issue of under-funded schools via parcel tax initiatives, and cover schools in the Santa Cruz City Schools District. Measure I would increase the high school parcel tax from $28 to $38, in an effort to cover increasing budget gaps. Measure J would raise elementary school parcel taxes from $70 to $85 for the same reasons. Current parcel taxes for the district are set to expire in 2013, but Measures I and J would extend them until 2021.

The state propositions aren’t school related, and are predictably more controversial. Two propositions are slated for the June election, and both have inspired heated debate. The first, Proposition 28, aims to shake up current term limits for legislators. Proposition 29, the second, would raise taxes on cigarettes, with the tax money largely going toward cancer research.

Proposition 28 deals primarily with term limits. Essentially, it would cut the total amount of time an individual could serve in the state legislature (comprised of the state senate and the state assembly) from 14 years to 12. However, it would also allow for those 12 years to be served all in one branch, effectively allowing for a senator or an assemblyperson to ride out their entire political career in either the assembly or the senate alone.

Currently, if a legislator wants to serve their full 14 years, they must move back and forth between the senate and the assembly (serving eight in the senate and six in the assembly). If Proposition 28 passes, it would allow for legislators to serve 12 consecutive years in the assembly or senate alone.

Proponents of the measure argue that the bill would allow for more experienced legislators. They also say that Proposition 28 would cut down on the amount of campaigning done by legislators who are always only a few years from their next election, and allow them to focus their energies on legislative duties rather than reelection.

Opponents argue that the measure would create stagnation, and create monolithic legislators more beholden to their lobbyists than their voters. The argument says that the bill intentionally misleads voters into believing that Proposition 28 would cut down on term limits.

Proposition 28 would not affect legislators currently in office.

Proposition 29 seeks to levy an additional $1 tax on every pack of cigarettes sold in California. Revenue raised would be deposited into a special fund to finance cancer research and related facilities. The current projection estimates $855 million in revenue annually, dwindling slightly year-by-year after 2012.

A governing committee would be created to oversee the distribution of funds—the committee would include three University of California chancellors (from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz), and a selection of medical officials and interest group representatives appointed by the Governor of California and the Director of the California Department of Public Health.

Proponents say that the bill would help fund the National Cancer Research Institute, which has a dwindling budget, and would help cut down on smoking rates and related cancers. Supporters include the American Cancer Society, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City.

Opponents of the bill lambaste it as a special-interest tax measure, calling it wasteful government spending and an appeal to emotional interests. Opponents include Altria/Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco.

Approximately $8.5 million has been donated to the campaign for a “yes” vote on Proposition 29, with the largest donors being the American Cancer Society at $4.9 million, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation at $1.5 million.

On the opposition side, approximately $39.9 million has been donated toward the campaign for a “no” vote, with the largest donors being Altria/Phillip Morris at $23.7 million and R.J. Reynolds at $9.5 million.

At $.87 per pack, California has the 17th lowest tobacco tax in the United States. The national state average for cigarette taxes is $1.45. If Proposition 29 passes, the tax would rise to $1.87 per pack.

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