Sunday, November 4, 2012

California Minus 30 Equals...

Ever since our Tikkun Olam committee hosted a dialogue on "voting your values", I've been thinking a lot about what this means.  This morning, as I skimmed through a ballot guide that can only be described as overwhelming, I felt the weight of this responsibility. Registered voters in California are being asked to jury a mind-boggling breadth of debates, from the minimum wage in San Jose to labeling of genetically-engineered foods.

Generally speaking, this strikes me as a really bad idea.  Why?  Because, for the most part, we don't know what we're talking about.  Columnist Robert J. Elisberg summed it up well when he called the California Proposition system "an ill-thought out disaster":

"However poorly one thinks of politicians, the Proposition System is worse. It starts with the faulty premise that the voting public is going to willingly study a thick guidebook... Instead, with propositions, they turn to watching 30-second TV ads to learn what the laws are about.  Watching 30-second TV ads to learn what a law is about is like reading a fortune cookie and believing that you now understand Eastern Philosophy."

The prop system has also evolved into another stage where wealth inequality plays out.  Four of the eleven initiatives on the 2012 ballot are the pet projects of single uber-rich individuals - and others are being shot down with the help of millions in funding from equally wealthy critics.  The glossy, emotionally-charged fliers that fill our mailboxes leave Californians feeling obligated to exercise the right to vote on these propositions - but eminently unqualified to do so.

Historically, this has made me a sort of conscientious objector when it comes to most ballot props.  I am suspicious of their sponsors - their motives and, even when they mean well, their credentials.  And I am often equally skeptical about my own credentials as arbiter. 

But this year, there's a chink in my armor: Prop 30.  Unlike most propositions, which leave all but the most tenacious fact-finders with little clue about what will really happen if they do or don't pass, the consequences of Prop 30 are pretty clear because of the "trigger cuts" included in the state budget if Prop 30 fails.  According to KQED's non-partisan 2012 California Proposition Guide,

"K-12 schools and community colleges would lose $5.35 billion. The University of California and California State University systems would each lose $250 million. City police departments, CalFire, the park system, flood control programs and others would also lose several million dollars each."

Did you read that?  $5.35 billion.  This from a school system where PTAs already do fundraisers to buy paper for the copy machine, and students get extra credit for bringing boxes of tissues to class.

I think back to the Tikkun Olam dialogue about voting our values.  If there's one value that has been instilled in me as fundamentally Jewish since the day I became a fertilized egg, it's the importance of education.  From the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:
"The Jewish commitment to public education dates back to the time of the Torah and Talmud... The Reform Jewish Movement has long stood in strong support of public education recognizing that an educated population is the cornerstone of democracy. The United States' well-being depends on the decisions of its educated, informed citizens...
When we invest in public education, we invest in our children and our nation's future."
If we're voting our values, we must give our public schools the resources they need to fulfill their mission.  Surely, a quarter cent increase in sales tax isn't more than the average Californian can stomach to bet on our future - whether their children attend public schools, or they'll count those students as colleagues some day, or they'll rely on them as neighbors and members of their communities 10 and 20 years from now.  For me, the choice is clear.  But it raises another question: why believe that Prop 30 has the right formula?

Because this proposition represents Governor Jerry Brown's plan, not that of a rogue billionaire.  Because it wouldn't even be on the ballot if California weren't suffering the same legislative gridlock that has crippled Obama's efficacy in his first term.  Because I believe that Jerry Brown is not only smart but also a devoted and experienced public leader who knows what he is doing.  Because government, for all its flaws, can act in the name of shared values in ways that the private sector simply can't.  .

I'm so tired of this election cycle- the inflated outrage around slips of the tongue, the asenine stream of MoveOn Facebook posts, the never-ending pleas for more money to secure Obama's reelection.  (Though honestly, if there were a magic number that would clinch it for him, and I could afford it, I'd write the check tomorrow.)  But weariness aside, I ask you: Please, ffs, vote Yes on 30.