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Considering our propositions

By | October 22, 2008 | Opinion

I’VE WANTED THE POWER OF TELEPORTATION SINCE I first saw Captain Kirk dissolve in a million glowing pieces, only to be reassembled somewhere thousands of miles away.

Sometimes, when I’m sitting in traffic, late for class and hitting every red light on Shaw, I’ll heave a sigh and wish for it again.

Now, I want bullet trains. Or high-speed rail, as Proposition 1A calls it.

I want to skim over the land so fast that I’m barely still a part of it. I want to leave Fresno and arrive in Los Angeles an hour and thirty minutes later without worrying about gas or traffic.

But I don’t want to pay for it.

The proposed system of high-speed trains would stretch from Sacramento to San Diego. A final cost is not estimated in the proposition, but it calls for $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds to be issued.

Of this bond money, $9 billion would be used “in conjunction with available federal funds” to pay for the construction of the trains. The remaining $950 million would be used to connect existing train tracks to the new system.

According to Forbes, general obligation bonds are based on faith. The state is not required to put up any collateral; bond holders must just believe that the state will eventually pay back its debts.

With California’s dire economic condition, it’s hard to imagine investors will be jumping at the chance to throw their money at a project like this.

Prop 1A isn’t the only high-dollar proposition on this year’s ballot. Proposition 3 calls for $980 million in bonds to pay for “construction, expansion, remodeling, furnishing and equipping of children’s hospitals.”

The proposition also says that the final cost to the state will be around $2 billion, to be paid over the next 30 years.

I might be less suspicious of this proposition if “remodeling” and “furnishing” were not part of the description. How much of this money might be used to pay for comfier chairs in the lobby or petunias on the receptionists’ desks is not mentioned.

Then there’s Proposition 5, which seeks to increase rehabilitation opportunities for non-violent drug offenders (including peddlers), a program that “could exceed $1 billion annually.”

The prop goes on to say that the state might be able to save that amount in prison costs, however, because of “reduced prison and parole operating costs” — probably due to releasing these offenders sooner.

Prop 5 also projects a one-time savings of $2.5 billion in the prison system.

So while I’m inclined to disbelieve that California actually knows how to save money, this prop sounds like it may have been thought through.

At least, it sounds that way until you get to the next proposition. Prop 6 attempts to crack down on gang activity by spending an unspecified amount on a smorgasbord of state programs.

One of the violations it seeks to increase penalties for is “using or possessing to sell methamphetamine.” But Prop 5 “limits court’s authority to incarcerate [non-violent drug] offenders who violate probation or parole.”

The part of Prop 6 that does sound worthwhile removes the option of bail for illegal aliens who have been convicted of felonies. California’s crowded prisons were supposed to be saving around $1 billion by shortening sentences for non-violent drug offenders. Increasing penalties for gang-related felonies is hard to argue with, but Props 5 and 6 just don’t seem compatible.

Then there’s Prop 10, which offers incentives to those who purchase “clean energy” vehicles, as well as some incentives to researchers and colleges involved with alternative fuel development.

Who’s for dirty air?

Not me.

But I’m also not keen on the estimated $9.8 billion — $5 billion in principal and $4.8 in interest — this proposition seeks to pay out. At least in this case, most of the original $5 billion would end up in the hands of individuals who purchased “alternative” vehicles. Maybe the legislature thinks that $2,000 is enough to make up for being stuck with a Prius.

The last proposition on the ballot seeks to grant $900 million to assist veterans in purchasing farms, homes or mobile homes.

I love my country and support my troops, but $900 million to buy mobile homes seems a little sketchy. It also seems like an odd time in the housing market to introduce such a bill.

When all is said and done, there are only three propositions that don’t project huge amounts of money getting sucked out of California’s pockets and two more that don’t offer a projected budget or means of payment.

Prop 2, which specifies how much room a confined animal must have, will hit the Central Valley’s farmers hard at a time when they — we — can least afford it.

Prop 4, which says that a minor must notify a parent or guardian before having an abortion, has been voted down before.

Prop 8, which defines marriage as between a man and woman, is one I’ll be voting for even though I know already that it shall not pass.

And Prop 11 seems to be gerrymandering.

After examining all of the propositions that need financing, doing my civic duty means voting for fewer bullet trains and more children’s hospitals.

But that’s all right.

Road-tripping has its perks. After all, you can’t just pull over at In-N-Out if you’re whizzing through the city at 180 miles per hour.

Pass the ketchup.

Heather Billings is a senior at Fresno State majoring in mass communication and journalism with emphases in print journalism and digital media.

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4 Responses to Considering our propositions

  1. gm says:

    Nice piece Heather. For years people have voted for propositions mindlessly, apparently believing that someone else will pay for them or it will somehow just go away(kind of like balloon payments on mortgages or numerous home equity loans). People need to determine if we can really afford to do some of these things, keeping in mind that it is a government operation which means they will cost far more and accomplish far less that predicted. That doesn’t mean nothing is worth investing in. Just cast a skeptical eye on all these propositions and remember that the government will be taking money from you for the next few decades to pay for them. One other note. Gerrymandering is what goes on now. Politicians get to draw their own districts so, surprise, they seem to always get reelected or the seat stays in the same party’s hands. How else can you explain a state with a deficit now over 20 billion dollars having virtually every one of its incumbents guaranteed reelection. Maybe by getting it out of their hands, we can have competitive elections and greater accountability.

  2. gm says:

    Nice piece Heather. For years people have voted for propositions mindlessly, apparently believing that someone else will pay for them or it will somehow just go away(kind of like balloon payments on mortgages or numerous home equity loans). People need to determine if we can really afford to do some of these things, keeping in mind that it is a government operation which means they will cost far more and accomplish far less that predicted. That doesn’t mean nothing is worth investing in. Just cast a skeptical eye on all these propositions and remember that the government will be taking money from you for the next few decades to pay for them. One other note. Gerrymandering is what goes on now. Politicians get to draw their own districts so, surprise, they seem to always get reelected or the seat stays in the same party’s hands. How else can you explain a state with a deficit now over 20 billion dollars having virtually every one of its incumbents guaranteed reelection. Maybe by getting it out of their hands, we can have competitive elections and greater accountability.

  3. whatever says:

    I agree with GM that prop 11 is designed to make gerrymandering much harder. Right now they get to draw their own districts.

    Also, I think while the high speed rail stuff is expensive, Fresno is in dire need of some industry and I think this will provide some. Investment from big cities is also very possible, with SF and LA becoming much closer and a potential hour commute to Fresno.

    Anything to make Fresno less remote will be a good thing, Population is only going to rise in the near future and we need good jobs.

    And as the Fresno Bee pointed out a few days ago, many of our biggest accomplishments were made during dire economic times and helped eventually bring us out of them and/or were vital after the crises.

  4. whatever says:

    I agree with GM that prop 11 is designed to make gerrymandering much harder. Right now they get to draw their own districts.

    Also, I think while the high speed rail stuff is expensive, Fresno is in dire need of some industry and I think this will provide some. Investment from big cities is also very possible, with SF and LA becoming much closer and a potential hour commute to Fresno.

    Anything to make Fresno less remote will be a good thing, Population is only going to rise in the near future and we need good jobs.

    And as the Fresno Bee pointed out a few days ago, many of our biggest accomplishments were made during dire economic times and helped eventually bring us out of them and/or were vital after the crises.

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