If you have watched any television in the last nine months you have probably seen a fair number of ads bashing Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger on various proposed initiatives, several of which the governor ultimately withdrew from consideration.
Ultimately, Schwarzengger’s reform agenda has been pruned down to four initiatives: Propositions 74, 75, 76 and 77.
Despite the hype from the supporters of Schwarzenegger and the opponents of Schwarzengger, largely represented by the leaders of public employee unions, the special election on Nov. 8 is probably not going to be as influential as the partisans would like us to believe.
The election is certainly not meaningless, but like most things, the truth of the initiatives lies somewhere in between what the supporters and opponents claim is the truth.
Proposition 74, which would extend the probationary period for public school teachers from two years to five years is a good example of this.
The proponents claim that tenure gives teachers a job for life, while opponents claim that tenure merely gives teachers a right to a hearing. Certainly tenure is not a right to a job, but historically the process to fire a teacher can take so many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars that in many cases few school districts even bother to try to fire any teacher regardless of the case against that teacher.
Unfortunately, Proposition 74 does nothing to streamline the process for dismissing tenured teachers, so even if under Proposition 74 one can now fire a few lemon teachers before attaining tenure, it would take years before we saw any significant effects in the education system.
Perhaps the most controversial issue on the ballot is Proposition 75, the paycheck protection initiative.
The measure would require public employee unions to receive an opt-in to use their members dues for political contributions as opposed to the status quo where unions only need to allow members to opt-out of political spending.
Unions claim that it would silence their political voice, although unions would be able to spend just as much as they currently do, provided that they can simply convince their members that they should support the union Public Action Committee.
The problem lies with actually convincing union members who are apolitical, politically moderate or even politically conservative that they should donate to a PAC that supports overwhelming liberal causes.
Nevertheless, despite the arguments by the libertarian right that the initiative will dramatically increase rights for union members, the initiative contains one large loophole that would allow most of the current union-funded ads we are seeing on television to continue even after this initiative receives voter approval under the guise of voter education.
The debate over the proposed initiative spending cap, Proposition 76, has been remarkably caustic. Critics claim that the measure would cause dramatic cuts in education, albeit the measure would, at worst-case, slow growth in education spending.
The elimination of Test 3 in Proposition 98 would likely slow the growth of the Proposition 98 spending floor, albeit in most years Test 3 is inoperative.
The state legislative analyst notes that the proposed spending cap would probably not even be reached in the first year of implementation making the claim of dramatic cuts dubious.
While the measure wouldn’t give the governor ‘unlimited power,’ the measure would give the governor new constitutional powers to reduce state spending until it falls below the spending cap when the budget exceeds the proposed state spending cap for as little as 30 days.
Certainly this proposal is more than a budget cap as some proponents claim.
While most of the governor’s reform agenda polarizes political parties, the proposed redistricting initiative, Proposition 77, has garnered bipartisan opposition.
The measure is modeled after Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting which has proved to create competitive legislative districts.
Both Republican and Democratic legislators fear that if a panel of retired judges creates more competitive districts, they could lose their positions.
While this form of nonpartisan redistricting may improve competition, most voters will still live within uncompetitive districts.
The Rose Institute based at Claremont McKenna College declared that Proposition 77 might create 10 competitive congressional districts, but even that isn’t much better than the status quo.
The problem is that in many parts of the state there is virtually no way of creating competitive districts. It certainly wouldn’t be redistricting Tom DeLay style, as some Democrats are trying to imply, but it is unlikely to be a magic solution to the all partisan squabbling.
Therefore, the true effect of the governor’s reform agenda initiatives likely lies somewhere in between the two polarized opinions found in political advertisements on television.
Shawn Augsburger is a graduate student in education. He can be reached at email@example.com.