Prop 26 could neutralize defeat of Prop 23

Californians have been hoodwinked … again.  Prop 26, which won solidly on November 2, could undo the good work that citizens intended by defeating Prop 23, the anti-renewable resources initiative sponsored by Texas oil money.  Oil money was also behind Prop 26, but its proponents kept it under the radar screen, while its convoluted wording kept the initiative ambiguous and misleading.

The successful constitutional amendment calls for a supermajority of the legislature to approve certain taxes and fees.  Unfortunately, for those who opposed Prop 23 and support the state’s groundbreaking legislation to fight global warming, those very same taxes and fees provide the financial underpinnings for AB 32.  “We put so much effort into defeating Prop 23 that we took our eye off the ball and let Prop 26 slip by,” David J. Landecker, Executive Director of the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara, told me following the vote.

The proposition was deceptively labeled the “Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees” act, which on the surface sounds like an anti-tax bill in an anti-tax election cycle.  But in fact, the bill is aimed at lowering fines paid to the state by polluters such as big oil companies – fines that would support implementation of AB 32.  By conflating “taxes” and “fees”, the bill’s supporters snuck one by on voters.  We should know by now that so-called supermajorities (requiring 2/3 of legislators rather than a simple majority for passage) are near impossibilities in California. 

The Planning and Conservation League of California called Prop 26 “the Polluter Protection Act” in a news release dated November 3. 

      “This sneaky cohort of Prop 23 was funded by California oil giants Chevron and Occidental as well as the California Chamber of Commerce.  Certain big businesses, like Chevron, are required by California law to pay fees to address the negative effects of their products (for instance Chevron is the largest single polluter in California, prior to the passage of 26 they were required to pay fees to clean up their pollution).”

An alarmed San Francisco Chronicle editorialized:

     “Long after the names of most candidates for the down-ticket offices are forgotten, elected officials at the state and local levels will be bemoaning the shackles of Prop. 26, which requires that all but a very narrow band of fees must be treated as taxes. “ 

     The newspaper called the act “so broad and so poorly written that it will negatively affect virtually every area of state and local government…It would become virtually impossible to make businesses pay for the costs they impose on taxpayers.”

Considering that the electorate overwhelmingly approved Prop 23, and voted to eradicate supermajority requirements for budget approval by the legislature, the victory of Prop 26 seems schizophrenic at best.  It’s likely that many voters didn’t understand the implications and responded to the word “tax” in the title of the act.  And it points out that California’s ballot initiative process creates as many problems as it solves.