Passing The Law of Unintended Consequences

While I am still bitterly muttering under my breath over California's non-participation in the GOP wave, at least one tiny little silver lining has appeared. Although voters passed Prop. 23, which affirmed the state's cap&trade law, they also approved Prop. 26, which requires a supermajority to pass fees and regulatory charges. Horrified global warming fans are starting to realize that the supermajority will make it highly unlikely that many of the fees and charges built into cap&trade will ever pass.

Has the popping of Champagne corks been premature?

We're referring to the defeat of Proposition 23, which has been hailed as the game-winning home run for California's climate change law.

But celebrations have turned to fears about the impact of what some have called its "evil twin" - Prop. 26, which passed Tuesday. That's the initiative relabeling environmental mitigation and other fees as taxes, requiring the virtually impossible to get two-thirds vote, thus starving state and local treasuries even further.

"In effect they will stop (AB32, the climate change law) with this," said Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California, who supports the law, "along with many of us in the business community." Hauge was referring to San Ramon's Chevron Corp. (which was "neutral" on Prop. 23) and the California Chamber of Commerce, both of which poured millions of dollars into Prop. 26.

According to a UCLA School of Law study last week, the initiative "could have substantial and wide-ranging impacts on implementation of the state's health, safety and environmental laws," including AB32. Noting that the state imposes regulatory fees for such programs, the study said Prop. 26 will "make it harder to fund these programs in the future."

First of all, when are we ever going to admit that ballot propositions like these are far from ideal? Voters hardly have the time and inclination to figure out how a particular proposition might play out, let alone how it might affect other propositions.

Still, if there is one area of law that deserves to be thrown into chaos, it's this one. Californians are famously pro-environment (who isn't? I like birds and blue skies, too), but state progressives use that tendency to craft all sorts of growth-smothering, business-destroying environmental regulations that are more about power and control than they are about saving the planet.

Californian pols are also adept to appealing to state voters' vanity. Despite years of depression level economics, everyone from the Governator on down likes to talk about how California is "on the vanguard" and "leading the way" for the rest of the country. Then they strike heroic socialist realist poses for the cameras while looking purposefully into the distance (I call this the Year Zero Face). The state's cap&trade law promises blue skies, which everyone hears about, but relies on faulty science and an enormous tax burden to accomplish its goals. Somehow this is never quite included in the discussion.

Still, while I like the idea of the state's environmental regs being thrown into at least temporary chaos, I do need to castigate the state GOP, which really slept on this and other propositions, all to its extreme disadvantage. For example, there was Prop. 25, which eliminated the supermajority requirement for passing taxes. I am a pretty plugged in guy, but until I read the voter guide a couple days before the election, I hadn't heard a word about this. By contrast, you couldn't listen to the radio for 20 minutes without hearing a "Pass 26" ad. Losing the tax supermajority was a disaster for the state, the taxpayers, and to the GOP. There was no organized opposition. I wouldn't be surprised if the vast majority of voters hadn't heard of Prop. 25 until they entered the voting booth.

Meanwhile, no Republican stood up to support passing Prop. 23. Our Republican governor led the opposition! Our Republican candidate for governor refused to say anything. And our Republican Senate candidate, when asked directly her position on Prop. 23, said she hadn't studied the issue. What do you need to study? By contrast, Barbara Boxer had a ready answer.

Agreed that Boxer is obnoxious, mean, and not as smart as she thinks she is. But, you know what? When someone asked her about Prop.23, she had an answer: she's against it. She also said passing it will result in the loss of US jobs. Plus, the oil companies are in favor of it. So, there you go.

Stupid? Sure. Misinformed propagandizing? Absolutely. But, Boxer is a pro speaking to an audience, that wants to know where she stands and why. That will take you a lot farther than stuttering answers about the complexity of an issue.

That's how it's done state GOP.

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