Is a Vote for Prop 29 a Vote for More Props?

The polls show a close race, so predicting the outcome of Prop 29 is hard. But here's one prediction that can be safely made: if the initiative wins, you can expect to see more propositions as follow-ups.

Why? Because the budget is broken and the state needs money.

And because Prop 29 locks up an estimated $735 million annually in cigarette taxes in special funds for cancer research that can't be touched.

Elected officials are sure to look for ways to tap that money, particularly given the consistent cuts to health and human service and universities.

First, those officials will look for loopholes in the measure that permit taking that money for other purposes. But by my reading of the measure, such loopholes don't appear to exist.

So the only other way to get the money? Ask voters to permit a raid. This will require a ballot proposition in California because initiatives can only be changed by another vote of the people. Prop 29, better than many initiatives in this regards, does permit changes after 15 years.

There is plenty of precedent for just this kind of ballot proposition (to grab money from an earlier ballot proposition). In 2009, for example, the legislature asked voters to grab money from funds for early childhood development and mental health -- locked-up funds that had been established by voters. The voters said no, but elected officials, in the face of constant budget pressures, are still trying to grab that money.

Prop 29's funds will be similarly tempting. If it wins, get ready for more "sons" of 29 on future ballots.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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