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Prop 29: Should I Vote for a Good Proposal or Against a Bad Process?


Photo: joebeone/Flickr/Creative Commons License

As readers of my commentaries know, I am no fan of the initiative process. I believe that the process that was designed to protect against the influence of special interests has now been hijacked by those same interests. What one needs to qualify a proposal for the ballot is not a good idea, but money. Money also doesn't hurt much in getting initiatives passed (meaning money is one of the key factors to success). When and if an initiative is successful, dollars to donuts that measure will end up in the courts. We often spend time and resources litigating the meaning and constitutionality of initiatives. And a good percentage of the time at least a portion of an initiative is tossed. In addition to all of these problems, initiatives bypass the (hopefully) deliberative process that occurs when laws are passed by the legislature.

So why am I considering voting for one of these dreaded initiatives? One of the measures on the June 5, 2012 ballot in California is Proposition 29, which is called the "Tobacco Tax for Cancer Research Act." Prop 29 would increase the sales tax on each pack of cigarettes from 87 cents to $1.87. The additional revenue, which the Legislative Analyst's Office estimates to be about $735 million per year, would go to funding cancer research and programs aimed at reducing smoking.

You can likely see my problem as that proposal sounds good to me. Here are two fairly uncontroversial things that I believe: First, fewer people should smoke since smoking can cause serious health risks; second, more money should go to cancer research. But here is a third, more controversial belief: The initiative process is deeply flawed (see above).

Where does this leave me? On the one hand it's hard to argue against the purpose and anticipated effect of Prop 29. On the other hand, it would be enacted through a process I generally do not support. Do I vote for the proposal and hold my nose about the process through which the proposal got to the ballot? Do I show my disapproval for the initiative process by voting against all initiatives? Or do I just sit it out?

It seems that my preferred option, having a legislative branch that would enact this law, is not available.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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