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California Proposition Guide

Confused about what Prop. 23 means for AB32? And what's the difference between a tax and a fee? Don't panic.

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2010 California Proposition Guide

Are you confused about what Proposition 23 means for AB32? (Or is it the other way around?) If Prop. 19 is passed, would California turn into a real-life Cheech and Chong movie? And what's the difference between a tax and a fee, anyway?

Don't panic.

KQED News and The California Report have created this guide to the 2010 state ballot measures with you in mind. We took each proposition on the California ballot, picked at them, pulled them apart, and extracted just the main points and arguments of each one, so that you can make an informed decision this November 2.

You can even take this guide with you to the polls on election day. Download the printable version, or pull it up on your iPhone or other mobile device.

And with links to KQED's in-depth analysis and coverage of each measure, you don't have to stop with this guide. Take as deep a dive as you want -- and remember, November 2 is just around the corner. So get reading, and get informed!

Proposition 19

Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED

Marijuana Legalization

"Legalize it," sang reggae musician Peter Tosh. Tax it, said state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. Now California voters will decide what to do about pot.

If passed, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, or Prop. 19, would allow people 21 years old and older to possess, cultivate or transport marijuana for personal use. It would not permit people to use marijuana in public places or in the presence of minors. Local governments could regulate and tax commercial production and sale of marijuana.

It would still be an offense to sell marijuana to anyone under the age of 21. Companies could still test whether their employees use marijuana, but it's unclear how they could act on that knowledge. The measure would maintain the current ban on driving while intoxicated, though current law does not specify what the legal limit would be for marijuana use.

Supporters argue that legalization is long overdue, that it will cut crime and create revenue. The state Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that Prop. 19 could save several tens of millions of dollars annually in incarceration and parole. The RAND Corporation found that California's law enforcement costs for cannabis-related crimes are approximately $300 million a year. Supporters say state and local governments could reap hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and fees on marijuana production and sales.

Opponents of Prop. 19 believe that it will increase drug use among the young and lead to an increase in health and safety problems. They also say that the measure would cost billions of dollars in lost federal school grants and contracts because California employers could no longer comply with the federal "drug free workplace" requirement. The California Police Chiefs Association is concerned that people could legally drive "even if they have marijuana in their system."

On October 1 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger turned the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor into a civil infraction. That law will go into affect on January 1, 2011, whether Prop. 19 passes or not.

Things you should know:

  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the federal government will prosecute those who grow, sell or buy cannabis, and has requested that the Obama administration sue California.
  • Nine counties and several cities in California have banned medical marijuana use. The fate of those bans is unclear if Prop. 19 passes.
  • Eleven cities have already placed marijuana taxes on their local ballots.
  • Major supporters include a former U.S. surgeon general; three current members of congress; former police chiefs from San Jose and Los Angeles; California NAACP; Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; National Black Police Association; and the American Federation of Teachers.
  • Major opponents include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorneys; most candidates for senate, governor or attorney general; California Police Chiefs Association; the National Black Churches Initiative and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Read or listen to a discussion about Proposition 19 on KQED's Forum With Michael Krasny.

Propositions 20 & 27

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Who should have the power to draw California's political districts?

Propositions 20 and 27 both deal with the Citizen Redistricting Commission -- a group of 14 Californians who are responsible for redrawing state legislative district boundaries.

Why would we have regular citizens do that? Well, voters who approved the initial Citizen Redistricting Commission measure, Proposition 11, in 2008, felt that legislative districts were being drawn to benefit incumbent politicians and their colleagues, not the needs and interests of the people of California.

The folks behind Proposition 20 like the idea of the citizen commission so much that they want to expand its responsibility to include redrawing California's congressional districts. That's what Prop. 20 would do.

Proposition 27, by contrast, would dismantle the Citizen Redistricting Commission before it even goes to work. Finito. Kaput. Supporters of Prop. 27 say that it's more democratic to return redistricting to the hands of the elected state legislature, rather than leaving it to an appointed commission. Some Democrats want to abolish the citizen redistricting commission because they feel it will take power away from their party, which currently holds the majority of state legislative and congressional seats.

Because the two measures conflict, if they both pass, only the highest vote getter will take effect.

Things you should know:

  • The Citizen Redistricting Commission was established in 2008 when Prop. 11 passed with the support of 50.8 percent of voters.
  • The commission is comprised of five Republicans, five Democrats, and four people who are members of neither party.
  • Each district boundary the commission draws needs approval from three Republicans, three Democrats and three members of the commission who are unaffiliated with eitherparty.
  • The U.S. Constitution requires that congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect the most current U.S. Census population count.
  • Charles Munger Jr. filed the measure, and is its largest financial supporter. Supporters include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.
  • Among the opponents of Prop. 20 are the chairman of the Sierra Club, the president of the California Black Chamber of Commerce, and the executive director of Californians Against Waste.
  • Daniel Lowenstein proposed Prop. 27: he is a former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Donors and supporters of Prop. 27 include 18 Democratic House Representatives; eight Democratic state legislators; George Soros; the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other unions.
  • Main opponents of Prop. 27 are the California branch of the AARP, the League of Women Voters, the Latin Business Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Action Committee and California Common Cause.

Read or listen to a discussion about Propositions 20 and 27 on KQED's Forum With Michael Krasny.

Proposition 21

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Vehicle Fee for State Parks

If you grew up in the Golden State, chances are you've visited one of California's state parks on a family camping trip or a school field trip. But how should we pay for them?

Proposition 21 would establish an $18 annual vehicle surcharge to help fund state parks and wildlife programs. This surcharge comes on top of other state and local vehicle registration fees. Commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds, trailers and trailer coaches would be exempt.

Why a vehicle fee?

California's 278 state parks face a $1.3 billion backlog of maintenance and repair expenses. Though park fees were increased last August, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to close 220 of the parks, the shortfall is still substantial. Right now state parks charge a day-use fee on each vehicle that visits a park. Under Prop. 21, Californians who pay the vehicle surcharge will have free admission at all state parks.

The state estimates that Prop. 21 would bring in $500 million, which could only be used for state parks and wildlife conservation programs. About $130 million from the state budget that's currently used for state parks would go back to the general fund. The parks would also lose $50 million from the elimination of day-use fee.

Supporters of the initiative say creating a specific fund for state parks is the only way to preserve them. They also argue that firmer funding for the parks is a good investment because the 80 million annual visits to California's parks boost jobs and increase tax revenues in local communities.

Opponents say that the state is playing a shell game, taking money already set aside for park maintenance and pushing it to the general fund while creating what they say is actually a new tax. The owners of about 6.8 million smaller commercial vehicles would have to pay the fee and some opponents say this creates a hardship on small business owners.

Things you should know:

  • Money from the fee could only be used for state parks and wildlife conservation.
  • Owners of smaller commercial vehicles would have to pay the fee but owners of large ones would not.
  • The main supporters and funders of Prop 21 are the Nature Conservancy, the State Parks Foundation, Peninsula Open Space Trust, National Audubon Society, Trust for Public Land and the Save-the-Redwoods League.
  • The main opponents of Prop. 21 are Michelle Steel, a member of the California State Board of Equalization, and Peter Foy, the California chairman of Americans for Prosperity. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers donated $25,000 to the "No on 21" campaign.

Read or listen to a discussion about Proposition 21 on KQED's Forum With Michael Krasny.

Proposition 22

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

State Spending

Should California lock in funding for local governments or preserve the state's ability to borrow that money?

During recessions the state legislature sometimes borrows revenue from local governments and then transfers it to the state general fund. The state must pay back the money to local governments at a later date, with interest. Since 2009 the California State Legislature has used about $5 billion in local government funds.

If passed, Prop. 22 would prevent the state from borrowing any local property tax revenue, including redevelopment agency funds, or any specially-designated state transportation money, including fuel taxes meant to pay for transportation bonds, for use by the state general fund.

Basically Prop. 22 comes down to a question of flexibility.

Supporters say that local and state funding must be clearly separate. If not, they say, cities have cut into local budgets and even lay-off workers. That can affect police and fire services, they say, because roughly 60 percent of city budgets go to public safety, according to the League of California Cities, a sponsor of the constitutional amendment.

Opponents say that the state should be able to borrow local funds during economic crises to pay for statewide services such as schools, healthcare and emergency services. Opponents add that for the one in five Californians who live in unincorporated areas, all of their public services are funded by the state and county, not by cities. The legislative analyst's office estimates that, if Prop. 22 passes, the state would lose $1 billion or more annually from the general fund, though there would be "comparable increases in funding for state and local transportation programs and local redevelopment."

Things you should know:

  • The state legislature would not be allowed to borrow funds from local transportation or property taxes.
  • The League of California Cities is the main sponsor of Prop. 22. Other organizations that support the measure include, California Fire Chiefs Association, California Police Chiefs Association, California Transit Association, California Alliance for Jobs and the California Redevelopment Association.
  • The California Teachers Association, California Nurses Association, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Health Access California, California Professional Firefighters, Silicon Valley Tax Payers Association and Senate candidate Carly Fiorina oppose Prop. 22.

Read or listen to a discussion about Proposition 22 on KQED's Forum With Michael Krasny.

Proposition 23

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Environment and Unemployment

To understand Prop. 23, you have to familiarize yourself with AB32, an existing California law.

AB32 requires the state to reduce its greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, or by about 25 percent. The law was passed by the California legislature in 2006 and is viewed as a trendsetter in environmental policy.

Prop. 23 would freeze implementation of AB32 until California's unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or lower for a full year. Unemployment is currently at over 12 percent.

Supporters of Prop. 23 argue that AB32 badly hurts the California economy and will cost the state jobs at a time when over two million Californians are unemployed. But opponents of Prop. 23, say that AB32 can create green jobs and kick-start the state's burgeoning clean energy economy. They also say it's urgent for the state to address global warming.

The Legislative Analyst's Office says that Prop. 23 presents, "potential positive, short-term impacts on state and local government revenues ... with uncertain longer-run impacts." The LAO also says that if and when AB32 is suspended, the state would miss out on revenue from selling emission allowances under a cap-and-trade system.

So what exactly would a freeze of AB32 cover?

The LAO says that Prop. 23 would stall the cap-and-trade program, the requirement for refineries and importers to sell a less-polluting fuel mix, and the requirement for electricity providers to obtain 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

What efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses would remain in place? The current requirement for electricity providers to obtain 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources, new vehicle emission standards, programs to encourage residential solar installation, some transit-friendly land-use policies, and efficiency requirements for building and appliances would likely be unaffected by Prop. 23.

Things you should know:

  • Since 1970, the state unemployment rate has dipped below 5.5 percent for a full year only three times.
  • Supporters of Prop. 23 include the California Republican Party, the California State Firefighters' Association, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Associations, and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association.
  • Texas-based oil companies Valero Energy Corporation and Tesoro Corporation have both donated over a million dollars to the Prop. 23 campaign.
  • Opponents of Prop. 23 include the League of Women Voters of California, American Lung Association, thirteen chambers of commerce, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Teamsters, American Association of Retired Persons, California Statewide Law Enforcement Association and Small Business California.
  • U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that passing Prop. 23 would be a "terrible setback."

Read or listen to a discussion about Proposition 23 on KQED's Forum With Michael Krasny.

Proposition 24

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Business Tax Breaks

You may not usually pay close attention to corporate tax law, but here's a measure that's worth a look.

In 2008 and 2009 the California legislature approved three corporate tax cuts that would begin to go into effect with the 2010 tax year. Proposition 24 would repeal those tax breaks:

  • For multi-state corporations, the ability to choose whether to be taxed on property, payroll or sales. This is called the "single-sales factor."
  • For businesses that experience losses, the chance to get refunds on taxes paid up to two year sprior.
  • For corporations with more tax credits than they can use, the opportunity to transfer the credits to affiliated companies.

Repealing the tax breaks would prevent the loss of $1.3 billion annually from the general fund, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office. The tax breaks primarily affect multi-state or multi-national corporations.

Supporters of Prop. 24 say that the tax cuts were devised behind closed doors, without public review, and should be repealed. The tax cuts will primarily benefit very large corporations, according to the California Budget Project. And supporters argue that there is no guarantee that the companies that receive the tax breaks will use the cash to create more jobs, or if they do, that those jobs will be in California.

Opponents of the repeal say that the tax cuts are necessary to create a better business climate in California so that businesses will stay in the state. They cite a study by the Franchise Tax Board which suggests that the tax breaks will benefit 120,000 California businesses. In particular, opponents say, small businesses would benefit from the ability to "carry back" their operating losses. Opponents also argue that companies will have to lay off more workers without the tax breaks.

Things you should know:

  • The proposition would repeal several tax breaks for businesses that were set to go into effect in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
  • The main sponsor of the "Yes on 24" campaign is the California Teachers Association. Other supporters and donors include the National Education Association, Alliance for a Better California, California Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union.
  • The largest opponents of the proposition are the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Small Business Alliance, and the California Taxpayers Association.
  • Some of the largest donors to the No on Prop. 24 campaign are Viacom, Time Warner, Walt Disney, FOX Group, Genentech, General Electric, Cisco Systems, CBS, Yahoo!, Hewlett-Packard and Johnson & Johnson.

Read or listen to a discussion about Proposition 24 on KQED's Forum With Michael Krasny.

Proposition 25

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
California legislators scrambled to pass the state's 2011 budget.

Simple Majority to Pass Budget

This year California passed a budget 100 days into the fiscal year -- the latest in history. In fact, California's legislature has only passed a budget by the June 15 deadline twice in the last 25 years.

What takes them so long?

One factor is that passing a budget in California requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers. Prop. 25 would lower the number of votes needed to pass the budget to a simple majority.

Prop. 25 would also permanently deny pay to California legislators for each day that they are late in delivering a budget to the governor.

Supporters hope Prop. 25 will make an on-time budget a reality for California. They also say it's more democratic to enable a simple majority of legislators to set spending priorities, rather than allowing a minority of lawmakers to leverage their ability to hold up the budget in order to force concessions the majority would otherwise reject.

Some opponents fear that lowering the requirement to pass a budget while still maintaining the two-thirds majority requirement for new taxes will make an "all cuts" approach to budget shortfalls more likely. Others argue that legislators would be more likely to raise fees (which requires only a majority vote) to close gaps between revenue and expenditures.

Things you should know:

  • California is one of just three states to require a supermajority to pass a budget and the only state in the nation to require a supermajority vote both to approve a budget and to raise tax revenue.
  • Currently, legislators do not receive a paycheck or per diem reimbursements after July 1 unless a signed budget is in place but these amounts are paid in full once the governor signs a budget.
  • Prop. 25 would reduce the number of votes required to pass a budget in the State Senate from 27 to 21 and reduce the number of votes required in the State Assembly from 54 to 41.
  • Reducing the number of votes needed does not guarantee an on-time budget. The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that, "difficult budget decisions are probably more likely to be an obstacle to getting the budget passed on time than the number of votes required."

Read or listen to a discussion about Proposition 25 on KQED's Forum With Michael Krasny.

Proposition 26

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Supermajority Required on Fees, Taxes and Levies

Proposition 26 would reclassify certain fees as taxes and thereby require that they be passed by a two-thirds vote in the state legislature, rather than a majority vote. Prop. 26 would also require some local fees to be passed with a vote of the people, rather than by the local governing body, as is now the case.

Fees, taxes, what's the difference?

While the distinction between the two can get cloudy, the basic difference is that taxes are used to fund general functions of government that benefit society as a whole. Fees, on the other hand, are levied to help cover the cost of a specific benefit or regulatory function. The theory goes that individuals can't opt out of the services that taxes pay for, but that they can opt out of the services that fees cover.

Supporters of Prop. 26 feel that many fees are simply taxes by another name and should therefore be held to the same constitutionally-mandated two-thirds legislative approval as taxes.

Opponents of Prop. 26 feel that it's important for government to have the power to enact some fees by a simple majority vote. In particular, they say, fees play an important role in holding businesses accountable for their actions. They say that the threat of mitigation fees helps to deter corporate bad behavior and to compensate the public for damage to the environment or public health caused by companies that pollute.

Things you should know:

  • Prop. 26 applies retroactively to laws passed on or after January 1, 2010.
  • This proposition will change the state constitution to require a two-thirds vote for "any change in state statute which results in any taxpayer paying a higher tax." Some analysts say that means the measure could affect any law, such as building codes or minimum wage laws, that impacts how much people pay in sales or income tax.
  • The California Chamber of Commerce is the main force behind Prop. 26. Other supporters and donors include taxpayer associations and business associations. Chevron, Philip Morris, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have all donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the No on 25/Yes on 26 effort.
  • Opponents of Prop. 26 include the League of Women Voters of California, American Lung Association in California, California chapter of the Sierra Club, California Democratic Party, the California League of Cities and various health organizations and public employee unions.

Read or listen to a discussion about Proposition 26 on KQED's Forum With Michael Krasny.

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