Quick, what are the arguments for and against Proposition 33, the auto insurance initiative? Yeah, me too. That one happens to be especially confusing, but even the simpler measures aren't easy to follow. So why are voters being asked to decide this stuff? Well, because we have this insane initiative process that encourages direct democracy - at our peril - and because lawmakers who really should be making these policy decisions don't have to risk their careers by taking unpopular positions. Prop 37, which is being bankrolled by billionaire George Joseph, is a good example of what's wrong with the system. And it never seems to change. From this week's Business Update on KPCC:
Lacter: Joseph is trying to present this as a simple plan to make it easier for drivers to switch insurance companies without having to pay higher rates. Mercury would benefit in this because it's a discount insurer. Now, if all this sounds familiar, it's because Joseph bankrolled a similar proposition in 2010 - it narrowly lost, so he figured he'd try again. Between the two campaigns, the guy has spent more than $30 million.
Steve Julian: Yet, Prop. 33 is not nearly as simple a proposal as Joseph would have you believe, is it?
Lacter: Actually, it's quite complicated. In basic terms, opponents argue that not all motorists would be eligible for a discount, and the premiums would not be based on an applicant's driving record or the number of miles driven. So, the discount would be just as available to bad drivers as good ones. But even if you're convinced that Proposition 33 is a great idea, is it the best way to use the initiative process? The state of California has a perfectly capable Department of Insurance that's headed by an Insurance Commissioner - and after that, there's the state legislature and the governor. We elect these people with the presumption that they'll be able to resolve issues that go well beyond our own little pay grade.
Julian: Same holds true for several other initiatives on the ballot, like labeling for genetically engineered food, or tax breaks for multi-state companies...
Lacter: ...or even Gov. Brown's tax proposal. And maybe that's a big reason why so many initiatives are turned down. People either don't understand them, or don't feel they're in the best position to vote for them. The question, of course, is why they should be put on the ballot in the first place.