Prop 29 acts as a lesson on voter scrutiny
Posted June 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm in Opinion
By the time you read this, voters will have already entered the California primaries to check off on a number of candidates and ballot measures.Â One of these measures, Proposition 29, stands to have been the most contentious of the ballot boxes.Â Prop 29 adds a $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes, generating more than $700 million annually for research on cancer and other smoking-related diseases, and allots 20 percent of funds for Californiaâ€™s education and health programs concerning tobacco use.
For the most part, this measure makes sense: Tobacco-related health problems stand as a significant element of health care costs in the country, and any effort to mitigate them is an honorable cause.Â Regardless of what voters decided on Tuesday, Prop 29 serves as a prime example of well-intentioned legislation that can win votersâ€™ sympathy while smokescreening gaping faults.
â€śGaping faults,â€ť in this case, refers to the way the measure doesnâ€™t clarify where the hundreds of millions of tax dollars generated by Prop 29 can be spent.Â Namely, it doesnâ€™t keep the money in California: No language in the measure states that the money must fund research and development in California.
You donâ€™t need to be a political science major to understand that the Golden State sits submerged in budgetary concerns, and it boils down to one basic, aggravating problem: We donâ€™t have money. Prop 29 certainly doesnâ€™t help.
Though we can hope that the nine-person oversight committee â€” composed of California-based representatives such as UC chancellors and researchers â€” will invest more money back into the state, nothing about Prop 29 demands this. In essence, the tax can fund national efforts â€” and though thatâ€™s a wonderfully ethical effort, itâ€™s a completely impractical approach in light of the stateâ€™s budget woes.
Practical issues aside, the story of Prop 29 revolves around the publicâ€™s rally around a sensitive issue â€” cancer and other tobacco-related diseases â€” that often encourages sympathetic action. Itâ€™s natural to want to support the measure; who doesnâ€™t want to support cancer research?
AÂ recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed support of the measure at 62 percent. Itâ€™s fair to assume that this stems from the fact that most voters donâ€™t smoke, making it tempting for vote for the measure. Itâ€™s a legitimate stance, if a bit insensitive to the rights of tobacco users.
Still, that doesnâ€™t mean citizens should turn a blind eye to the faults of the measure, because thereâ€™s still a way to make Prop 29 an effective piece of state legislation.
The problem of Prop 29 doesnâ€™t lie in what the measure does, but how it does it: Namely, taking money out of Californian pockets to wait in a locked fund for distribution potentially across the country.
There needs to be money and attention paid toward cancer and tobacco-related disease research. But what the state needs is a measure that treats the state as the priority, because it is the priority.
Instead, Prop 29 treats California merely as a tool, putting state dollars on the line without specifics on how â€” and where â€” the cash will flow.
Eddie Kim is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and editorial director for the Summer Trojan. Â