To take a break from this season’s heavy focus on the presidential race, the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics hosted a panel discussion Tuesday evening to call attention to another side of the upcoming election: California’s ballot initiatives.
The panel discussion in the Taper Hall of Humanities focused on several of the eleven initiatives voters will see on the ballot next Tuesday, then opened up for student questions about any of the propositions.
Panelists at the event, titled “Schools, Taxes and Crime: Making Sense of California’s Ballot Initiatives,” included campaign experts and students from USC’s political organizations. Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute, moderated the discussion.
The four panelists offered their perspectives on Proposition 30 and 38, two competing initiatives that propose different tax increases that would allocate money for the California K-12 public education system.
Rose Kapolczynski, a former campaign manager for Sen. Barbara Boxer, said she personally supports Prop. 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax plan. His plan would raise taxes on the wealthiest Californians and increase the sales tax across the board.
Kaplczynski, however, predicts the measure is unlikely to pass.
“It’s always very hard to raise taxes on anyone,” she said. “And when you have two competing tax initiatives, that obviously creates doubt for voters.”
Fritz Pielstick, political director of the USC College Democrats, said his organization supports Prop. 30, but not Prop. 38.
“Raising taxes on the wealthy, who are already doing well in this economy, makes it a fair ballot measure,” he said. “[Prop. 30’s] sales tax is also fair because there is a direct correlation between the taxes you pay and how much you consume — you have some autonomy over your own taxation.”
Maddy Lansky, president of the USC College Republicans, said Republicans are often faced with the choice between supporting social services like public education and avoiding tax increases. Lansky said her party opposes Prop. 30 and Prop. 38 because there are other solutions to the education crisis that don’t involve raising taxes.
The conversation then turned to Proposition 32, which would prohibit deductions by corporations and unions of employees’ wages for political use.
Pielstick opposes the measure because it allows large corporations who don’t depend on payroll deductions for campaign contributions to continue wielding political influence, while impeding the influence of other special interest groups like teachers and firefighters.
“Republicans generally support this measure because it gives an unfair advantage to corporations, who tend to contribute to the Republican Party,” he explained.
The panel then discussed Proposition 37, which would require food manufacturers to label their products if made from genetically engineered organisms.
Fiona Hutton, president of consulting firm Fiona Hutton & Associates, said support for Prop. 37, which was initially very high among California mothers, has waned since the campaign opposing the proposition has exploited two small problems in the initiative: the cost impact for consumers and bizarre exemptions to the rule.
Prop. 37, Hutton said, has also garnered significantly more attention from the electorate than other measures.
“There’s been a lot of chatter about 30 and 38 but [Proposition 37] is something different,” explained Hutton. “That’s why it has traction.”
Hutton said that tax initiatives, such as Prop. 30, on the other hand, are often misunderstood, and voters aren’t alarmed by the repercussions that could arise if they don’t pass.
“A ‘yes’ vote on an initiative requires inspiring passion in the electorate,” said Hutton. “I just don’t think the governor has produced a visceral message on Proposition 30.”
Pielstick said the reason for the enthusiasm gap is because voters can more easily visualize the repercussions of Prop. 37, which affects the everyday activity of purchasing food.
“The scope of people who can tangibly see the effects of 37 is much larger [than 30 and 38], even though the actual effect is much smaller,” Pielstick said.
Lansky also noted that because Prop. 30 and Prop. 38 compete with one another, voters find themselves confused.
The panelists also addressed the issue of low voter turnout. Kapolczynski explained that voters often have two major questions that prevent them from casting their vote: “Is my vote meaningful?” and “Is voting easy and does it fit into my life?”
“The first stems from cynicism about government, and we can’t change that,” Kapolczynski said. “But we can address the second. We can make it easier for people to vote.”
Kapolczynski supports switching entirely to voting by mail, which she said is extremely effective and saves money.
Gwen Holst, a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law and neuroscience, said the panel was useful because it addressed the messaging behind propositions.
“Tonight I learned more about the machine behind the passing and marketing of propositions than the actual subject matter of them,” Holst said. “Promoters of the propositions need to spell out to people that schools will be shut down, not just that school districts need more money.”