Will Californians Be Bamboozled by Special Interest Campaign Cash?

LA WATCHDOG

LA WATCHDOG--Since California is not a battleground state, we have been spared from many of the inane ads for Hillary and The Donald.  But that is not to say we are off the hook as an estimated $400 to $500 million will be spent on the State’s 17 ballot measures by powerful special interests trying to convince us to reject or approve selected ballot measures. 

Of the 17 November ballot measures, three ballot measures are attracting a substantial portion of cash: Proposition 56 (Cigarette Tax), Proposition 61 (Prescription Drug Pricing), and Proposition 55 (the extension of the “temporary” Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge). 

Rather than succumb to barrage of ads, we should tell the big money special interests to take a hike, to buzz off, sending a loud and clear message that we are not for sale to the highest bidder, especially when they bombard us with many misleading advertisements. 

As such, both Proposition 56 (Cigarette Tax) and Proposition 61 (Prescription Dug Pricing) deserve a YES vote as Big Tobacco and Big Pharma have spent over $150 million into ads opposing these two ballot measures.  

On the other hand, Proposition 55 (Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge) deserves a NO vote as the California Teachers Association and the California Association of Hospitals have sunk over $55 million into this ballot measure that is betrayal of our trust and not in the best interest of the State and its economy. 

YES on 56, the Cigarette Tax 

If voters approve this initiative sponsored by the American Cancer Society, taxes on cigarettes will increase by $2.00 a pack.  This economic signal to the market will discourage people from either continuing or taking up this nasty habit that costs us billions in healthcare costs. 

The expected haul of $1.4 billion in the first year (which will decline over time as fewer butts are consumed) from this new tax will be allocated primarily to funding health care for low-income Californians. 

But Big Tobacco (primarily Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds) has “invested” over $66 million to defeat this measure, making numerous misleading claims that this tax will benefit special interests (the medical industry) and deprive schools of much needed money.  But these claims have been debunked by numerous credible sources, including our Los Angeles Times which endorses this proposition.

While many people oppose ballot box legislation, this initiative was the result of the failure of the Legislature to pass tax increases because our elected officials were bought off by generous campaign contributions (or threats) from the tobacco industry and their lobbyists.  

YES on Proposition 61, Prescription Drug Pricing 

Once again, our cowardly legislators have failed to represent their constituents as they have placed the profits of the pharmaceutical industry and their political careers and campaign war chests above our best interests.  

In this case, the Legislature’s failure to pass laws that would increase transparency into the rapidly increasing prices of prescription drugs has prompted an initiative led by the Aids Healthcare Foundation (“AHF”) that will prohibit the State of California from buying any prescription drug at a price greater than the lowest price paid by the Department of Veteran Affairs. 

While AHF has spent about $15 million placing this initiative on the ballot and purchasing airtime, this amount is dwarfed by the $87 million spent to date by pharmaceutical companies.  And the industry is expected to dump considerably more cash into its efforts to defeat this measure, with some expecting expenditures of at least $100 million. The Los Angeles Times, which opposes this measure, raised a number of valid points as to why we should vote NO.  But its solution to “fast rising drug prices” is a comprehensive, national solution that addresses competition, the speedy approval of new drugs, the role of federally funded research, and the development of new insurance models is not going to happen without prodding from the likes of AHF and the voters. 

By voting YES on 61, we will send a message to Sacramento and the international drug companies that they need to get their asses in gear and develop a comprehensive policy that is acceptable to the voters of California. Otherwise, nothing will change and we (and our wallets) will continue to be sitting ducks for Big Pharma.  

NO on Proposition 55, the Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge 

In 2012, 55% of California’s voters approved Proposition 30.  This measure authorized a “temporary” surcharge on higher income Californians to help plug the State’s budget deficit.  And now that the State’s revenues have increased by almost $50 billion to almost $170 billion, there is no need to extend the Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge beyond its 2018 expiration date.  

However, the California Teachers Association and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems are leading a $56 million campaign to extend this surcharge for another 12 years. They are also supported by a slew of elected officials, organizations that rely on the State’s cash, and public sector unions that are addicted to our cash and who have no problem betraying the promises that were made in 2012. 

While this surcharge will produce an estimated $7 billion a year, it also increases the State’s dependence on the income tax derived from wealthy Californians.  But this places the State’s finances in a very precarious position, especially when the stock market tanks, capital gains disappear, and incomes shrivel, resulting in significantly lower tax revenues and massive budget deficits like the State experienced during the Great Recession. 

This is why the Los Angeles Times opposes Proposition 55, calling for the Legislature to produce a more comprehensive overhaul of the State’s budget process. 

Conclusion

Rather than being bamboozled by Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and the State’s public unions, we have the opportunity to see through their misleading ads and vote for what is in our best interests and not follow the lead of our Elected Elite who have their own personal agendas. 

Vote YES on 56, Vote YES on 61, and Vote Hell NO on 55. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

– cw

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