As I write this, I am surrounded by thousands of undergraduates, mostly female, who are hoping to get a glimpse of the fallen former sex symbol Bill Clinton before he is institutionalized for his uncontrollable bouts of violent rage. The crazed ex-president is ostensibly here to discuss the virtues of Proposition 87, a perfectly fine law that has the unfortunate quality of being a state ballot proposition.
Prop 87 would create a severance tax on oil drilling and spent the approximately $4 billion raised to fund an alternative energy program. This is almost unquestionably a good idea, and by far the best law I have ever seen proposed on the state ballot.
If you have any doubt that the severance tax is a good idea, simply look at the tens of millions of dollars oil companies are spending to defeat it. If what they were saying was true -- that the law will simply force them to pass costs onto consumers -- they would never waste that much money fighting it. The law actually makes it illegal for them to pass those costs on. They are opposing it because it threatens to cut into their profit margins).
The problem is that every time a proposition becomes law through a vote of the unwashed masses, somewhere a rich asshole gets the idea in his head that he can spend millions of dollars getting people to support his terrible idea to reform the state constitution.
These rich assholes occasionally they have good ideas (like this one). More often than not, however, those ideas wind up screwing the state's tax, education, or penal systems. Progressives have scored small victories over the years through this process: the (sort-of) legalization of medicinal marijuana, funding for stem cell research and the recent "millionaire's tax" to support mental health facilities being popular examples. Here's a partial list, off the top of my head, of what they have given up in return:
1978, Prop 13 "People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation"
1994: Prop 187 "The Save Our State Initiative"
1994: Prop 184 "Three Strikes You're Out"
1996: Prop 209 "The California Civil Rights Initiative"
1998: Prop 227 "English for the Children"
2000: Prop 22 "The Defense of Marriage Act,"
Ultimately, I don't know that I will be able to face myself in the mirror if I am the one vote that keeps the tax on oil drilling from passing. Weighing the possibility that voting no will discourage the next Howard Jarvis, Pete Wilson or Ron Unz from spending millions on their own particular horrible idea against the possibility that a yes vote will make this law a reality, I have to say the latter is probably greater. Sure, this amounts to compromising any belief in categorical moral imperatives to accept a loathsome kind of Clinton/Gore type of political pragmatism. Call me a sell-out, I suppose.