FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA

Local opinion columnists

Take a close look at propositions

By From page A9 | June 01, 2014

This week’s election has two propositions tucked in among all the primary races; propositions that haven’t created the media frenzy that other more controversial propositions of years past have.

Proposition 41 seeks to sell bonds for veterans housing programs and Proposition 42 seeks to amend the state constitution to mandate transparency for government agencies.

Concerning Proposition 41, my initial reaction to any bond proposal is that bonds are a terrible method to finance anything (half of the revenue stream spent to pay off the bonds goes to interest). Additionally, although housing veterans is a noble cause, if the targeted goal is to make housing more achievable, changing laws and removing restrictions to homebuilding and homeownership should be the method, not subsidizing an inefficient bureaucratic method.

Moreover, what other worthy groups should have targeted bonds to enable them to achieve homeownership? The disabled? Homeless? The long-term unemployed?

The catch with this proposition is that the plan is to convert $600 million (out of $900 million) of a previously voter-approved bond (Proposition 12 from 2009) that has not been officially exercised to support this new bond initiative. The terms and conditions of the previous bond have not enticed veterans to access the funding offered by bond proceeds.

The key term that is being changed is that Proposition 12 specifically targeted single-family residences, mobile homes and farms. This proposition adds “multifamily residences” to the list of eligible properties. The marketing pitch makes it seem like the state is merely changing the terms and conditions of an existing bond, with no additional cost to the taxpayer.

I pored over the language of Proposition 41 and it does not clearly indicate where $600 million of potential Proposition 12 bond sales are being retired and being replaced with $600 million of Proposition 41 bond sales. I feel that the proposition should clearly state that Proposition 12 is being retired, and Proposition 41 is an all-new bond request.

My personal opinion thus far is that although it may be a noble cause, I would not support it.

Proposition 42 is a constitutional amendment to codify the benefits derived from the Ralph M. Brown Act. The Brown Act is important law that mandates transparency and open communication for local governmental agencies.

Unfortunately, the way it is worded made it mandatory only as long as the state government reimbursed the local agency for its costs to comply. With the recent budget turmoil, those reimbursement dollars were eliminated, and technically the local agencies did not have to comply with the Brown Act. Proposition 42 mandates that the local agencies comply with transparency laws, regardless of funding availability. It essentially puts the cost of compliance on the local agencies.

There have been several local issues where taxpayer groups have been able to use the Brown Act (and accompanying threat of lawsuit) to get requested information on contracts and deals that were not so great for the people. With the state no longer covering the cost of compliance, the current Brown Act is technically void and if someone chose to file a lawsuit under the Brown Act, it could get tossed out. Retaining the tool to enforce agencies to publicly disclose information outweighs any issue of mandated costs.

Most agencies have voluntarily complied with the Brown Act, even without the state funding. Most documents are sent out electronically anyway (pdf files seem to be the standard), so costs generally are not that substantial.

I’m of the opinion that this constitutional amendment is an improvement, since it would eliminate a loophole that unscrupulous agencies could use to avoid public disclosure of agency business and activities.

These propositions may seem rather milquetoast in an already-uninspiring June primary. However, we the people have the responsibility to consider and analyze each proposal and candidate that appears on our ballots.

Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at [email protected]

Brian Thiemer

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