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Props 98 or 99
Look!  Over There!

by Gary M. Galles 6/2/08

Sleight-of-hand relies heavily on misdirection and distraction. The Proposition 99 campaign tries the same trick on voters, attempting to get Californians to look only where it wants, while ignoring the most important issues in eminent domain reform. 

Proposition 99 was crafted because Proposition 98 had qualified for the ballot with a good chance of winning, backed by many documented abuses of emotionally appealing “little guys” steamrollered by the politically powerful—i.e., to defend the beneficiaries of eminent domain abuse against real reform.

99 does nothing to restrict eminent domain to justifiable public uses.  It “protects” only owner-occupied primary residences, while undermining even that protection by maintaining all the loopholes now used to circumvent property protections, such as bogus claims of blight.  It does nothing to challenge abuses or help owners get full compensation for their losses.  98 addresses all those issues. In other words, 99 offers the most minuscule change supporters could call “reform” (so small the Legislative Analyst concluded it “is not likely to significantly alter current government land acquisition practices”), hoping voters won’t notice it maintains the abuses rather than reducing them.  

Gary M. Galles

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

The 99 deception is made clearest by its so-called poison pill. Its “not really” reforms are coupled with a provision that would overrule 98’s real reforms if it can attract a one vote larger majority.  But no honest reform would target a more thorough reform by one declaring “each and every provision of the other measure or measures shall be null and void.” It only makes sense as a way to raise the standard for 98 from the majority opponents feared it would get to a larger majority than 99. 

Even with its reform sleight-of-hand, 99’s backers have to peel off enough voters from 98 to ensure a larger majority.  That requires demonizing 98, which is why the 99 campaign focuses almost exclusively on attacking 98 as ending rent control, ignoring eminent domain—a decidedly odd way to promote eminent domain reform—and employing still more misdirection.

99 proponents offer horror stories of hardship and eviction if rent control ended.  However, 98 would only phase out rent control after current residents leave, revealing them as wholly imaginary.  Proponents also ignore that if protection from unwarranted rent hikes is the issue, rent control is unnecessary—tenants need only negotiate longer term agreements with landlords before they move in.   

99 proponents don’t want voters to notice that if their concern was maintaining rent control, an initiative to that effect is all that is needed (assuming it would pass).  There is no good reason to bundle that result with pretend eminent domain reforms, particularly ones that explicitly nullify real reforms, except as camouflage. 

99 proponents attack 98’s rent control phase-out because landlords support it.  But spending millions to combat a policy that costs them far more hardly proves the policy is justifiable (Does voting to fund more police to better protect your property prove protecting property is a bad idea?).  Impugning 98 because of its financial backers also diverts attention from who funds 99.  Its support comes from the government agencies that abuse eminent domain (raising questions about misuse of taxpayer funds) and those who benefit from that abuse. That raises the question of why Californians should believe that eminent domain abusers, whose opposition killed previous reform efforts, are now really serious about reform.

99 proponents don’t want voters to notice the utter inconsistency of their argument, either.  If, as they claim, they intend to protect Californians’ property rights, they wouldn’t take the position that we can’t stop abuses which take from property owners for others via eminent domain because then we would have to stop taking from property owners for others via rent control.

Proposition 99’s proponents misdirect Californians away from Proposition 98’s real reforms to ensure voters don’t notice the sleight-of-hand.  Trying to manipulate us into voting to prevent eminent domain reform because we support it shows a great deal of chutzpah.  But resort to such a con job reveals that 99’s backers know how weak their arguments are, and that is perhaps the only thing Californians should believe them about. CRO

copyright 2008 Gary M. Galles



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