Supervisors weigh in on propositions

09/27/2012

Albert Straus walked into a Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting with a six-pack of milk bottles. It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but in fact he was there to ask the board to endorse a proposition requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods. The bottles had been labeled to help make his case that the change wouldn’t be as onerous as the proposition’s opponents say.

Mr. Straus wasn’t the only one at last Tuesday’s meeting to talk about GMO’s; the audience was sprinkled with orange and blue signs trumpeting “vote yes on 37” for “the right to know.” One woman handed out a packet of seeds, another announced a protest being planned for the Golden Gate Bridge.

By the end of the meeting, supervisors had officially given the county’s strong support to the food-labeling act, as well as to three of the 11 other statewide propositions that voters will consider in the upcoming election. The unanimous votes also endorsed Governor Jerry Brown’s tax proposal, Proposition 30; the anti-death-penalty act, Proposition 34; and the three-strikes reform act, Proposition 36. The board voted to oppose a second tax law, Proposition 38, which competes with Governor Brown’s proposal.

The remaining six propositions required more discussion and deliberation, and the board announced it would soon decide whether it would endorse, oppose or remain neutral on them. These include proposals for reforming government accountability, increasing penalties for criminals convicted of human and sex trafficking, and banning automatic payroll deductions by unions.

Balancing the budget

If Proposition 30 fails to pass in November, deep cuts to the state’s budget will automatically go into effect. The Marin supervisors voiced strong support for the Governor’s bill, which calls for a quarter-cent hike in sales tax and a seven-year increase on taxes on annual incomes of over $250,000.

The board also unanimously voted to oppose a competing proposition, commonly called the Munger Initiative, which calls for an increase to income tax in order to fund schools and which directly undermines Governor Brown’s tax proposal.

“If both measures were to pass, the one with the most votes would go into effect and the other would not,” Eric Engelbart of the county administrator’s office explained.

“If [Proposition 30] doesn’t pass it’s going to be disastrous for the county,” Supervisor Judy Arnold said. “Thirty-six percent of our budget comes from the state; if this doesn’t pass all bets are off in terms of getting that support.”

Supervisor Susan Adams added that though the Governor’s tax proposal calls for a quarter-cent increase in sales tax, the community stopped paying a half-cent sales tax that had been in effect in June. “We’re paying a half-cent less now than we were before, yet the needs for our schools, our health systems, our roads and so on have not gone away,” she said.

While the Governor’s proposal would only raise taxes for those earning more than $250,000 per year, the Munger Initiative would raise taxes across the board, with hikes for the lowest incomes starting at 0.4 percent. A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed the Brown proposal to be slightly ahead.

Food fight

In a county where organic agriculture has expanded fivefold in the last decade, a groundswell of support for labeling genetically modified foods is unsurprising.  Marin banned the growing of GMO crops in 2004; today there is strong support for labeling foods made with such crops so that consumers may know what they are eating.

Proposition 37, the “California Right To Know Genetically Modified Food Act,” calls for raw and processed foods that have been altered in specific ways to be labeled as GMO. These same products also could no longer be labeled as
“natural.”

Opponents, which include the Farm Bureau, the Western Grower’s Association and the Republican Party, claim that the act would raise food costs and increase lawsuits.

“It reminds me of the orange juice controversy, when it had to be labeled ‘concentrate’ or ‘fresh squeezed’,” Supervisor Adams said. “I still see plenty of orange juice on our shelves.”

Similar GMO-labeling laws are have been in place in Europe since 1997.

“Knowing what we eat is something that we’ve moved away from in this country and I think it’s something that we should move back towards,” Supervisor Katie Rice said.

Justice revised

The other two propositions endorsed by the board both propose momentous changes to the criminal justice system by ending the death penalty and modifying the three strikes law.

“We have created a criminal justice system that is unsustainable,” Jose Varela, Marin County public defender, said as he voiced his support for both propositions during the public comment period. “I look often times at our criminal justice system with shame. Our courts, our jails, and our communities need these resolutions to put us back on the path towards a sustainable and accountable criminal justice system.”

The Three Strikes Reform Act, Proposition 36, would require that people only be given a life sentence for felonies that involve violent or other serious crimes, and when a judge determines that the lesser sentence does not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety.

Under current law, a person who has already been convicted of two felony charges—whether for drug possession or murder—will automatically receive a life sentence if convicted of a third felony.

The SAFE California Act, Proposition 34, would abolish the death penalty, replacing it—in the future and for those already sentenced—with life in prison without parole. As part of the act, those convicted would be required to work while incarcerated, with the proceeds going towards any fines for victim
restitution.

The death penalty was abolished in 1972 after the California Supreme Court deemed it “cruel and unusual punishment,” but it was reinstated in 1977 and expanded in 1978.