The Props: Health Care
61 YES -- 63 YES -- 67 NO -- 72 YES

-> Selling the bond proposal as "for the kids" and with a promise that "it won't raise taxes," the campaign for Prop 61 is as cute as a baby's bum, despite the fact that only one of the arguments favoring it is true (a tax by any other name, etc.).

If 61 passes, the state will be authorized to sell $750 million in bonds to fund the construction, renovation and outfitting of pediatric hospitals. Repaying the measure will have cost us about $1.5 billion by the time the loan is repaid with interest in 30 years.

Prop 61 is not a close call despite the cost. We need more and better hospitals -- actually it's the boomers who are going to face a truly catastrophic hospital crisis -- and capital improvements are the one thing that bond measures are actually designed to do, even if it is preferable in general to pursue a policy of pay-as-you-go. YES.

-> Proposition 63 would levy an extra 1% tax on personal incomes over one million dollars. It will affect about 30,000 people out of 36 million.

The money is to be used to expand county mental health programs and is likely to have a positive impact on costs related to crime, health care and other public services.

It's estimated that the tax would raise about $275 million in the current fiscal year, with the annual return increasing to $800 million by 2006-07. That's if the economy doesn't tank, of course, or that rich people don't move away or not come here because of high taxes.

In general, making tax policy by plebiscite is a bad idea. And watching the majority gang up on a tiny minority isn't a pretty sight, either. But the four decades-long campaign by the rich to avoid their tax obligations has left the progressive tax structure a shambles. Prop 63 is a not very elegant attempt to restore some balance.

Soak the rich? Why not? We so rarely get the chance. YES.

-> To fund the 911 system, the state currently adds a surcharge to telephone bills for calls within the state. Proposition 67 would add another 3% to the surcharge. The tax has a $.50 limit per month for residential phones and "Lifeline" customers are exempted entirely, but there's no limit for cell phone or business users.

Because public hospitals and emergency rooms are insufficiently compensated, caring for uninsured patients is causing some private hospitals and many emergency room doctors to go broke, so it is intended that most of the expected $500 million in added yearly income from Prop 67 will be used to reimburse the doctors and hospitals for the cost of emergency and trauma care.

Opponents of 67 are lying about the cost, but unfortunately this particular formula is a pretty bad idea anyway, if for another reason. Taxing one area of the economy to patch up another helps to produce a crazy-quilt of tax regulations that makes planning nearly impossible.

At first blush, this proposal narrowly passes muster because at least telephone service is nearly universal. Unlike Prop 63, Prop 67 hits almost everyone and even builds in a little progressivity by exempting "lifeline" subscribers.

But in practice it is too likely that small businesses and cell phone users will end up paying considerably more than their fair share. The big corporations are making their calls from huge phone banks in Omaha and Uttar Pradesh. For small business, the phone's still on the desk. And, increasingly, since it's usually pointless for an individual to have more than one phone, small businesses and residents alike are replacing their landline device with a cell phone they can have with them everywhere. Neither group is protected by a cap.

We need those emergency rooms, though. So vote NO on 67, but get on your legislator's case. It's not that we can't afford to have a hospital system that's the envy of the world. It's only that we lack the political will. NO.

-> Prop 72 is a referendum on a law signed last year by Gov. Grey that requires employers with 200 or more workers to provide them with health insurance. Beginning in 2006, these businesses must pay at least 80 percent of the cost of employees' coverage. Companies with 50 to 199 workers would have to cover workers beginning in 2007. Employers with 20 to 49 workers would be required to provide insurance only if the state provided a tax credit to make up for the cost.

While not a substitute for a single-payer national health plan, Prop 72 is better than nothing, and will help to cover some people until the national Democratic Party gets back on track. And, although it seems like business is being asked to carry the burden for society, in fact, because the law will negatively impact company bottom lines (although there will be positive effects on productivity), the state will lose several hundred million dollars a year in tax revenue that will have to be made up by the rest of us in higher taxes or reduced services. YES.

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