October 28, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)


In 1889 Dr. Roswell Park made this proposal to the New York State Legislature: If they would give him $10,000, within two years he would find the cure for cancer. The State Legislature gave him the money....

Ira Pilgrim, 1974 (The Topic of Cancer).

I came to California in 1946. Soon after, I was impressed with the initiative process. I thought that this was democracy in action. It took a long time for the disillusionment to set in. Howard Jarvis and Prop. 13 went a long way toward this mind change. I voted for Prop. 13 because the thought that low income people, who had bought their homes for what was a reasonable price were losing their homes because they couldn't afford the taxes grabbed me. This was what the majority of voters thought. It was many years later that I realized that not only was Prop.13 a rip-off, but its major function was to protect the wealthy and corporations from paying a fair property tax. It was presented to the voter as protecting poor old ladies from losing their homes because of high property taxes due to inflated real estate prices. Naturally I voted for it because, even then, I had a soft spot in my heart (and head) for poor old ladies. Many years later, I found out that while it saved me some money and did help some low income people, its true purpose was to protect rich property owners, businesses and corporations to the tune of very big bucks. In the fine print of Prop.13 was another hooker that I wasn't aware of when I voted for it. Even if a community wanted to increase their own taxes for some worthwhile project, such as a school or hospital, they could only do it through a "parcel tax," and the owner of a modest home would pay the same tax as the owner of a mansion, or a corporation that owned a multibillion dollar piece of property. In short, Prop.13 was a rip-off of the public.

I also had the illusion that initiatives were put on the ballot by enthusiastic people who got petitions signed. Not any more. There are companies that are paid to get those signatures. This is not a local group getting signatures for a county initiative, it is rich people getting an initiative on the state ballot by hiring people to get those signatures. It also takes very big bucks to pay for television ads.

I read that Bill Gates put up $400,000 to help get Prop 71, the stem cell research proposition, passed. Unlike John D. Rockefeller, who put up the money for the Rockefeller Institute, Gates wants you and I to pay for it. Gates could afford the three billion bucks that it would take, but why should he when he can get the taxpayer to foot the bill (3 billion dollars, plus another 3 billion in interest). Anyone who thinks that building research institutes is the way to lick disease doesn't know very much about the nature of research.

Making things worse, the propositions are written in legal gobbledygook; a language that I do not understand and I doubt that many others voters do. The analysis by the legislative analyst was only slightly more understandable.

I have a simple rule about initiatives: When in doubt, I vote NO because once it gets on the books it is there forever. This rule is one that I usually apply to initiatives that cost the state, and consequently me, money.

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