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'Follow the money,' says League of Women Voters
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From new taxes to eliminating the death penalty, and labeling genetically modified foods, California voters face a potentially confusing gauntlet of 11 propositions on this Nov. 6 ballot.

Helping voters sift through the legalese - and make sense of the disparate measures - was the League of Women Voters on Tuesday night, hosting a forum to discuss the pros and cons of each ballot measure at California State University, Stanislaus.

"My job here is not to convince you to vote, just to give you the information," said Mary Giventer, with the LWV.

The nonpartisan group, in partnership with the American Association of University Women and the CSU Stanislaus Department of Political Science and Public Administration, hosted the approximately two-hour event, which delved into the details of each ballot measure. Speakers outlined the pros and cons of the myriad propositions, including the finer points differentiating Proposition 30 and Prop 38 - both of which claim to raise taxes to benefit education.

Prop. 30, proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would add a quarter-cent sales tax, as well as an income tax on those making more than $500,000 annually, through 2016. If it passes, the state would forego planned "trigger cuts" of $5.3 billion to K-14 education and $500 million to higher education this year. But all future revenues would go to the state's general fund, indirectly raising education spending but primarily helping to close budget gaps.

Prop. 38, backed largely by millionaire Molly Munger, whose father was Warren Buffet's business partner, would raise income taxes on nearly all Californians through 2024. All revenue would be held separately from the General Fund, and would fund education in addition to the state's existing legal commitment. The proposition calls for 30 percent of proceeds to repay the state debt through 2017, 10 percent to benefit early education, and 60 percent would go directly to K-12 education; no funding would aid higher education.

If both Prop. 30 and Prop. 38 pass, the measure with the most "yes" votes will become law.

The differences are small, but sharp. And it's those little points that are worth paying attention to, according to the LWV.

The LWV also offered tips to help voters make up their own minds about propositions, with one tenet chief among them.

"Follow the money," Giventer said.

Looking at the primary donors can be a clue as to who the measure would truly benefit.

Watch out for complicated bills, the LWV says, as those bills can obfuscate their true purpose. An issue that complex might be better suited for the legislature.

A bill must be well-written, too, or it's likely to end up in court. A poorly written measure can cause more problems than it solves.

A measure should, ideally, include a funding mechanism which does not rely on the state General Fund. Something may be a great idea, but if the state can't pay for it, some other program will have to suffer.

Finally, the LWV recommends examining each measure by its own merits - not those you hear touted in TV advertisements.

"There's a lot of image and sound bites, but not necessarily a lot of substance," Giventer said.