Good rule of thumb: if you can't understand what the hell the proposition is about, just vote no. Unfortunately, the backers of propositions counter this with ads that say, "Lawyers and pederasts will stomp on thousands of baby ducklings unless you vote for this prop. Your job will be given to someone in Bhutan unless you vote for this prop. Apple and Google have agreed to move their headquarters to the dark side of the moon unless you vote for this prop."
Prop 19. Legalizes pot. This is the only proposition that can be summed up in two words. It's important to keep in mind that federal anti-drug laws will still apply, so there's a brooding state/federal fight in the offing. Seems to have reasonable safeguards. Offers the potential for tax revenues. The only significant scare the NO side has is that CA businesses won't be able to comply with drug-free workplace requirements for federal gigs. Even if this is true, I kinda have to think that even the dullards in Sacramento could sort that out faster than the Dude can roll a jay. 19 is just a law, not a constitutional amendment, so further law could (yes?) clarify that when prop 19 allows "employers [to] retain existing rights to address consumption of marijuana that impairs an employee's job performance," that includes maintaining a drug-free workplace for federal purposes.
Verdict: Weak Yes from me.
Prop 20. Transfers the power to redistrict US Congressional districts from the state legislature to the body created by Prop 11 (that redistricts state districts). I thought Prop 11 was dumb in 2008, but it passed. I still think this is dumb. FYI, the Prop 11 commission has not yet formed, but you can check out the 60 names left in the applicant pool that remain after the evaluation of the 25,000 applications.
Prop 21. Adds $18 to your vehicle registration that will go to parks and wildlife. Free admission and parking at these parks if you have CA plates.
This really shouldn't be the way we do budgets. Ordinarily, these things are a joke. A proposition adds umpteen million be spent on X, and Sacramento naturally lowers the appopriation to X by a similar amount, and nothing changes (except that in these times of woe, X will probably lose money on the deal). But this prop is really the no bullshit answer. It'll raise $500 million in new fees, which is slightly more than the current total budget for these programs. So Sacramento will decrease the budget (that they have control of) to $0, and these programs will still be fully funded.
OK, on the minus side, the prop doesn't seem very flexible. $18. Every year. Into perpetuity. In the near term it'll work fine, but as costs rise, something will have to change, but heck, we can just write another prop to fix things.
Also, it's a regressive
Also, this really isn't how we should do our budget.
Verdict: Weak Yes, because I love squirrels.
Prop 22. Protects various monies from state raiding, in favor of local government and transportation spending. These seem like worthy goals, but this is a complicated puppy. Maybe it ties state government's hands too much. A lot of this 'raiding' goes on only in case of 'severe state fiscal hardship'; this prop gives the state less flexibility in dealing with the situation. Also, I don't understand why fuel taxes should not be spent on paying debt service on transportation bonds.
Verdict: No. If you want me to vote Yes, please accurately and completely summarize the content of the 6+ pages of the proposition in a tidy paragraph.
Prop 23. Repeals AB32, California's greenhouse gas law. OK, technically it suspends it, but the condition for AB32 to be reinstated is not likely to occur anytime before the 2020 target date. Sacramento gets a lot of blame for not doing anything, but here let's give them credit for doing a hard thing and passing a tough law. Why do we want to undo it?
AB32 allows for cap-and-trade, which has always struck me as a great idea, and one which "could result in as much as several billion dollars of new revenues annually to the state." The invisible hand of free fucking capitalism will smack polluters that don't clean up the act and reward polluters that do clean up their act. Who wouldn't want that? Obviously, polluters who don't want to clean up their act. Fuck them.
Verdict: Hell no.
Prop 24. Repeals some stuff the legislature did on corporate taxes. Again the legislature actually did something. So we should only repeal it if it's awful. And it does actually look kinda awful. The legislature approved carrybacks for the first time. So if a company loses money in 2012, for example, they can actually get a refund on taxes they already paid in earlier years. Money that the state already spent because it thought it was income. I mean, I can imagine an employer saying, "Times are tough, we're going to have to cut your salary a bit," but how about, "Times are tough, we're going to cut your salary a bit, and oh yes, I'm gonna have to go ahead and ask you to refund a portion of your last two years' wages." Seems pretty dodgy to me, but federal corporate taxes allow it (which does not mean it is not dodgy, but it is at least a common dodgy thing rather than an unprecedented dodgy thing). Maybe this is kind to struggling businesses, but it just strikes me as wrong. I don't demand anything too strict I don't think. When a company makes a lot of money, I ask for a lot of money. When they don't make any money, I don't ask for money. But it galls me to have to pretend that a company didn't make money two years ago when we damn well know they did.
And it's pretty clear what the effect of the change is (or wil be). Essentially the legislature and governor's action will cut corporate taxes by $1.3 billion. So Prop 24 would undo that and increase revenues by $1.3 billion (or return them to what they would have been). But again, didn't we want the legislature and governator to work together to solve the budget problem. And this was allegedly part of the solution. Help!
Prop 25. Changes the budget vote requirement to majority, rather than two-thirds. Our budgetary process is clearly a shambles. To get a two-thirds vote, you need to call in lots of favors, and the kind of favors that legislators ask for is not "cut spending in area X" but rather "increase spending for my pal Y." 47 other states do it by majority vote, so why can't we?
Prop 26. Recategorizes certain 'fees' as taxes so that they will be harder to impose, and/or retroactively nullify some that have already been created. The whole fee/tax distinction is really just a dodge. The point is, polluters don't want to pay for their pollution.
Prop 27. Undoes Prop 11, which is good, but also "deletes some existing requirements" on redistricting, which sounds bad. Currently, the process exludes gerrymandering; redistricting forbids "favoring or discriminating against political parties, incumbents, or political candidates". Prop 27 removes these basic fairness protections.
TL;DR version - Go with the recommendations of the Courage Campaign, that jedifreac brought to my attention. It basically agrees with me.