The Other California Ballot Horror

10/26/2010 12:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Since my home state has a way of starting trends -- some good, some terrible -- California ballot propositions have been attracting national attention for decades. One of the terrible ones hasn't gotten the attention it needs, either in California or nationally.

National media have given quite a bit of coverage to Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana, and Prop. 23, an attempt by two Texas oil companies to gut California's clean-energy law and make the state safe for polluters. As I noted three weeks ago, Prop. 23 could set a terrible national precedent.

But there's another attack on California pollution controls on the ballot that could also set an awful precedent, Prop. 26. With massive backing from the tobacco, oil and liquor industries, Prop. 26 is being peddled as an anti-tax measure, but it would actually shift the burden of paying for pollution away from the polluters and onto the backs of taxpayers. And it would also sabotage California's clean-energy law.

A two-thirds vote of the legislature is required to raise most taxes in California, but regulatory fees -- such as fees charged to polluters for clean-up -- can be enacted by a simple majority. Prop. 26, being sold to the voters with the slogan, "Stop Hidden Taxes," redefines these fees as taxes. By that simple change of terminology, Prop. 26 requires a two-thirds vote of either the legislature or the voters in order to charge polluters for the damage they do.

Instead of polluters paying for the harm they cause, taxpayers will get stuck with the bill. Prop. 26 would cost our already cash-strapped state and local governments billions in revenues, leading to further decimation of the budgets for schools, health, parks and public safety. And by making it nearly impossible to charge polluters for greenhouse gas emissions, it would largely block implementation of our clean-energy law -- even if the odious Prop. 23 is defeated.

In recent weeks, with Prop. 23 struggling in the polls, the biggest corporate money has shifted to Prop. 26. Philip Morris, Shell, Chevron, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have all made six- or seven-figure contributions. Opponents, who are being vastly outspent, include the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and California Professional Firefighters.

Polling shows that California's large Asian, Latino and African American communities may be the key swing voters in this election. Lots of grassroots efforts are being made to educate these voters and encourage them to turn out, but we need to crank up the effort in these final days. If you can help, No on Prop. 26 and Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Proposition need your support now.