This page has a long history of opposing the death penalty. As far back as 1971, before the alternative sentence of life without the possibility of parole had been devised, we were pining for such a choice. If there were a way to ensure that convicted killers would remain in prison for life, a member of The Times' editorial board wrote during the Nixon administration, "would it not be better to forgo, in some humility about the limitations of human judgment, the imposition of the ultimate punishment? We are inclined to think it would."
We are still so inclined. So when an activist group called SAFE California submitted 800,000 signatures to election authorities this month for a November ballot measure to end capital punishment in the Golden State, it seemed we were headed for one of the easiest endorsement decisions we've been confronted with in years. It still may be, though the measure contains a provision we wish it didn't.
The so-called SAFE California Act would do two things we wholeheartedly support: It would change the maximum penalty imposed by California courts from death to life without parole, and it would retroactively apply that same penalty to inmates currently on death row. But it doesn't stop there. It would also order the state to transfer $30 million a year for three years to municipal police and prosecutors "for the purpose of increasing the rate at which homicide and rape cases are solved."