Ballot initiative could end budget gridlock
Proposition 25 has its pros and cons, but accountability is the main idea
By Shane Cohn 10/14/2010
The fat lady has finally sung in Sacramento. She belted out a tune that celebrated the most belated passing of a state budget in modern history. Proposition 25 aims to have that song heard in a timely fashion, not whenever legislators decide finally to stop bickering.
Prop. 25 seeks to amend the California Constitution by providing that the legislature would only need a simple majority (50 percent plus one) to pass the state budget. This would replace the two-thirds majority that is currently required and has been in California’s Constitution since 1933.
Additionally, the salaries and expenses for Sacramento legislators will be cut for every day the budget is late.
It’s no secret that, for years, California legislators have been notorious for budget delays, which spurred Prop. 25.
Those in favor of the proposition believe that passing this initiative will help restore accountability to state legislators.
The woes of the latest delayed budget — this fiscal year’s holdup was 100 days — placed severe fiscal constraints on state workers and contractors. Critical programs in health care, child care and education faced a record number of layoffs; some even closed their doors.
By requiring a simple majority vote and threatening to cut legislators’ pay for future budget impasses, many think passing Prop. 25 is an important step in fixing the ailing Sacramento dysfunction.
“Something has got to break this jam. The two-thirds (majority) ends up being a straightjacket,” said Herb Gooch, the Cal Lutheran University Political Science Department Chairman. “The political truth is that this is the majority saying, ‘We’re tired of being held prisoner by the minority.’ There has got to be some sort of reform to get rid of the logjam.”
Opponents of Prop. 25 say that if the state’s majority party — the Democratic Party — has the power to pass its own budget, tax increases are likely to sneak into the budget proposals.
“The one brake that’s on runaway spending and tax increases is the two-thirds requirement,” said Mike Osborn, the chairman of the Ventura County Republican Party. “This could put Californians at risk for runaway tax increases and more berserk spending.”
The smoking gun for detractors of the initiative is the language of Prop. 25. Opponents are weary of one particular clause that states, "Notwithstanding any other provision of law … bills providing for appropriations related to the budget may be passed [by] a majority."
But Prop. 25 also states that legislation still would require a two-thirds vote to raise any taxes, despite what detractors may claim.
“There is a campaign of disinformation going on out there. The two-thirds requirement for raising taxes remains part of the law passed by Prop. 13,” said David Atkins, first vice chair for the Ventura County Democratic Party. “Prop. 25 does not alter anything in Prop 13.”
Since Democrats currently hold the majority in state legislation, California Republicans are unlikely to favor Prop. 25. But California is one of only three states that require a two-thirds majority — the others are Arkansas and Rhode Island — to pass the state budget. With Republicans and Democrats drawing an ever-darkening line between the two parties, the future potential for a gridlocked legislature only stalls state progress, according to proponents.
“California’s political system is broken. We have a situation where minority rules in California,” said Atkins about the minority’s power to block the budget. “The budget gets delayed for months because it takes two-thirds to pass a budget, and Republicans have been refusing to pass one. So we support majority rule over the budget.”
Osborn agrees that Prop. 25 will speed up the budget process, but only, he says, because “Republicans would become irrelevant to it” as long as Democrats are in control of the legislature. This, politicians say, only creates a more fervent drive for Republicans to take back the legislative majority.
Support for Prop. 25 comes from State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, California Faculty Association, California Federation of Teachers, California Nurses Association and the League of Women Voters, among others. Those opposed to the proposition include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Chamber of Commerce, Chevron and the California Taxpayers’ Association.