A friend emailed me with a question about an initiative poised for California’s November ballot, called the “Simple Majority” initiative. I’ll let the Wall Street Journal explain:
Two groups are pushing ballot initiatives they say would purge that chaos from Sacramento’s budget process. A bipartisan group, California Forward, is pushing a reform to let legislators pass budgets by a simple majority instead of the current two-thirds threshold. Repair California, which is affiliated with a pro-business group, is gathering support to hold a constitutional convention to rewrite state laws. Such a convention could alter the budget process and other facets of governance in California.
The recession has pinched state budgets across the nation, prompting legislatures to enact tax increases and spending cuts. California has an especially tough time solving its fiscal woes because it is one of only three states that require at least two-thirds of its state legislators to approve a spending plan. That means budget negotiations usually stall as Democrats, who make up 64% of California’s legislature, struggle to win Republican votes.
California Forward hopes to place a measure on the November ballot that would alter the budget process both for the state and local governments. It would let state legislators pass budgets by a simple majority, while maintaining the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes. The measure would also institute what is known as a pay-as-you-go system, in which lawmakers must identify funding sources for any new programs.
“We just have to stop the madness of these IOUs being issued and these horrible budget delays,” said Bob Hertzberg, a former Democratic speaker of the California Assembly who is co-chair of California Forward. “It sends a message…that California is dysfunctional.”
The local-government part of the proposal would make it easier for municipalities to raise sales taxes, by one percentage point, to fund education and other services. It would also prohibit the state from tapping the coffers of local governments during budget emergencies, as it did last year.
My response to my friend was that, because the Democrats are the majority in the California legislature, anything that gives them a simple majority gives them powers that have the potential to be imminently destructive to our economy. While the initiative, on its face, looks as if it would force Democrats to keep their budgets in line because they wouldn’t have concurrent taxing power (with tax increases still requiring a 2/3 majority), I’m suspicious.
Think about what’s happening in San Francisco. As I blogged yesterday, San Francisco’s school district, which is facing a huge shortfall and is considering cutting all sorts of academic programs, is simultaneously seriously considering a significant budget increase in the form of a program that would collect statistics on gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual students, as well as helping education discrimination. The current level of discrimination is not from assaults from other students, or insults or discriminatory treatment from teachers. It’s verbal taunts, especially from the elementary school crowd – ungracious, hurtful and mean-spirited to be certain, but hard to use to justify this kind of expensive government intervention during a time of financial crisis.
It’s this fantasy PC rule-making that makes me loath to make it even easier for the pro-government crowd to pass more insane budgets. Even if they have less money, they’ll still spend it foolishly.
I’m not the only one suspicious that this is a Trojan horse that will redirect public spending away from infrastructure and towards politically favored victim groups. Republicans are also worried:
Statehouse Republicans will fight California Forward’s initiatives, said Tony Strickland, the state Senate’s Republican assistant minority leader. If the budget-approval threshold is lowered, then Republicans would lose their outsized influence in the statehouse because Democrats could pass budgets without GOP votes. The California “Central valley, the farmers, agriculture”—constituencies typically represented by Republicans—”will lose their voices,” Mr. Strickland said.
The antitax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association will oppose any effort that would ease local governments’ ability to raise taxes, said Jon Coupal, the group’s president. He and Mr. Strickland said they will also oppose Repair California’s constitutional convention because it could result in a repeal of Proposition 13, a 32-year-old law that caps property-tax rates.
If you’re a Californian, I’d urge you to think very seriously before voting yes on this initiating, assuming that it makes it onto the ballot. The only thing that’s truly going to save California is for voters to throw the Democrats out (along with any spend, spend, spend Republicans). Unless California brings down its spending, most of which goes for government employee pensions and politically correct funding, nothing will save us.