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June 2009 home page

Budget Ballot Busted
Wayne Dernetz, 9th Street

Is California governable? That question arises from last month’s defeat of five propositions intended by the governor and legislature to help balance the 2009-2010 State budget. By a 3-to-1 margin, voters vented their anger and frustration at state leaders by withholding legislative and executive pay raises during deficits – an otherwise meaningless gesture.

Approval of the May propositions would have reduced a growing and continuing fiscal crisis for the State. Last February, after months of negotiation, the legislature adopted a “balanced” budget for this fiscal year and next with $15 billion in spending cuts, $12.5 billion in temporary tax raises, $8 billion in one-time federal stimulus money – and $6 billion in revenue transfers requiring voter approval. But soon thereafter, the Legislative Analyst found the worsening economic slowdown reduced state revenues by another $15 billion. The rejected propositions mean state leaders now face a $21 billion gap in the $100 billion budget.

Angry voters are saying they can’t – or won’t – do the job the governor and legislators were elected to do. Yet, voters are quick to approve constitutional amendments and other initiatives that restrict the legislature’s options and limit their powers. The May propositions would have suspended voter-approved constitutional amendments and other mandates from prior years that earmarked special revenues and mandated special program spending. The legislature struggles under another voter-approved constitutional mandate that requires a two-thirds supermajority just to pass a state budget. Only two other states have this requirement.

Recent polls indicate Californians oppose cutting most state services, including K-12 education. But neither will they tolerate tax increases. Voter-approved initiatives have set rigid formulae and mandated spending in all three major budget categories. Education (50%), health and human services (31%) and state prisons (10%) make up 91 percent of the general fund budget. Less than three percent pays the combined expense of the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

There’s growing awareness that our governing system is broken and needs an overhaul. The Bay Area Council, a consortium of Northern California’s 275 largest companies, recently called for a Constitutional Revision Commission. Our current state constitution, adopted in 1876, has been amended nearly 100 times. In recent decades, special interest groups have hijacked the initiative process (added in 1911). They find it easier to sway California’s voters than to obtain Sacramento’s approval for their pet projects. Special interest groups have been strengthened by the initiative process while elected leaders have been weakened. It’s time to rethink and rebalance the scales.

Note: City Manager Karen Brust reports that Del Mar will lose $400,000 in shared revenues in the coming fiscal year as the direct result of the State’s ongoing financial crisis.

   
 

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