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Proposition 31 Could Mean A Shift From State To County For Spending, Oversight

October 30, 2012 12:45 p.m.


Thad Kousser, political science professor, UC San Diego

Related Story: Proposition 31 Could Mean A Shift From State To County For Spending, Oversight


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: We take a look at the pros and cons of proposition 31. There are some propositions on the ballot that you may have strong feelings about. Prop 30, the tax initiative, or the proposition that would eliminate the state's death penalty. But there is so much going on in prop 31, a measure that would change the state constitution that it may be hard to have strong feelings for or against. My guest, Thad Kousser. Welcome to the program. Give us an overview of what this proposition is aiming for.

KOUSSER: It's a packet of six reforms aimed at making our state bottom process more rational and disciplined and changing the relationship between state and local governments in California. On the state billion process it says we're going to -- budget process we're going to have a two-year budget instead of an annual budget. So one year the governor would focus on the budget, and other year, they would focus on legislation. So it will change their work flow and make it more rational. It opposes this pay as you go system of budgeting, much like Congress does. When the legislature and the governor want to spend something permanent on a program or a permanent tax cut, they've got to fund that, they've got to find the money by another program or raising taxes. If they've got a glut one year they can only spend that on temporary things like infrastructure building or paying down the debt.

CAVANAUGH: I'm going to stop you there. I want to break this down. But this proposition was written by California forward, a group. Where does prop 31 fit into their overall reform efforts?

KOUSSER: Well, this has really been the signature initiative. They backed the system's redistricting commission creation. But this is their big product. It's a bipartisan group funded by nonprofit organizations. It has old experienced veterans in state government, and they spent a lot of time doing graphics meeks across the state. They've taken the incremental approach. Let's fix our constitution one step at a time so this is their next step toward reforming California government by a piecemeal process.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. You mentioned prop 31 would change the constitution to establish a two-year budget cycle. Why do we need that?

KOUSSER: They're arguing for more long-range planning on the budget and saying we have these annual fights over the budget that really consume a ton of time in Sacramento and a lot of these decisions get washed away in the end when we find out after taxes are paid in April how much money we really have. Let's do this in one year, and the next year, let's focus on both passing legislation and look act how the state agencies actually spend that money. So the second year will be devoted to a lot of oversight as well as legislation.

CAVANAUGH: Does this have a lot of opposition? What is the argument against it?

KOUSSER: The argument against it is that this budget will be thrown out of whack even more than our one-year budget. But it hasn't generated the most opposition. The most opposition has come from the pays you go provisions.

CAVANAUGH: Let's go to that. Create a situation where expenditures of more than $25 million couldn't be brought forward until bottom cuts.

KOUSSER: The argument in favor of it is this is just responsible budgeting. We haven't spend money that we think we have in the long-term F. It's 1-time money, spend it on long-term expenditures.

CAVANAUGH: Say state government got a windfall of state sales tax revenue, and they wanted to put that into the education budget, would they be it allowed to do so?

KOUSSER: That would be allowed because if the revenues come in by a change in the tax code, then you can spend the money. If it just comes in because the California economy starts booming again, and people buy more, and we're bringing more in just because there's money being exchanged in stores, that is not permanent money, it's going to bust as soon as it's boomed, and you you got to spend that on one-year things.

CAVANAUGH: That's one of the criticisms?

KOUSSER: It is. It puts California in a fiscal straight jacket, and it's more about box budgeting where the legislature and the governor won't have flexibility to react to changes in state income, changes in the needs ever state government, and when you get 30 years down the line, state government is asked to provide really didn't thing, and they need the flexibility to move money around. The big thing is the shift in authority. Local governments, when they get-together and create community action plans, here's what our community needs, here's what our goals are, it let's those local governments get out of the state regulations as long as the state government doesn't say no. And what does that exactly mean? That's where it's legally contested. The yes side says this is just going to lead to more efficient provision of state services in a way that fits the local area and respects local wishes. The no side, and you see a lot of environmental groups worried, this means local groups would be able to get out of this requirement. The yes side says we specifically don't want to include the environment. But there's legal uncertainty.

CAVANAUGH: When you say local governments, does that specifically mean county government?

KOUSSER: Working together with other local governments to create a committee action plan.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. What does that mean? Does that mean in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors wanted to change anything that comes down from Sacramento they have to get the okay from a whole bunch of cities in San Diego County?

KOUSSER: It requires collaboration, but I don't thinkef city.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you give us an example?

KOUSSER: The idea might be -- it could be spending on, you know, providing healthcare services, or welfare services. Is there a more efficient way that we can take state money and serve the people we're supposed to provide welfare and healthcare to.

CAVANAUGH: And some groups are afraid that it's going to water down the state issues.

KOUSSER: The argument for it is whether you like local control or not. Different governments want things in the state government, and empowering them means empowering some people who might be or conservative or more liberal, and they might take stances to the left or the right. So the yes side says we should have government that fits people at the local level, and a lot of the no side yes, sir we've come up with basic ideas how we want the poor to be treated and served, and those should be uniform across California.

CAVANAUGH: It also expands and the power of the governor during a fiscal memory.

KOUSSER: It does that only under certain conditions. When they declare a fiscal emergency, it's up to the legislature to decide how to address it. It doesn't mean they have to solve all the problems and make all the cuts. If the legislature fails to act entirely, the governor can make unilateral cuts. This is a call to legislate identify action more than a shift of power.

CAVANAUGH: Er and again, another provision would require performance goals for state and local budgets. Do these requirements tend to improve state government?

KOUSSER: I think they force state and local governments to get on the record with what we're trying to do what 've when we spend that money. And this would force them to report back to say did we accomplish our goal? We've never tried this in California. I tend to think that this discussion we have about what our government does, and whether it's providing those services, having a public discussion, can't hurt.

CAVANAUGH: And the last part of it is -- it does require that state legislators get the publication of bills that they have to vote on three days prior to a vote. That did not happen in the last signaturive session. This sounds like a good idea. But is it principal 1234

KOUSSER: This happens with hundreds of bills. You don't have a lot of sunlight on them. But I think the outcry would happen when the bills are still voted on, the next morning when everybody looks to see what the legislature did in the last night.

CAVANAUGH: I've seen criticism that it tries to do too much, that it risks unintended consequences. What kinds?

KOUSSER: Well, we could have the in wake, this could mean that California government wouldn't have the flexibility to deal with changing realities. Of the pro side will be that, we'd be a solvent government! I think the biggest concern is how the -- about the community action plans and how they're decided in the Courts. When voters take a look at this, when they try to digest all six of these major provisions, we're going to see where they reach.

CAVANAUGH: Just to wrap up, proposition 40 is -- I don't know autolike the oops never mind proposition. It has no official support anymore. What's going to there?

KOUSSER: Well, in 2008, voters created this California systems districting commission. This is a referendum on one of their maps. If you vote yes, it says let's keep the maps. If you vote no, it says let's have the maps redrawn. It would stream lane their legal challenge to those maps. They lost the challenge. Now they're saying oh, yeah, never mind. Vote yes and keep things the way they are.

CAVANAUGH: And there is no support for no?

KOUSSER: There isn't. But people might get so confused by this measure, we'll see how it goes.