Thursday, April 23, 2009
So you thought you had done your good citizen job when you voted last November. Well, you're not off the hook yet. California is in big financial trouble and your vote may be the answer that the state Legislature is looking for to plug a multi-billion dollar gap between what the state takes in and what it spends. But then again, you may decide that you don't want to do the Legislature's job. After all, that's what they get paid those big bucks to do. Or perhaps after reading through the six propositions, you don't like the choices that that Propositions 1A through 1F offer.
I'm not going to walk you through the propositions. You can do that when you read the California Statewide Special Election Official Voter Information Guide which should have arrived in your mailbox by now. You can also get the arguments for and against, and the names of those who sign those arguments.
Instead, I'm going to look at what the vote means beyond repairing a huge budget hole, extending tax increases, borrowing against possible future revenues, putting a lid on state spending, restoring education funding, shifting early childhood and mental health funds, and freezing those state-elected officials' salaries during deficit years. That last one (Prop. 1F) is the only measure that shows signs of passing easily. Wonder why? It seems that Californians who are paying attention are fed up with their state's never-ending budget crises and are concluding that the state's governance is deeply flawed and needs fundamental overhaul. They are worried that the partisanship that dominates the Legislature paralyzes lawmakers and prohibits constructive negotiation. They see that the lawmakers have abrogated their responsibilities and relegated the budgeting process to the ballot box so that you, the voter, must make the hard decisions.
The problem here, of course, is that most likely you are not privy to all the information you need to make those choices wisely, and that, too often, you must rely on television commercials and opinion media. This in turn means that the side that raises and spends the most money will have a better chance of winning your vote. Is this the way to make California financially healthy and economically robust? By the way, historically fewer than half the registered voters turn out for special elections. This means that a minority of Californians will decide how and whether to balance the state budget.
Obviously it's time for a change... a big one. It's time to reduce the partisanship among our lawmakers by introducing open primary elections. It's time to change the law so that the budget can be passed and taxes raised by majority vote, rather than the current two-thirds requirement. And it's time to call for a Constitutional Convention to overhaul our dysfunctional state government.
If the propositions that focus on finding money fail (Propositions 1A and 1C), the budget problem will be picked up again in the spring by the same Legislature that couldn't resolve it without the voters in the winter. Maybe this time, they'll have to change the word "taxes" to "fees" and pass new ones with an achievable majority vote.