One of the many things Californians will be voting on next month will be Proposition 31: “State budget. State and local government. Initiative constitutional amendment and statue.” The bill makes several changes to the way the California government operates by targeting local, state and government powers, as well as the way they interact with each other.
Here is an overview of how it will affect each level of government:
• Currently, the California Legislature passes a new budget every year. Proposition 31 will lengthen the budget cycle to two years. Ideally, this would encourage state legislators to ignore the often short-term special interests for long- term state budgeting.
• It prohibits the state legislature from creating programs and creating expenditures that will cost more than $25 million, unless it determines revenues or spending cuts that will counterbalance them. Adversely, it requires the Legislature to show how the spending would be balanced out if it reduces revenues (i.e. cut state taxes) by more than $25 million.
• The governor has the power to declare a state fiscal emergency. When this occurs, the governor must call the Legislature into a special session and propose actions to resolve the emergency, then the Legislature has 45 days to respond. If the Legislature fails to respond, Proposition 31 gives the governor the power to cut
general fund spending as long as said spending isn’t required by the California Constitution or federal law. According to the Official Voter Information Guide, such spending includes “most school spending, debt service, pension contributions and some spending for health and social services programs.” The Legislature could override these reductions with a two-thirds majority vote.
• Proposition 31 also gives local governments a significantly large amount of power. First, $200 million in sales tax revenue that would normally go to the state will now go to fund locally created programs. It also gives local governments more control of the property taxes allocated to them.
Second, local governments have the opportunity to alter state laws and programs to cater to their respective county. Local governments can revise the program or requirements of the law—or even create their own program or method of implementation—so long as the intended outcome aligns with the intentions of the state. This can be vetoed by the Legislature for 60 days, after the local government makes its proposal.
• Finally, Proposition 31 would require state government to dictate a certain amount of time each session to reviewing and evaluating public programs. During this time, it would not be allowed to pass bills except in special circumstances. The Proposition would also require the Legislature to release bill proposals to the public at least three days before voting on them.
Proposition 31 has some amendments that have a good chance of making the government more efficient. The gubernatorial powers it grants would promote action in times of financial crisis. It grants local governments much more autonomy, giving them the power to cater to the specific needs of their counties. Proposition 30 also holds the state legislature accountable for its actions by holding it to higher standards and increasing transparency. Forcing it to release bills to the public is a great idea.
However, there is an enormous amount of uncertainty attached to this bill. When a state passes a law or enacts a program, every single county can take it and turn it into something new, using state funds to do so.
This proposition not only defangs the state legislature, it pretty much neuters it. Local governments will have the opportunity to use depleted state funds to fund new, untested programs—the impacts of which, financial and otherwise, cannot be predicted.
However, what really turns me off from the bill is the enormous burden it puts on the state legislature when it comes to cutting taxes and increasing funding for bills and state programs (second bullet point in the summary above). The intentions here are good: Hold the Legislature accountable and don’t let the state overborrow, burdening the state with debt.
In the recession that California is in, it is going to tack on some debt. It’s inevitable. Restricting the government’s ability to take on that debt will slow it down and make it difficult, if not impossible, for it to offer financial aid to local programs or taxpayers in need. It prevents the Legislature from having true oversight of the state.
California is in bad shape and its government is far from being free of blame for that. It’s tempting to take risks to fix this by making drastic decisions. While I’m all for making changes to our often sluggish, inefficient government, this isn’t the change to make. Not only does it attempt to do too much at the same time, it has the potential to severely derail the checks and balances in the California government. Reform is vital, but this sweeping measure is the wrong way to go about it. Vote no on Proposition 31.