2010: Initiatives Pandemic! Goo-Goos Run Wild!
Back in August we warned of a back-room deal inside California Forward – the good government reform group – that involved taking away the Legislature’s ability to raise fees by majority vote in exchange for allowing the state budget to be passed by majority vote instead of the two-thirds required now.
Not much of a deal for liberals, since California Forward’s proposals still would require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, and it’s unclear how significant the former would be without the latter.
But the process people – the folks who believe that passing a budget by majority vote is crucial to governing and would give the majority party a modicum of more running room – were so eager to make it possible to pass budgets that they were willing to trade off a right recognized by the courts in Sinclair Paint vs. Board of Equalization, 15 Cal.4th at 881.
That’s the authority of the Legislature to impose “mitigation fees” on business with a majority vote. Although the Legislature has never done it, there was consideration in the last set of budget negotiations of raising state park entry fees to cover costs that previously had been paid by tax revenues. Under Sinclair, it appears, the Legislature might well be able to do that with a majority vote.
Now California Forward has submitted two initiatives for the 2010 ballot. The first is focused on improving the budget process, both with the majority vote and by introducing a batch of newfangled management techniques like, oh say, “results and accountability.” The second is aimed at beginning to untangle the knotty relationship between state and local governments.
As we first reported, the proposal offered by California Forward would take away the Legislature’s Sinclair-backed authority to levy fees by majority vote, a power that manufacturers and other industries view with considerable anxiety. Here’s what it says (strikeout is language that is killed and underline is new language):
SECTION SEVEN. Section 3 of Article XIII A of the California Constitution is amended to read:
SEC. 3. From and after the effective date of this article, any changes in state taxes enacted for the purpose of increasing revenues collected pursuant thereto whether by increased rates, or changes in methods of computation, or imposition of a new tax, must be imposed by an Act passed by not less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature, except that no new ad valorem taxes on real property, or sales or transaction taxes on the sales of real property may be imposed. In addition, any bill that imposes a fee that replaces revenue that in the same or the prior fiscal year was generated by a tax must be passed by no less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature.
Fred Keeley, Cal Forward’s most avid pro-tax liberal, says he’s thinks giving up the majority vote on fees that replace taxes in exchange for a majority vote on the budget is a good deal. And Bob Hertzberg, the former Assembly Speaker and co-chairman of Cal Forward, thinks it’s not even a close call.
Calbuzz has no dog in the fight, other than to call attention to the fact that this is something the business interests in California have been adamant about and – with this measure – would obtain.
Take the initiative: Cal Forward is the ultimate non-partisan goo-goo group – backed by the California Endowment, Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, and David and Lucile Packard Foundation and other non-profit heavyweights – and its reform package is far more incremental than the constitutional convention agenda being pushed by the Bay Area Council and its allies, also for the 2010 ballot.
In submitting their measures to the Secretary of State, Cal Forward put out a FAQ that took a gentle jab at the con-con idea:
“A convention would bring several hundred volunteers together for a limited time to discuss many possible ways for changing California’s Constitution – there’s no telling what decisions they would make (emphasis ours). The California Forward plan instead takes specific policies that are already working in other states and put them to work in California, helping us balance our budget, improve services and reduce waste.
P.S. Assuming Cal Forward and the Bay Area Council both qualify their measures for 2010, the internecine reform battle will be just one intriguing feature of what is shaping as a most entertaining ballot, with free-swinging proposals on legalizing marijuana, cracking down on public employee pensions and rewriting Prop. 13 to allow split roll assessments among the dozens of initiatives in various stages of qualifying.
Latest tally from the Secretary of State’s offices shows four measures already qualified for the ballot (three in the primary and the big water bond in the general) with 24 in circulation for signatures and other 51 awaiting Title and Summary in Jerry Brown’s office (here’s hoping the AG isn’t taping calls about all of them, or we’ll never get voter handbooks mailed out in time).
Follow that scooplet: Speaking of initiatives, nice work by Lisa Vorderbrueggen over at Political Blotter, who flagged a Center for Governmental Studies report showing that most of the ballot measures hamstringing the Governor and Legislature on budget matters come from…the Governor and Legislature.
“Most of the ballot-box budgeting has come from you,” Bob Stern, president of the goo-goo group (they’re everywhere!) told the Senate and Assembly Select Committees on Improving State Government, which met in Oakland last week.
“A new analysis from the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies…shows that of the $11.85 billion worth of ballot measures voters approved between 1988 and 2009, 83 percent were placed on the ballot by the Legislature…
So much for all the national media geniuses who parachuted in to report on California’s budget mess and concluded that the main problem is those whacky Left Coast voters running amok with goofy initiatives.
This California Forward plan is a total give-away to anti-government Republicans. Giving the Democrats a majority vote “budget” while enhancing the 1/3 Republican rule on taxes and fees simply codifies the perverse politics we saw last summer. Every budget process henceforth will consist of two steps:
Step 1. The Republicans decide the revenue level.
Step 2: The Democrats (tearfully) slash programs they care about to squeeze the budget under the Republican revenue line.
The fact that, under this proposal, the Republicans don’t even have to vote for the budget cuts is pure political gravy. Imagine their campaign rhetoric: “We cut your taxes, but then those irresponsible Democrats slashed education, closed state parks, and let prisoners go free! We voted against those cuts!” (Great deal there Fred and Bob!)
I can’t believe that anyone involved in this process can see this as progress. This is nothing less than Grover Norquist’s perfect storm — go ahead and give the spending power to the Democrats but keep the taxing power to the Republicans and you can starve government to death every time.
Drop the pretense of “bipartisan commission” guys, with politics like this, California Forward has joined the ranks of the Governor’s Tax Reform Commission in right wing con jobs. For the sake of accuracy, California Forward should just be called “California Backward” from here on out.
Seems to me that with Keeley and Hertzberg jiggy with it, then it might not be such a huge “give-away.”
Horse trading ain’t always pretty. It just matters that the beast moves you forward…
“A convention would bring several hundred volunteers together for a limited time to discuss many possible ways for changing California’s Constitution – there’s no telling what decisions they would make (emphasis ours). The California Forward plan instead takes specific policies that are already working in other states and put them to work in California, helping us balance our budget, improve services and reduce waste.”
The thing is that we’ve had incremental reform for the past 150 years. The tyranny of the Southern Pacific led to the initiative system, which has been mildly problematic and which the California Forward reforms do nothing to address. The goo goo commission in the 60’s, another incremental reform, streamlined our cumbersome constitution a bit but didn’t fundamentally alter its problematic character. Of course, those problems wouldn’t become evident until the early 90’s and more dramatically in this last decade. California in its golden era after the war and in the dot com era was almost inevitably going to succeed, regardless of the structure of state government. So the question I would ask is, in light of this history and thought provoking analysis like Ave7’s, does anyone seriously think that the California Forward package of initiatives will improve things other than at the margins?
Personally, I just don’t find a political vision that at best sees California as destined for mediocrity very palatable. The fact is we don’t know what will result from a constitutional convention, but we can always vote it down if we don’t like it. All this talk about the need to be cautious, to have mild reforms merely serves to ignore the scope of the current crisis and to obscure a single undeniable fact: California does not have a Constitution. Because when everything from fishing rights to school busing to the size of trammel nets is ossified as sacred in our state’s most fundamental political document, then really nothing is. If there ever was a place to start over, to redream the form and function of state government, then California, which allows even “little girls in Sweden to dream of silver screen quotation,” has to be it.
Anyway, that’s why I like the idea of a constitutional convention.
Phil and Jerry –
Thanks for giving California Forward’s reform plan the attention it deserves – though remind us to send you an updated photo.
As you pointed out earlier, Sinclair Paint proved to be highly controversial. Frankly, we never found the kind of common-sense reform to this policy that would have allowed us to include it in the Best Practices Budget Accountability Act.
Our plan leaves Sinclair in place – and with it the ability to impose new fees by majority vote. Our plan requires a two-thirds majority for fees that would replace existing revenues – forestalling the raise-a-fee, lower-a-tax, raise-another-tax and call it all even gamesmanship.
-Jim Mayer and Fred Silva
Nice try fellas, but I sense a case of multiple personality denial and deflection here: If you actually intended to leave Sinclair in place, you wouldn’t require a two-thirds vote to raise any fees.
“Frankly, we never found the kind of common-sense reform to this policy that would have allowed us to include it in the Best Practices Budget Accountability Act.”
Good lord, is there anything “frank” about that sentence?
As our trusty skeptics at Calbuzz point out, this is a meaningless deflection. (Since any fee increase would alleviate a general fund obligation, the California Backward non-Sinclair common-sense BPBAA anti-gamesmanship thingie would effectively prevent any fee increase.)
The CalBackward website says “Prop. 13 has starved local cities in California of local resources such as police departments and fire departments.” So when are we going to hear your plan to fix Prop 13 guys?
Regarding the Center for Government Studies analysis, this seems at least partly to be another symptom of term limits. Short-time legislators have every incentive to lock in their own budget priorities with ballot measures at the expense of the institution’s perogatives.