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.