Big Trouble in River City

Tuesday, May 19th is Election Day in California.  On the ballot are five propositions that State leaders says are needed to help solve the current budget deficit mess.  But according to the recent opinion polls, the voters are not taking the bait—seeing the measures instead as bait and switch.  Polling does indicate one measure likely to pass, Proposition 1F will freezes state official pay in any year the state budget is in deficit.  Take That!

See the details on the ballot measures and latest polls at: http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_2009_ballot_propositions

The irony is that, at the local level, California voters have responded to pleas for help from school districts seeing state funding chopped by stepping up to the plate in special elections to pass parcel taxes or levy increases to support the schools.  In a state where such measures require a 2/3 vote to pass more than 59% of the attempts have succeeded.

Voters understand that California’s volatile tax and spend policies mean that money flows freely in good years and dries up in bad years.  In 1933 California voters approved a Constitutional Amendment requiring the Legislature to pass a balanced budget by a 2/3 vote if they want to raise taxes.  State officials hate this, of course, because it requires cooperation and compromise across the aisle and prevents one party from cramming their program down the throats of the other.

Adding to the problem is that both parties have moved to the fringes with the Democrats dominated by the more liberal –some say left wing —of their party and organized labor and Republicans dominated by the most conservative—some say right wing—of the party.  Governor Schwarzenegger was elected in the recall of Gray Davis over the state budget shortfall due to overspending.  He leaned right until his proposed ballot fixes to the problem were defeated by voters.  He moderated his views and has tried compromise with Democrats which now appears not to have won him more public support and cost him support among Republicans who see this moderation as capitulation.  No good deed goes unpunished!

What a mess!

In my view, there is a fix for this short of a complete voter revolt, but so far neither party is trustful enough to put it to the test.  My solution is the following ballot measure:

“By April 1st of each odd number year, the Governor shall prepare and file with the Legislature a budget for the ensuing two years which, in his judgment, reasonably balances expected revenue including any proposed tax or fee increases or decreases with total proposed expenditures.  The Governor’s proposed budget shall go into effect and have the full force of law on July 1st but the Legislature may adopt amendments to it by a 2/3 vote subject to the Governor’s veto authority. The Governor shall manage the state budget to keep it in balance at all times and may propose amendments to revenue or expenditures he judges necessary and prudent by filing any such amendments with the Legislature and they shall go into effect 30 days after being filed unless the Legislature by a 2/3 vote modifies or rejects them.”

This will not solve California’s structural deficit problems but it does fix accountability for balancing the state budget in the Governor with oversight from the Legislature.  It preserves the 2/3 rule for legislative changes to mitigate mischief. If voters think the Governor is not managing the state budget well we have the authority to remove him as we have proven. If the political parties in the Legislature want to continue to have food fights rather than compromise, then the Governor is on the hook to keep the ship of state sailing and provide adult supervision.

There ends the rant!