Over the past 20 years, the Legislature repeatedly has failed to pass a budget on time, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions in interest payments and leaving schools, municipalities and state workers holding the bag. The primary reason? The requirement that two-thirds of lawmakers approve the budget. The supermajority mandate turns democracy on its head, handing veto power to the minority.
Proposition 25 should end budget gridlock by reducing the threshold to a simple majority. And just in case that doesn't work, it would withhold salaries and per-diems from lawmakers who miss the budget deadline. We recommend a yes vote.
For similar reasons, we recommend voting no on Proposition 26, which would raise the vote threshold to two-thirds for certain fees collected by state and local governments. This would give more power to the minority and force the general public to pick up the cost of services, like cleaning up toxic waste, that now are borne by those responsible.
Opponents of allowing a majority vote on the budget are basing much of their campaign on a specious claim: that it would also allow the Legislature to raise taxes with a majority vote. It would not (although if it did, we would still support it, since we believe in majority rule). The state's 3rd District Court of Appeal shot down the argument, saying, "We find nothing in the substantive provisions that would allow the Legislature to circumvent the existing constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote to raise taxes."
Supporters of the two-thirds requirement say that it forces Democrats and Republicans to compromise. In reality, it just forces Democrats to spend months figuring out how to buy the votes of a few Republicans. And it allows each party to blame the other for the budget mess. Wouldn't it be better if voters knew whom to hold accountable?
Further budget reforms are needed, including a two-year budget cycle and limits on spending one-time revenue. But allowing a simple-majority vote to pass the budget -- as 47 other states do -- is crucial to ending gridlock.
Proposition 26 would worsen that gridlock. It would raise the vote threshold to two-thirds in the Legislature for any fee that benefits the public but does not directly pay for a service the payer receives. (One example: the fees charged to companies that deal with hazardous waste, which help pay to clean up all toxic sites.) Local lawmakers would have to get two-thirds voter approval for such a fee, an unnecessary impingement.
Since the two-thirds threshold is impossibly high, and because of differing interpretations of the initiative's intent, many worry it would negate a broad range of fees, such as those paid by tobacco companies to fund smoking cessation programs or event promoters to provide police protection. Taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill for these costs, which should be borne by the companies profiting from the activities. Sponsored largely by oil, tobacco and alcohol companies, Proposition 26 has been called the Polluter Protection Act -- an apt moniker.
Despite all the hand-wringing about Sacramento's seemingly intractable dysfunction, voters can do something to fix it this fall by voting yes on Proposition 25. And they can avoid making the problem worse -- while saving themselves some money -- by voting no on Proposition 26.
Fri, October 8, 2010
by Andrea Landis