In a perfect world — a world of reason, give-and-take, compromise and cooperation — California’s two-thirds budget requirement would work.
Sadly, today’s political world is far from perfect and it doesn’t work. Now gridlock, standoff and refusal to compromise are the norm. Budgets are always adopted late, often adopted very late or, at least so far this year, not adopted at all.
That’s why Proposition 25 deserves passage. The measure would scrap the state’s onerous two-thirds’ requirement and put California in line with the 42 states which pass budgets by simple majority vote.
Not only that, but 25 provides that lawmakers not be paid a cent for every day they take to agree on a budget beyond the June 15 Constitutional deadline for passage. Finally, the measure preserves the two-thirds vote requirement for raising taxes.
If 25 clears, legislators will no longer be able to hold budgets hostage in the Legislature for purely political reasons. And counties, cities and school districts will no longer have to wait weeks or even months to learn what their annual state funding will be.
On its surface, the two-thirds requirement makes sense. After all, shouldn’t the state’s most important and crucial spending decisions deserve passage by more than a single vote?
Voters in 1933 clearly thought so. Amid the Great Depression, when every dime counted, voters gladly ratified the Legislature’s proposal to add the two-thirds requirement — which applied to both budget adoption and raising taxes.
It worked for decades. Despite constantly shifting political powers in Sacramento, not only did the Legislature year after year meet the two-thirds passage requirement, but it regularly beat the June 15 passage deadline — which today has become a standing joke.
Timely budget passage didn’t become a chronic problem until 1980. Since then, the increasingly partisan Legislature has met the deadline only five times.
As the years have gone by and financial conditions have worsened, budget stalemates have only become longer and more bitter.
Bipartisanship has all but disappeared: Democrats and Republicans, often staking out extreme positions, refuse to budge. And any politician that dares to stray from the party line — as did GOP State Senator Dave Cogdill did in early 2009 — faces loss of key committee assignments, loss of campaign funds and even formal censure.
All, apparently, for considering the greater good.
Opponents of Proposition 25 are concerned that tax increases could be included in budget appropriations bills that could bypass the existing two-thirds vote rule for raising taxes. However, proponents insist that the requirement will remain in force.
Under the section that states the “purpose and intent” of 25, it reads: “This measure will not change Proposition 13’s property tax limitation in any way. This measure will not change the two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes.”
If there is an Exhibit A for passage of Proposition 25, it’s this year. Facing a deficit of at least $20 billion, lawmakers have been deadlocked for more than three months and no action is likely until after the Nov. 2 election. Meanwhile, projects have been delayed, IOUs may be issued, pay is being deferred, the state’s credit rating teeters and counties, cities, schools and special districts statewide, operating in the dark without state revenues are playing a game of budgetary pin the tail on the donkey.
Yes, California voters in the past two elections have passed key redistricting and primary election reforms that could eventually send more moderate lawmakers to Sacramento.
But budget reform is needed now: Vote Yes on 25.