Thursday, May 14, 2009

California Propositions, all or nothing

California has another special election coming up on Tuesday. This time we're asked to vote on a set of questions, labeled 1A through 1F. That they're all number "1" is an effort to make us think of them as a single question, although they cover a variety of issues. So although a voter might be inclined to support some and not others the State is hoping we'll vote yes on even the ones we don't like because they're presented as a package. The problem with that strategy is that it also encourages us to reject the whole package if we don't like some of it, which is what is happening.

They tried the same strategy, to similar negative effect, in another way as well. Within the propositions themselves the voter encounters a mix of budget solutions which equally attract and disgust persons of all political philosophy. The state hoped to win support of Democrats and Republican voters by marrying, say, a tax hike with a program cut, or a borrowing plan with a spending cap. Here again, though, in attempting to please everyone they've pleased no one. It's a very strange situation to hear fiscal conservatives and liberal Dems equally condemning the same propositions with one complaining "it's a secret tax hike" while the other complains "it cuts programs for our most vulnerable citizens."

The ballot measures will fail. California will be forced to deal with a 21 billion dollar deficit. It won't be pretty. But perhaps the crisis will force Schwarzenegger and the legislature to deal with the real issue: a budget process that for decades has been completely hamstrung by propositions mandating that certain programs be funded regardless of other budget realities, that certain taxes only go for particular pet programs regardless of shifting needs in the State, and worst of all that any new taxes or the annual budget itself must be approved by two thirds of the legislature giving perpetual veto power to the minority party.

California needs to let our government govern. But in order to do that the government needs to call a constitutional convention and undo all the knots we've tied them up in. That would be the positive outcome of the impossible place we've come to. Wish us luck.

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