Sat, Sep

I Told You So: The Failure of Prop 25


RETHINKING BALLOT INITIATIVES - Last October, before California voters adopted the majority vote measure Prop 25, a brilliant, devastatingly handsome young pundit warned in this very space [link]  that the measure, whatever its merits, would make things worse.

Wrote the pundit: "Prop 25 might make deficits worse and force the state to do even more borrowing. To the extent Prop 25 were to have any practical effect, it would threaten to deepen deficits. Consider this scenario: the removal of the super majority on budget bills makes it a little bit easier for Democrats to support spending that they otherwise couldn't get Republicans to agree to by two-thirds vote. But Republicans still block tax increases to pay for the additional Democratic spending."

Concluded the pundit: "The result: more deficits, more gimmicks, more borrowing."

Last week, with Republicans blocking taxes, Democrats passed a budget so full of borrowing and gimmicks that Gov. Brown vetoed it.

But that's what is wonderful about Prop 25. Yes, it made the budget worse. But it offers a hard lesson for reformers and good government types who insist California can be fixed one or two initiatives at a time.

That lesson is: it can't. The budget mix of spending mandates, tax and spending limits, special funds and super majorities is so big and complicated that reform must be comprehensive. A full redesign is required. The situation is so fraught that well-intentioned people can pursue a reform idea - i.e. Prop 25's majority vote budget - that is the right thing to do, and still make things worse.

The various groups out there who are planning packages of ballot initiatives for 2012 should study Prop 25-and rethink their entire approach. Instead of seeking change via initiatives, they should ban together and embrace a public constitutional revision process - either via the legislature, a revision commission or a constitutional convention - that can start from scratch and redesign California.

The hard truth is: nothing else will work.

Don't believe me? Fine. You're just giving a young pundit future opportunities to say I told you so.

(Joe Mathews is a journalist and Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It. Mathews blogs at foxandhoundsdaily.com where this column was first posted.) –cw

Tags: Prop 25, California budget, Governor Brown Veto, taxes, Republicans, Democrats

Vol 9 Issue 50
Pub: June 24, 2011