Could anybody be left in California who doesn’t recognize that our formerly Golden State has become virtually ungovernable — an odds-on favorite to be the first U.S. state to declare bankruptcy? California state government is nearly paralyzed by a rats’ nest of conflicting special interests that retain power by blocking productive change attempts.
It’s no mystery that California can only clean up its act by a groundswell of grassroots activism. Our Sacramento lawmakers clearly won’t risk re-election by making any difficult decisions. For years The Examiner has called for a publicly generated cleanup of the much-amended state constitution.
But California voters are unlikely to become angry enough to force meaningful fixes until the state’s service cuts become painful enough to hurt them directly. At least now there are signs California is finally looking so bad that the public won’t wait any longer for action.
A package of major reforms to the way state government operates has been assembled by California Forward — the independent bipartisan group formed as an umbrella association for other structural-change activists. These reforms were proposed Thursday by Legislature Democrats.
The most significant idea would change the requirement for passing a state budget from a two-thirds legislative majority to a simple majority; but it would still retain the two-thirds majority needed to raise revenues by taxes or fees.
Lawmakers also would forfeit legislative pay if a budget were not passed on time. And every bill costing the state at least $25 million per year would be required to identify its funding sources.
Because these reforms would change the state constitution, before appearing on a ballot to seek voter approval they must either be passed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or gain sufficient voter signatures in a statewide petition drive. Republicans in the business community are heavily represented among California Forward’s leadership, but no Republican lawmakers are supporting the reform proposal. Assembly GOP Leader Martin Garrick blasted it as a stealthy attempt to remove anti-tax protections and “send California taxpayers three steps back.”
That critique seems shaky, considering that the two-thirds majority for raising taxes or fees would remain unchanged and all $25-million-plus spending bills would need to reveal their specific funding. However, the Republican legislative minority would undoubtedly be sent “three steps back” in their ability to block budgets — currently their only real power.
The California Forward reforms seem so simple and so obviously helpful that it’s hard to believe anyone placing our state’s best interests above their own special-interest agendas would oppose it. But of course, this is California. So it could be a good thing that the too-often-abused petition signature route still exists for placing popular measures on the state ballot.