Benefits of Proposition 31 are unclear

S.F. Examiner File PhotoMelissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at 6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

This election season, pundits everywhere are denying the existence of the undecided voter. While that may be true for some races, there’s one ballot measure in California that has voters stumped, and that may be the best reason to vote against it.

Proposition 31 is a grab-bag of changes to the state budget and government put on the ballot by a nonpartisan think tank called California Forward. The ongoing online poll by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine School of Public Policy shows that since July 19, 2012, respondents have been anywhere from 15.5 percent to 28 percent unsure of how they will vote on Prop 31 and according to another poll released Thursday by the Public Policy Institute of California, 32 percent of voters are undecided.

Proponents of the measure haven’t exactly done a stellar job of explaining why it is a good thing, though they have raised almost $4 million dollars to do just that. Opponents of the measure include the California Democratic Party and public employee unions, both of which have their hands full trying to defeat Proposition 32 (limiting political contributions of unions and corporations) and passing Proposition 30 (Governor Jerry Brown’s tax increase) and have thus far only come up with $138,600 to stop Prop 31.

Not that much opposition is necessary, as Californians aren’t exactly embracing the reforms. The Pepperdine poll shows 41 percent in favor of the proposition and 37 percent opposed, while the Public Policy poll shows 25 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. It’s no wonder that people are skeptical of any “good government” reform after being burned by Proposition 25 in 2010. With that proposition, voters thought we were getting a law to force a balanced budget each year; instead we got the same nonsense, only earlier.

Proposition 31 seeks to remedy the sins of Prop 25 and then some by making a variety of changes to the state Constitution; for example it requires a two-year budget cycle, shifting control over property tax dollars to local governments and requiring public performance results. It also requires any proposed law to be published for three days before the legislature can take a vote. The loathsome practice in Sacramento of sneaking massive, last-minute amendments into bills right before a vote simply must end, and was why I initially supported Prop 31.

Having read the proposition, now, I’m not so sure. I think California Forward is a fine organization that is genuinely interested in fixing what is broken about our state government, but this initiative is a jumbled “wish list” and its implications are far from clear. Passing extensive amendments to the state Constitution without fully understanding each separate part is how we got into this mess in the first place.

Bay Area NewsJerry BrownLocalMelissa GriffinPublic Policy Institute of California

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