Proposition 31: Reform the Rube Goldberg Way

by on October 4, 2012 · 6 comments

in Editor's Picks, Government, Politics, Voter Guide 2012

Should We Support This Manifestation of Stalinist Treason?

It’s a good thing the weather’s so damn nice in much of California, because if you had to spend anytime actually experiencing what passes for governance up in Sacramento, North Dakota or even Somalia might start looking mighty good. Let’s face it folks, things are mighty screwed up. And we all know it’s somebody else’s fault, right?

So when anybody talks “reform” these days, it strikes a chord with voters. I hear there are politicians in Los Angeles (boo, hiss) that can take their dog for a walk, call it animal digestive reform and even raise funds off it.

A bunch of billionaires and corporate types are campaigning for “campaign finance reform” behind Proposition 32, when in fact the law is crafted in such a way as to exempt the people funding it. There’s a dude pushing ‘auto insurance reform’ (Prop 33) that’s set up primarily to benefit the company (Mercury Insurance) he owns.

The Allure of ‘Reform’

My point here is that, anytime you hear the word ‘reform’ these days, you probably should be looking around to see who’s out to scam you.  Our ‘I’m-Not-Really-A-Republican’ mayoral candidate, Carl DeMaio, has used the word so much that opponent Bob Filner has turned it into a joke at debates, saying the word ‘reform’ coming out of DeMaio’s mouth actually means ‘Real Estate for Manchester’, a reference to San Diego’s self anointed media mogul and downtown developer.

Proposition 31 is the handiwork of a ‘long view’ reform group calling itself California Forward.  It’s a package of measures, many of which sound perfectly reasonable. It is, so its supporters say, intended to bring more transparency to the budgeting process while giving Californians value for their tax dollars.

If enacted, it would:

**Establish a two-year state budget cycle.

**Prohibit the California State Legislature from “creating expenditures of more than $25 million unless offsetting revenues or spending cuts are identified.”

**Permit the Governor of California to cut the budget unilaterally during declared fiscal emergencies if the state legislature fails to act.

**Require performance reviews of all state programs.

**Require performance goals in state and local budgets.

**Require publication of all bills at least three days prior to a vote by the California State Senate or California State Assembly.

**Give counties the power to alter state statutes or regulations related to spending unless the state legislature or a state agency vetoes those changes within 60 days.

The devil here is in the details; because Proposition 31 promises so many things and changes so many law/parts of the State constitution that nobody can tell for sure exactly what will happen.  It would change things, and for that reason the Democratic Party opposes Proposition 31. An opinion piece in the LA Times does a good job of parsing the prospects:

Democrats run California and have a vested interest in retaining the status quo. In the game of politics, they’re winning here. They have mastered the rules. They will resist efforts to change them.

Republicans are a shrinking minority. Playing harder won’t work; they are losing the game, and they want to change the rules, which they claim work against them because they are written and implemented by Democrats.

It’s like redistricting reform. Republicans saw it as their way back into the game. Democrats hated it because it changed the rules they had mastered. Voters went for it — and to the surprise of Republicans, it didn’t help them much, at least not right away; and to the even greater surprise of Democrats, it gave them a boost.

So of course the state Republican Party is backing Proposition 31.

A Love/Hate Relationship 

Ah, if were only that simple. A huge component of today’s GOP absolutely hates Proposition 31.  Here’s the reasonable opposition , as expressed in the National Review:

 Wake up America. Look toward the regionalist revolution on California’s horizon. In an era of looming municipal bankruptcies, this could be your fate: robbing the suburbs to pay for the cities. The regionalist transformation now being quietly pressed on California is exactly the sort of change President Obama has in mind for America should he win a second term. In California and America both, the 2012 election could open the door for a regionalist movement in hot pursuit of a redistributionist remaking of American life.

 California’s Proposition 31 is the project of a collection of “good government” groups, in particular, California Forward. CaliforniaForward says its goal is “fundamental change.”

 They’re right about that. The change they have in mind, unfortunately, is creating a collection of de facto regional super-governments designed to undercut the political and economic independence of California’s suburbs. The goal is to redistribute suburban tax money to California’s failing cities. Instead of taking on the mismanagement that is breaking California’s cities, Prop. 31 lets failing cities bail themselves out by raiding the pocketbooks of California’s suburbanites. In the process, Prop. 31 will kill off the system of local government at the root of American liberty.

A United Nations Conspiracy?

While you’re digesting that verbage, let’s move along to the more extremist elements, or the Tea Party types, who are circling the wagons in anticipation of the assault on their God-given liberties that will inevitably flow from passage of Prop. 31. From Halfway to Concord, an East Bay Tea Party publication:

 This proposition is an assault on personal liberty, property rights and local government control of our communities! We support free markets and equal justice. This proposition uses the UN Agenda 21 Sustainable Development 3 E’s (Economy, Equity and Environment) violating those principles.” says Heather Gass, property rights advocate and founder of the East Bay TEA Party.

 [snip]

 Did you know the California Republicans in the legislature voted in support for this freedom destroying legislation? Complete and utter gutless idiots who have allowed the Stalinists running the Democrat Party in California to handcuff our liberty and right to local government and line them up against the wall.

Why We Should Support This Manifestation of Stalinist Treason, According to the Dougchester

Since we’re quoting Republican types here, let’s turn to the UT-San Diego for the spin on why we should support this manifestation of Stalinist treason:

All of those are good ideas, though we worry that opponents may be right in arguing that the Proposition 31 language is imprecise and loose. If the critics are right – and the language of citizen initiatives is often badly flawed – then key elements could be ignored or, worse, turned on their head by legislators seeking to perpetuate the status quo.

 Still, we see important promise in Proposition 31. The governor does need more power to cut the budget when the Legislature fails to act. Performance goals and reviews, common in private business, are a good thing for government, too. The public deserves at least a three-day chance to analyze legislation before it is enacted. And local governments do need more flexibility in implementing state mandates.

Seems like the term ‘damming with faint praise’ applies here, don’t ya think?

I’d Like My Reform in Digestible Bites, Thank You

So what do I think? The language covering Proposition 31 is eight thousand words long.  I’m sure that the people who drafted it had good intentions, but there are just too many vague areas and the act proposes to do too many things at once for me to have any kind of comfort level with it.

For example, Proposition 31 says that new or expanded government programs must identify funding sources; sounds cool, right? Until you realize that funding (or tax reductions) mandated in voter approved ballot initiatives aren’t covered. In a State where anybody with a couple of extra million bucks laying around can get something on the ballot, this seems to be a very big loophole.

I could go on and talk about how Prop 31 could easily leave the State with a patchwork of county-by-county rules when it comes to provision of basic services, like MediCal or foster care for kids, but I hope you get the picture.  I’d like my reform in small digestible bites, thank you, written in language that doesn’t leave me wondering if the wingnuts on the far right are on to something.

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Doug Porter

Doug Porter was active in the early days of the alternative press in San Diego, contributing to the OB Liberator, the print version of the OB Rag, the San Diego Door, and the San Diego Street Journal. He went on to have a 35 year career in the Hospitality business and decided to go back into raising hell when he retired. He won awards for 'Daily Reporting and Writing: Opinion/Editorial' from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013 and 2014. Doug is a cancer survivor (sans vocal chords) and lives in North Park.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Anna Daniels October 4, 2012 at 9:42 am

Lively analysis Doug. Actually very funny analysis. The images are superb. Now why is this crummy proposition even on the ballot?

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avatar Zabrae October 4, 2012 at 10:09 am

There are a couple of items in the above description of Prop 31 that are inaccurate:

1 – The measure does not give counties the power to alter state statutes or regulations, under any circumstances. This is a fallacy promoted by the opposition. Note that in August the Attny General’s office went so far as to change its summary of 31 in the Voter Guide to clarify that local govts would not be able to alter laws, or eligibility requirements. The actual provision in Prop 31 responds to local officials frustrated at their inability to adequately serve at-risk populations in their communities, because currently they have virtually no flexibility in how they spend state funds on state-mandated programs. 31 would allow them to integrate service delivery and funding in ways that better address local needs, and require that they do so in a transparent, accountable way. They also must show up front how they will deliver results, and are held to these goals, publicly. Finally, this new option is voluntary and requires local approval by all affected parties to proceed.

2 – Voters faced a measure a few years ago called Prop 76, that did give the Gov. unilateral authority to cut the state budget in an emergency – i.e. He/She would be able to act irrespective of what the Legislature did. Many papers, blogs, etc are confusing the previous measure with Prop 31. They are very different. For Prop 31: In the case of a declared fiscal emergency, the Legislature would have 45 days to act. That’s 45 days, in an emergency for the state. Only if the Legislature fails to do so would the Governor then be authorized to respond. Whatever you want to call it, this is something a lot of voters support.

And there is one item that is accurate as far as it goes, but is materially incomplete:

Pay-as-you-go: Currently, when State Govt enacts popular new programs without any way to fund them, popular old programs get gutted after the fact to pay for the new ones, without any public oversight. This is a documented fact. PayGo would require that lawmakers have a way to pay for popular new programs that doesn’t simply rely on raiding old ones behind closed doors. Please also note it includes some important exemptions, in response to abundant feedback (during the development of this policy proposal, which included public discussion all over the state of what was needed, over the course of two years, plus reviews of best practices, etc.) that PayGo should not apply to the restoration of critical funds that have been cut in the last few years only because of CA’s dire fiscal condition. So it doesn’t. Last, it doesn’t address “ballot box budgeting” because no one has yet figured out how to craft a measure that would actually work to curb that problem; experts agreed when this measure was being drafted that a “PayGo” approach is not likely to work with initiatives.
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CA’s system of “budgeting” for the state is a debacle. It fails to hold lawmakers accountable for spending choices, it ignores the question of whether programs are actually working or not, and it even prevents local communities from taking the most obvious steps to at least improve service delivery to at risk populations locally. Prop 31 indeed has a lot in it. It seeks to offer enough change to truly get CA back on the right track with a new way of budgeting that demands lawmakers deliver both performance and results over the long term for Californians. A simpler measure would have been easier to talk about but it wouldn’t have changed much. Prop 31 is a tall order for Californians – its complicated and fiscal policy makes our heads hurt… But Prop 31 is also a serious, comprehensive fiscal reform plan that can strengthening government performance and accountability, and public access to and participation in government decision making. It is a careful, solid product that would provide a dramatic improvement over the dismal dysfunction Californians are suffering today, through mechanisms that empower Californians.

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avatar Doug Porter October 4, 2012 at 10:19 am

If you can’t describe what a law does in basic English in a simple paragraph then it shouldn’t be on the ballot. This is Sausage Making 101.

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avatar John Lawrence October 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I totally agree. Something this complicated should not be left to voters who are more concerned about Monday night football and are going to vote based on TV ads.

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avatar Zabrae October 4, 2012 at 11:07 am

Prop 31 can easily be explained in simple English. (Correcting misstatements sometimes take more time.) The fact that 31 covers a lot of ground actually points to failings of California’s initiative process. –Another interesting conversation to be had… Thanks, zv

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avatar John Lawrence October 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm

It’s ridiculous that stuff like this should be put on the ballot. It’s stuff only a lawyer could understand. Like the average Californian knows enough about the intricacies of government that they should be redoing the architecture of it. The ballot initiative process is being undermined and subverted by stuff like this. Anything that the people vote on should be crystal clear and absolutely simple. The people should not be redefining government. They don’t have the expertise to do it. But these partisan A-holes will not cease in trying to use the proposition process to get the people to vote for stuff that feathers their own narrowly sectarian nests.

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