By Hillel Aron
Proposition 25 would allow the California state legislature in Sacramento to pass the budget with a simple majority vote, as opposed to the 2/3 supermajority they now need.
It would also withhold the legislators' deluxe pay every day after the June 15 deadline that they don't pass the budget — and that delicious punishment is probably the main reason polls show voters might just approve this oddball measure.
At first, Prop. 25 sounded like just the thing to make the screwed-up state of California marginally governable. Well… not exactly.
Proposition 25 does not change the law set in place by Proposition 13 in 1978: any state or local tax hike in California must still be approved by a 2/3 vote of the legislature.
So Democrats can pass a budget without any Republican votes, but still can't raise taxes without them.
“It's odd that Democrats would want to do this,” says Dan Walters, dean of Sacramento columnists, who writes for the Sacramento Bee. “It would make them fully responsible for the budget, fully responsible for cutting spending.”
The thing is, the 120-member California legislature spends more than the state takes in through taxes, fees and other sources.
Right now, the legislature is allowing vast overspending, each day. And it's been doing this since 2008.
It's already known that the next budget deficit will be around $12 billion. And that's nothing compared to the deficit in 2011, which will be more than $20 million, barring some economic miracle.
So Prop. 25 will make it easy for Democrats to vote to cut or raise spending with a simple majority.
But they won't have the authority to tax people, because they'll still need the 2/3 vote for that.
The weird thing is that Prop. 25 appears to take away the Democrats' favorite scapegoat — the one they use when they place blame for really late budgets or unbalanced budgets — the Republicans.
The majority Democrats have controlled the California state legislature nearly every year since 1958, back when the U.S. Supreme Court was ordering Little Rock Arkansas to integrate black and white children in the schools and Eisenhower was the prez.
That's how long the Democrats have held the majority in Sacramento.
So now, with a simple majority needed to pass the budget, the Dems will have no one but themselves to blame if the budget is late or riddled with shortfalls or ugly cuts.
Yet who supports Proposition 25?
Unions. Powerful teachers unions who push the legislature around, like the CTA. And wealthy labor unions like SEIU, AFL-CIO, AFSCME. All the same acronyms that control the Democratic Party in California.
So what are they thinking?
Some opponents of Prop. 25 say the measure will be the Democrats' chance to raise all sorts of fees, which are not taxes.
But Walters suggests that, maybe, Democrats think that a simple majority vote in Sacramento will put California voters into a psychological mindset in which a majority vote begins to seem normal for approving things — like new taxes.
It may be a long-term scheme to convince Californians to roll back Proposition 13, but in a uniquely Sacramento, passive-aggressive way.
But come on. Isn't Prop. 25 a step in the right direction in getting a budget done?
“It may be a step in the right direction in the long term,” says Walters, “It does no harm. But it doesn't provide a mechanism to balance the budget.”
During his decades covering the legislature, he's seen a lot of screw-ups by those in power.
This time, Walters thinks, “The Democrats are setting themselves up for failure.”