California legislators — who seem unable to come up with an honest balanced budget, who always seek tax increases, and who won’t pass even modest reforms to the state’s unfunded pension system or to anything else, for that matter — want to blame the government’s problems on voters, rather than themselves.
Several bills, some of which are likely to pass, would gut the initiative and referendum process, or at least make that process far more burdensome. The ultimate goal: eliminating the main vehicle Californians have to reform a government that will not be reformed by elected officials, thus leaving us completely at the mercy of legislators and the interest groups that control them.
The biggest danger is ACA 6. According to bill sponsor Assemblyman Mike Gatto, ACA 6 “will require initiatives that spend money or create a new program or mandate to identify and specify the funding to pay for it.” As he explains in a statement, “Too often, voters are snowed by slick campaign commercials into authorizing unfunded mandates that end up costing the state billions of dollars, in perpetuity.”
This sounds appealing until we look at the bill language: “This measure would prohibit an initiative measure that would result in a net increase in state or local government costs exceeding $5,000,000, other than costs attributable to the issuance, sale, or repayment of bonds, from being submitted to the electors or having any effect unless and until the legislative analyst and the director of finance jointly determine that the initiative measure provides for additional revenues in an amount that meets or exceeds the net increase in costs.”
Despite Gatto’s assurances to the contrary, it’s clear the bill could be applied to initiatives that would reduce taxes, given that such measures, such as Proposition 13, would result in a “net increase” in costs to state and local governments. Proponents are being dishonest about its intent, explains the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association’s legislative director David Wolfe, who said ACA 6’s goal is to eviscerate the initiative process.
Another troubling measure would harass signature-gatherers. Sponsored by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, a Contra Costa County Democrat closely aligned with the unions, SB 448 would require that people who collect signatures wear a scarlet-letter-type sign around their neck announcing whether they are a paid signature-gatherer or a volunteer signature-gatherer, and whether or not they are registered to vote.
This is part of a concerted effort championed by liberal think-tank “reformers” and editorialists who blame “ballot box” budgeting for the state’s fiscal mess and by union organizers who understand that it’s far cheaper to buy legislators than it is to fight taxpayer-friendly initiative campaigns.
There’s irony in hearing modern- day progressives whine about the results of what their ideological forebears brought into existence. I would never design the system this way and if there were some way to undo a century of progressive reforms, I would be for it. But my first reform would not eliminate the only tools the voters, whatever their flaws, have to check the government.
Even the legitimate concern about ballot-box budgeting is overblown.
For instance, the vast majority of the initiatives placed on the ballot are put there by the Legislature, explains Paul Jacob, president of the pro-initiative Citizens in Charge.
“The people aren’t out of control,” Jacob told me. “In reality, the Legislature is out of control.”
The last thing we need, then, is to give that same Legislature more power.
Steven Greenhut is editor of www.calwatchdog.com; write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.