Published: 02 July 2012 05:20 PM
Published: 02 July 2012 05:20 PM
"Haphazard budgeting at the ballot box only ensures that the state’s fiscal turmoil will continue. California needs to use available resources wisely. Voters should help advance that effort by rejecting ballot measures that create arbitrary spending formulas and new earmarks.
Ballot-box budgeting is the issue behind AB 2220, by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles. The bill would mandate a ballot pamphlet reminder to voters about proposed initiatives that would raise new revenue and dedicate it to specific programs. The official analysis of such measures would have to include language specifying that the money raised by the initiative would go only to the intended programs, and would not be available for other state needs unless voters approved changes later. The requirement would not apply to tax measures that directed the resulting money into the general fund without restriction.
The fate of AB 2220, now in the Senate, is unclear. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed nearly identical legislation last year, saying that a rote disclaimer in initiative analyses “won’t provide voters greater clarity.” Well-informed voters, of course, already know that legislators have little power to alter initiatives — which is one reason ballot measures are popular with an electorate that distrusts the Legislature.
Regardless of how the bill fares, however, Gatto has a legitimate point: Voters too often decide budget-related ballot measures with little insight into the state’s larger financial picture — or the consequences that result from such disjointed fiscal choices.
California has many voter-approved propositions that limit budgeting flexibility. The most sweeping is Prop. 98, the 1988 measure that requires about 40 percent of the budget to go to education. Prop. 99, also from 1988, raised the cigarette tax and earmarked the money for health programs. Prop. 172 in 1993 raised the sales tax to fund law enforcement. Prop. 10 in 1998 raised the cigarette tax again, directing the money toward early childhood development programs. Prop. 64, in 2004, taxed wealthy Californians to pay for mental health services.
Such tinkering blocks any attempt to set sensible priorities for public spending, and helps make state budgeting more opaque and convoluted. The Legislature should be directing available funds to sustain the most crucial programs first. Instead, the state wrestles with ways to pay for priority services while tax money flows unchecked to less critical programs. Thus Prop. 49, from 2002, requires the state to spend nearly $550 million a year on after-school programs when districts struggle to fund classroom instruction.
Yes, the Legislature has an abysmal record of making shortsighted, reckless financial decisions. But voters will not encourage greater fiscal responsibility by approving arbitrary spending dictates based on whatever cause happens to gain sufficient popular support.
Randomly disrupting sensible allocation of public money is not a strategy for fixing the state’s chronic fiscal woes. Good intentions do not justify ballot measures that make the state’s budget more intractable."
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Mike Gatto is the Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore of the California State Assembly. He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, and parts of Los Angeles, including Los Feliz, North Hollywood, Silver Lake, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, and Van Nuys. He has served in the Assembly since June 2010. E-mail Mike at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (818) 558-3043.
Website of Assemblyman Mike Gatto: www.asm.ca.gov/gatto