A few days ago I posted an opinion-editorial entitled "The Martial Art of Subduing Special Interests." The Op-Ed had originally appeared in the Glendale News Press back in December and apparently I wasnt' the only person thinking about reform. I am happy to say that on the same day that my Op-Ed appeared, the editorial boards of both the Pasadena Star-News and the San Bernardino Sun wrote editorials supporting my reform efforts and calling on Sacramento to do more.
I will continue pushing for these important reforms this session. If you think reforming ballot-box budgeting is important, I encourage you to write your state representatives and tell them to do something about it. The text of the board's Editorial is below.
There's hope these changes will have the intended effect of making lawmakers more representative of actual communities, less beholden to party extremists, and less shortsighted.
What might next year bring?
Plenty remains to be done to improve how the state is run. So let's narrow down the possibilities: The theme for the next round of reforms should be transparency.
Transparency is the
catchall word that political watchdogs use to describe some essential qualities of an effective government. All-too-rare features like openness, honesty and accountability. Things that let constituents know what their leaders are up to, that allow people to participate in the process.
Here are four ideas for promoting transparency. None is exactly new, and some have been proposed before and defeated. Which makes them overdue for action by reform-minded California lawmakers or by voters:
Expand disclosure of campaign contributors.
The November election highlighted the problem.
An Arizona-based nonprofit group, widely and accurately described as shadowy, sent $11 million to the campaigns against the Proposition 30 tax hikes and in favor of the Proposition 32 restrictions on unions' political power. Under current campaign finance laws, the source of the money didn't have to be revealed, leading critics to liken the maneuvers to money-laundering.
Voters must be allowed to know who is trying to influence elections, so they can figure out the real motives of initiative campaigns and candidates.
State Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance is one of two legislators promoting bills that would tighten disclosure rules and increase penalties for breaking them. These would be good steps.
Related to this, Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Burbank has proposed requiring backers of voter initiatives to identify their top five campaign contributors in ballot pamphlets.
It's worth pursuing.
Rein in ballot-box budgeting.
California's budget problems are complicated by the creation of expensive state program through ballot initiatives. Here, too, Gatto is promising to continue to push to at least warn voters of the risk by requiring initiative campaigns to state how new programs would be funded.
End "gut and amend" legislating and other rush-job laws.
The gut-and-amend practice causes outrage one week per legislative cycle, during the days before the deadline for passing bills, but the anger hasn't lasted long enough to spur reform.
In August, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes of Sylmar turned a Senate bill concerning vehicle pollution into a bill to give as many as 2million undocumented immigrants "safe harbor" in California. Though the bill didn't pass, it was an egregious example of an effort to completely alter a bill at the last minute to try to slide something unrelated through the Legislature.
Around the same time, a pension-reform bill was jammed through before lawmakers, let alone members of a concerned public, could figure out what as in it.
A remedy is to require bills to be made public at least 72 hours before lawmakers vote. This was among several reforms in Proposition 31, which voters rejected in November. The proposal deserves another chance.
The game-playing doesn't end after legislators cast their votes. Thanks to an Associated Press report, Californians now know how often members of the Assembly take advantage of rules allowing them to alter or add votes in the official record after the fact (more than 5,000 times this year). Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to do this, but usually the aim is to make their voting history more attractive to the public and party leaders.
Come election time, voters should be able to judge incumbents' performance in office in part by reviewing which bills they supported and opposed.
Not surprisingly, Assembly leaders have signaled they have no plan to forbid vote-switching. So, as with most good reforms, the impetus will have to come from the public itself.
These ideas are a start on the next round of California political reform. There will be more where they came from.
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This Editorial originally appeared in the Pasadena Star-News. You can read this editorial and more by visiting the Pasadena Star News HERE
Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly. He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Canada-Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood. www.asm.ca.gov/gatto