One of the more intricate and complex measures on the Nov. 6 ballot is Proposition 31. It affects local government, the Legislature and the governor.
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First the governor: It would give the governor the power to declare a fiscal emergency and make his or her own budget cuts to balance the budget. But that would only happen after the Legislature is called into session for 45 days to deal with the fiscal emergency but fails to do so. Bear in mind the voters already gave the Legislature authority to pass a budget with only a simple majority, but it still can’t raise taxes without a two-thirds vote. Another recent ballot proposition added fee hikes to the two-thirds majority. Proposition 31 would allow the Legislature to overrule the governor’s budget cuts with a two-thirds majority.
It gets still more complicated. Here is what the Legislative Analyst said about the governor’s budget cutting powers under this proposed measure: “The governor could not reduce spending that is required by the Constitution or federal law — such as most school spending, debt service, pension contributions, and some spending for health and social services programs. (These categories currently account for a majority of General Fund spending.) The total amount of the reductions could not exceed the amount necessary to balance the budget.”
Less complex is the provision of this measure that would put the Legislature on a two-year budget cycle, with the second year devoted to review and oversight of state programs.
It also requires all bills to be available for three days after being proposed and amended before they can be voted upon.
Another restriction on the legislative budgeting process is that any bill increasing or decreasing costs by $25 million would have to show how that expense would be covered by revenue increases or reductions or a combination of both.
Local government gets a small bit of complex freedom out of this proposition. It gets to write its own rules for implementing state programs, if it comes up with a plan “for coordinating how they provide services to the public.” To fund the plans the state would chip in $200 million in sales tax revenue that would be divided up on a population basis.
Notice there are two parts to the preceding. Part 1 is customizing implementation of state programs. Part 2 is a plan to provide service to the public “including economic development, education, social services, public safety and public health.” Part 2 says, “Each plan would have to be approved by the governing boards of the (1) county, (2) school districts serving a majority of the county’s students, and (3) other local governments representing a majority of the county’s population.”
That part 2 may not be worth the effort in El Dorado County, which has 13 school districts, three community college districts, a county Board of Education and a county superintendent of schools, 10 fire districts, two major utility districts and a smaller one in Georgetown, two major community services districts and a myriad of smaller ones, not to mention two cities with their own police departments.
A final complicating factor is part of Proposition 31 is a constitutional amendment and part is simple statute.
Three factors lead us to believe the Proposition 31 is worth a try:
1. It prevents midnight gut-and-amend sneak attacks by the legislators.
2. It gives the governor some more budget cutting powers.
3. It allows for some local creativity in administering state programs.