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Prop 30 Debate Missing the Point

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    California Gov. Jerry Brown delivers a keynote address during the 2011 Pacific Coast Builders Conference.

    In some initiative campaigns, one wishes that both sides could lose.

    Too bad that either yes or no will get a victory in Prop 30. The ongoing debate about the measure isn't just the usual dumb California back-and-forth about ballot initiatives. It's a debate that seems designed to increase the ignorance of California voters.

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    Here's the latest: Gov. Jerry Brown and other backers of Prop 30 are up with ads that claim that the money in the measure will go to schools, and that politicians won't be able to touch it.

    In response, opponents have noted that the special account for schools in the measure is essentially a fiction, and that politicians will be able to touch the money.

    On the facts, the yes on Prop 30 side is wrong (the money doesn't just go to schools). But in making a huge issue of politicians touching the money, the no side is wrong too -- and misleading.

    The problem in California, the reason why California is so famously ungovernable, is not that politicians can touch too much money in the budget. It's that no one -- not politicians, not citizens -- can touch money, manage the budget or make tradeoffs.

    Instead, voters -- the real authors of much of the California system -- have put more and more pieces of governance and the budget off limits. With our elected leaders barred from doing so many things, they can't govern.

    And voters, instead of blaming themselves for their role, blame the politicians for being unable to do the kind of things that voters have prevented them from doing.

    But the yes and no sides of Prop 30 don't recognize this reality, and seek to explain to people what's actually in stake. Instead, they both play to the nonsense and public ignorance, both posing as opponents of political discretion.

    When you make that pose, you're taking a stand against governance (which is what elected officials and citizens do with political discretion) and ultimately against democracy.

    Which is why both sides of Prop 30 deserve to lose. Is there any way we can arrange that?

    Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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