Will Dueling Ballot Propositions Settle Budget Gridlock?

Patrick Walton

While the legislature remains deadlocked over the state budget, voters may play a role in settling the impasse on Nov. 2.

Two competing ballot propositions would point the state in radically different directions from the status quo. The only question remains is which, if either, will pass the voters' muster.

Proposition 25, the "On-Time Budget Act," would deny pay to the legislature for every day the budget is late. But the meat of the proposal centers on lowering the threshold for budget passage from the current two-thirds to a simple majority.

Supporters say that a reduced requirement will end control of the majority by a small minority.

Opponents counter that passage will make it easier for the state to spend money it doesn't have. In fact, Proposition 25 says nothing about changing the vote for raising new revenues, considered by many to be the crux of the state's budget problem.

Still, for people worried about the possibility of runaway spending, voting "no" is the safest way to go.

Proposition 26, "Stop the Hidden Taxes" initiative, goes in the other direction. It would require the legislature to garner a two-thirds vote on any revenue raising effort, including fees.

Currently, when the state raises fees for hunting licenses, state park admissions, or other services, those efforts are often done administratively. The proposition would also require votes on all revenue raising proposals at the local levels, including parking meter rates, business licenses and home improvement fees.

Supporters believe that elected officials have done an "end around" number on the voters through imposing fees over taxes; fees often don't require votes, and new taxes do.

Opponents believe that passage of the proposition will further cripple the ability of governments at the state and local levels to do jobs the voters have elected them to do.

Clearly, Propositions 25 and 26 represent two different visions for California -- one making it easier to enact budgets, the other placing new constraints on governments.

Passage of one or the other will be a powerful message to the state legislature and, no doubt, charter a new course for California in the years to come.

Of course, the voters may well defeat both propositions which will the leave the state's budget process without any direction whatsoever.

Now that's a new thought.

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