Another Reason The Budget Is So Hard to Cut

Given the state’s budget crisis, the decision by Gov. Brown and the legislature to take $1 billion from California’s early childhood program makes all the sense in the world. The state is broke, and the program is running a big surplus.

But this is California. And so Brown’s decision is being challenged in court by the program. It’s a good bet that the legal challenge will succeed – and poke a $1 billion hole in the budget.

Why? Because of the state’s budget system and its inflexible method of initiative and referendum. California is the only place on earth where, when the people enact a law by initiative, it can only be changed by another vote of the people.

The early childhood program and its funding mechanism (a dedicated tobacco tax) were enacted by the people. So when the legislature took money without a vote of the people, it very likely violated the state constitution.

Why didn’t Brown and the legislature ask voters to approve this? Because when Gov. Schwarzenegger and the legislature tried the same maneuver in 2009 and sought voter approval, the voters said no. And because statewide leaders of the program indicated they would go along. But the program is organized county by county, and three counties pieces of the program filed the legal challenge.

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